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‘Send me’ as a Special Envoy

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‘Send me’ as a Special Envoy

3rd July 2020


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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Polity.

Dear Mr. President, Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa. Mr. President, I miss uBaba, the legendary Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, aka Msholozi, the head of the iNkandla compound, the most expensive rural household in SA. The owner of the first fire pool in iNkandla. The winner of Polokwane Idol’s competition. The one who was pronounced not guilty at the rape trial. The inventor of the new social strata, the “clever ones”. The survivor of the “deadly” poison. The hater of dog owners. The real father of the nation. He who answers to the name “husband” at least four times a day, a feat not to be sniffed at. You see, Mr President, in the time of uBaba we were led. uBaba would laugh his contemptuous laughter, sing and dance his way out of trouble. Mr President, I haven’t recovered from the fact that you made uBaba resign from his presidential gig on Valentine’s Day. But I digress.


I am writing to say, please, you have to up your game. Let’s have a drama of some sort. For instance, during uBaba’s years we had two economic policy strategies. Two. The stillborn New Growth Path and the ambiguous National Development Plan (NDP). We had a cabinet the size of Cope and UDM rallies combined. uBaba was a trailblazer, he reshuffled his cabinet at midnight. He had real friends he could count on, the Guptas. Fast forward to the Ramaphosa administration and we don’t even have an 8 am cabinet reshuffle. Your ministers are wannabe rap stars, freestyling through governance. We have no economic policy. Zero. uBaba 2 — Cyril 0.

Mr President, in your State of the Nation Addresses you reaffirm your commitment to the NDP. But anyone who did economics beyond Grade five will know the NDP is a vision, not an economic plan, as the former resident of Mahlamba Ndlopfu, and former president Thabo Mbeki, told you in 2017. You recently promised us a new economic plan, a post-Covid-19 Marshall Plan; it’s been a month and we are still waiting. This comes after Tito Mboweni’s paper on economic strategy. Did Mboweni’s thingy go the way of the dodo or was he also freestyling? But you’re light years ahead of uBaba in terms of the appointment of special envoys. In 2018, you appointed four special envoys on investment, including former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel. They were appointed ostensibly to promote SA as an investment destination. In 2019, amid the SA extreme sport called xenophobia, as a man  made for big occasions, you didn’t waste a good crisis. You appointed another group of special envoys. This time led by former minister Jeff Radebe, they were charged with going to other African capitals to seek atonement. In November 2019, you decided to strengthen the work of the investment special envoys and you appointed Radebe as part of the team. Recently, you took the special envoy madness to the rest of the continent. In the wake of Covid-19 and as chair of the African Boys’ Club, aka the African Union, you appointed a pan-African team of special envoys. This time to mobilise international economic support for the continental fight against Covid-19. Strangely enough, the team included Manuel, our point man in mobilising investment, not that we have seen any. Investments are funny things, Mr President, they tend to follow policy certainty and rule of law, and prefer countries that can keep the lights on.


Let me get this straight, if there’s a problem in the country and beyond, we have ready solutions, namely Trevor Manuel, Jeff Radebe, and special envoys. Oh yes, you also have a penchant for social compacts, summits and conferences. Let’s look at the absurdity of it all, in late 2018, you convened a Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and Femicide. In early 2019, you convened a two-day nameless summit on how to implement the decisions of the earlier Presidential summit, right? The recent surge in GBV raises the question of whether the summits were any use. Don’t get me started on another stillborn plan, the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence & Femicide. Mr President, I have a solution for you, let’s go big: please appoint me as your special envoy to co-ordinate all other special envoys. Till next week my man. “Send me.”

Written by Bhekisisa Mncube, a former Zulu ambassador based in Pretoria, now a presidential special envoy. He is an author and former senior Witness political journalist.

This opinion piece was first published in the Witness


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