By: Gillian Schutte
The past few weeks have been more than arduous for President Cyril Ramaphosa, as a volley of tribulations have come flying at him in quick succession. Though his usual strategy is to fob problems off with a charismatic smile and “I am innocent” platitudes, the public, it seems, is finally waking up to the possibility that Ramaphosa may not be their ‘Mr Clean – an image that corporate media has so ardently pushed to the chattering class over the years.
If anything, corporate media is framing the timing of these allegations as an orchestrated campaign engaged in by the ‘RET faction’ in the run-up to the ANC National Electoral Conference. In this way the serious nature of these plentiful allegations are lost in obfuscation.This is a ploy, it seems, to engineer sympathy for Ramaphosa, by constructing him as the victim of malevolent political forces from within the ranks of the ANC. While this approach may fool some, the current onslaught onto the beleaguered Ramaphosa has laid bare the stark reality that his controversial past has come back to bite him on his backside. This, along with the alleged crimes that have taken place during his presidency, does not bode well for Ramaphosa and it seems, his Thuma Mina media friends are working hard to cushion the blow.
When farmgate broke, wealthy South African suburbs were awash with bourgeois liberals expressing how devastated and disappointed they were. “But who can possibly take over from Ramaphosa?” they asked anxiously, casting their eyes over their assets. This well-heeled hysteria unfolded with alacrity despite the fact that media platforms such as the Daily Maverick seemingly sought to present the story as a ‘soft issue’ – not worth the disparaging and potentially libelous headlines they reserve for those they perceive as a threat to the status quo.
Rebecca Davies’s article on 08 June 2022, is a case in point. It begins with a pleasant and reasonable headline that reads: Unpacking the Cyril Ramaphosa home robbery story, and why you should care. She goes on to write: “President Cyril Ramaphosa is facing what may be the most personally damaging moment of his presidency. A seemingly unreported 2020 theft of cash from Ramaphosa’s Limpopo game farm is coming back to haunt him in a way that is clearly orchestrated to endanger his political future — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some serious issues at stake.”
To refer to this alleged crime as a home robbery is a definite attempt to shift the focus from Ramaphosa’s alleged crimes, which according to the whistle blower, Arthur Fraser’s 12-page report to the police, include kidnapping, bribery, money laundering, and concealing a crime. Add this to Davies’s strong suggestion that this is a malevolent orchestrated campaign to endanger his political future. Seemingly we should care more about a host of other issues before the fact that this is a serious criminal allegation backed by credible evidence that the robbery was indeed unreported. It was even corroborated by Ramaphosa himself in a public statement.
Davies throws the obligatory anti-RET hubris at her readers right at the beginning of the piece when she writes: “It would be tragically naïve to view Fraser’s criminal complaint against Ramaphosa as unrelated to the factionalism that continues to divide the ANC. RET forces have made no secret of their unhappiness at the party’s “step-aside” rule, which currently prohibits leaders facing criminal charges from seeking election at the crucial December ANC electoral congress.”While she goes on to do what appears to be a well-researched piece that asks some pertinent questions vis a vis the legality of his having this massive amount of money in his home et al – one still has to wade through dollops of bias and accusations against Fraser and others to get to the actual story and are left wondering if this piece is about Fraser’s controversial past or about the President’s alleged crime.
Corporate media strategy around reportage on #Farmgate seems to be to protect their ‘mascot of morality’ – Ramaphosa, even while presenting some good investigative journalism. This includes, apparently, sort of framing this alleged crime as potentially serious while at the same time presenting it as not nearly as major as a Zuma crime thus no crime at all, a blip, not too serious and easily explained. To this end they have faithfully continued to push a line that centers on the theft rather than draw attention to the actual matter of hidden and undeclared foreign currency, the non-reportage to the police and alleged cross border shenanigans. It seems that the dire ramifications such as the issue of bringing the country into disrepute is secondary. Rather they tell us in the opening of articles, that the President sold animals and thus had cash on hand. Or they make weak overtures to acknowledge that though there is clearly something amiss he really should ‘take us into his confidence,’ as if this is the magic elixir to exonerate him. Other than that, it is written off as no real problem. And certainly nothing close to the problem that Nkandla-gate presented to us.
Except that it is a problem of mammoth proportions. It is a problem for the country’s image. It is a problem that Ramaphosa can tell the public that it is not a problem and that he continues to have the country’s best interests at heart. It is a problem that there is no instantaneous robust organising from the public and the ANC in calling for Ramaphosa to step down.
It seems instead, that when it comes to the pro-business media, the major problem with this problem is that their presidential poster boy is the one card in their house of cards that threatens to collapse their Ramaphosa Public Relations campaign, thereby threatening their source of livelihood and raison d’etre. They now sit with a falling house of cards, a ruined framework that the likes of the Daily Maverick and other neoliberal media platforms, along with their benefactors, have so carefully built over the years to spin doctor on behalf of President Ramaphosa and his wide network of big business partners.
But like it or not, this house of cards, along with its social engineering mandate, has finally started to tumble down. The game is almost up. Their poster boy has been marred by a serious criminal allegation even while they work hard to pretend it is not the crisis that it so clearly is.
It is time for Ramaphosa to step down.
*Gillian Schutte is a columnist, poet, filmmaker, and social justice, counter-hegemony activist. She holds a degree in African Politics and Post Modern Lit (UKZN) and an MA Creative Writing (WITS).