MICHAEL MORRIS: Ramaphosa doesn’t realise citizens don’t like being taken for fools - Business Day

One of the easily overlooked features of living in a not especially revolutionary-minded country is that nothing revolutionary ever really happens.

Michael Morris
One of the easily overlooked features of living in a not especially revolutionary-minded country is that nothing revolutionary ever really happens. 

I suspect that events of the next few days will bear this out, which is perhaps a mixed blessing.

If hotheads are willing to tolerate a bit of flame and rubble in the cause of change, those who favour more measured plodding towards the sunlit uplands generally regard stability as more an aid than a hindrance.

Writing in the Financial Mail just last week, political analyst Susan Booysen noted wryly: “Given the huge deficits in the ANC government’s prevailing policy, ‘stability’ is often not the virtue it is made out to be.”

Immediately preceding this important observation, Booysen wrote: “Unless SA undergoes a revolutionary overthrow of power — not on the cards by any stretch of the imagination — policy and legislative change will continue to happen incrementally, procedurally, even if societally there is immense need for change.”

Certainly, growing numbers of South Africans who embody that “immense need for change” will wish electoral defeat on an ANC that has seemed, over 30 long years, only to grow in arrogance and fecklessness. That is not wholly fair, but mounting frustration at dysfunction and corruption has replaced even-mindedness with anger.

If not being revolutionary means we are a little less exciting, it may also suggest that we have a saner, calmer grasp of the essentials.

Of these, the steady movement to the cities is possibly the most telling (the result of choices more calculated than they are often judged to be), coupled with the striving for a comfortable, secure and optimistic urban middle-class life. What is often not properly recognised is that, despite all else (the dysfunction that barely needs spelling out) this paramount goal is being steadily gained.

This was almost certainly not recognised by President Cyril Ramaphosa and his party lieutenants when they judged that signing the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme into law would naturally rhyme with the country, and the interests of a majority whose votes they crave.

Ramaphosa got carried away — and gave himself away — when he said of resistance to NHI: “The opposition is coming from well-to-do, rich people. This is what often happens. The haves don’t want the have-nots to benefit from what they have been having.” Clearly feeling that some embellishment was wanted, Ramaphosa professed that he knew the ANC plan was “driving fear into the hearts of some white people” who feared that they would “lose privileges”.

Here, Ramaphosa was merely announcing how out of touch he was. Quality healthcare is an issue, but it is quality that matters. Ramaphosa shamefully stooped to trading in racist drivel to justify his government’s chronic failings, not seeing that South Africans don’t like that sort of thing, because it takes them for fools.

By conceivably unexciting steps, the latest household survey from Stats SA shows that more than half of the people covered by private medical schemes in SA today are black (black Africans comprise 51.2% of all private medical aid scheme members, and white people 31.7%). 

The ANC and its leader are in the grip of an anachronism, believing that South Africans are helpless and incapable of making sane choices.

The real revolution in SA life is the agency of the plodders, often unadvertised, not always obvious, sometimes only detectable in hard-to-fathom graphs, but present, hourly, in the countless decisions of millions who need neither permission to make better lives for themselves, nor instruction on how to do it.

Morris is head of media at the Institute of Race Relations