‘Rot’ in government short-changed South Africans: President Ramaphosa

Johannesburg” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has acknowledged that the ‘rot’ in government administration has led to the citizens of the country being short-changed as it approaches its 30th year as a democratic state.

Ramaphosa was speaking at the 40th anniversary celebration of the founding of the United Democratic Front (UDF), a non-racial peaceful resistance initiative that mobilised the entire country to bring down decades of white minority rule.

“We are alive to the reality that in a number of respects the democratically-elected government has fallen short of meeting the needs of the South African people. Corruption, wasteful expenditure and general malfeasance are rot that must be excised before they completely reverse our democratic gains,” Ramaphosa told thousands of delegates from across the country who gathered at the Johannesburg City Hall on Sunday.

But even as the President recalled the role of the UDF, he said the call to revive the principles that it stood for should not be used to “dissect the shortcomings of the government of the day.” Rather, he said, the energies of the revival should turn to fighting poverty, which he described as “the biggest enemy of the people”.

“This is the tide that must turn. This is the war we have to wage. Against exclusion, marginalisation and inequality in all its forms. And so, when we make a call for a stronger civil society, for transformation, for accountability, we must be as committed as the UDF was to leaving no-one behind,” Ramaphosa said.

He said the UDF’s call for a resurgence of people’s power as a force for positive change, through an active citizenry, has come at the right time.

“What matters most to the South African people is that they want a better life for themselves and their children. They want to lead lives of dignity, in security, and to have decent work,” he said.

“Many in our country today have been vocal about their unease at the gulf between the values that guided the liberation struggle and the country we live in today, Ramaphosa said.

“Many in this country, including some gathered here today, are disappointed that the non-racialism and unity embodied by the UDF has been lost. To many, it has been supplanted by ethnic chauvinism and factionalism, even within our own liberation movement, (the ANC). The reality is that despite our gains, millions of our citizens feel left behind,” Ramaphosa said.

Many coloured and Indian compatriots who were the backbone of the UDF feel excluded from our nation’s political life, and point to their under-representation in decision-making structures as evidence of this. Many white South Africans wrongly believe there is no place for them in South Africa today, and some have drifted towards laager-style politics and a siege mentality,” the President added candidly.

“When the UDF was at its most powerful, South Africa was a different place. The enemy was clear. Today the threats to the wellbeing of the South African people come in many guises. These threats are corruption, malfeasance and abuse of public office for personal gain,” he said.

Ramaphosa recalled why August 20 was a special date for the UDF anniversary celebration.

This was the date on which the apartheid regime had planned to introduce a constitutional amendment to set up the Tricameral Parliament, a hated structure with its separate Houses for whites, coloureds and Indians, with the majority Black African population being totally ignored.

“It was an attempt to lend legitimacy to an illegitimate system. The very purpose was to divide the ranks of the oppressed,” Ramaphosa said.

At its inaugural meeting, 10,000 people attended a UDF meeting. Within weeks it had mobilised hundreds of thousands more across the country with its slogan ‘UDF Unites, Apartheid Divides’.

“At its height, there were three million community members and more than 400 organisations under the banner of the UDF. It is clear that the UDF transformed the political landscape. What is remarkable is that it achieved so much when it was in existence for just eight short years,” Ramaphosa said.

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