G-SPOT

For leaders, now's chance to press the reset button

Ramaphoria had faded until his handling of pandemic pressed the reset button

In Summary

• Management of the crisis has handed leaders chance to redeem their legacies

An airport worker in a protective mask waits for clients at the OR Tambo International Airport in Kempton Park, South Africa, on March 12
An airport worker in a protective mask waits for clients at the OR Tambo International Airport in Kempton Park, South Africa, on March 12
Image: REUTERS / Siphiwe Sibeko

I know it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. For political leaders the world over, the Covid-19 pandemic, and how they are seen to handle it, will be the defining moment of their careers. 

The pandemic has ensured that most if not all their legacies get a reset. The only leaders who will have anything to celebrate are those seen by most of their population as having handled the various lockdowns and curfews properly and set the course for recovery. The rest might as well start packing now.

For instance, here in South Africa, when President Cyril Ramaphosa took over from the ruinous Jacob Zuma in 2018, there was a wave of euphoria across the country that became known as Ramaphoria.

People were so relieved to be rid of Zuma, they were willing to ignore the fact that Ramaphosa had been the Deputy President for four of the preceding nine years. 

However, just like one who has been on a high either through drugs, alcohol or even just sugar, the after-effects or hangover brought them down to earth with a crash

The Ramaphoria had not waved a magic wand and gotten rid of all the issues with the economy that had been present and building even as power changed hands. Soon, there were even some who had earlier been full of praise for Ramaphosa being doubtful and negative about his much-touted abilities. 

If the lockdown is a success and Ramaphosa delivers on the Covid-19 pandemic front, he will have more to gain than to lose. The pandemic has given him a platform to showcase what he is made of
Political scientist

Since the pandemic began, however, the pendulum of fortune seems to be swinging the President’s way. His masterful, presidential manner while dealing with the coronavirus has got people cheering him on again, and even his detractors have paused. 

As one political scientist I spoke to put it, “If the lockdown is a success and Ramaphosa delivers on the Covid-19 pandemic front, he will have more to gain than to lose. The pandemic has given him a platform to showcase what he is made of.”

Of course, if things go badly wrong with the lockdown, then all the goodwill could disappear in a flash and no leader can hope to come back from that. For instance, if the curve is not flattened on time and the death toll keeps shooting upwards for weeks, or there is mass unrest as people get desperate for food and the unrest is crushed by armed forces.

So if your President or Prime Minister had thought their legacy had been all sorted out one way or the other before the pandemic, they have a chance now to change things, but it is only a small window of opportunity and they had better act both fast and intelligently.

 

If you have had the pleasure of watching Ru Paul’s 'Drag Race', you will doubtless be familiar with his catchphrase, that I am not sure I can use in this column.

Perhaps this quote from the novel 'A Woman of Substance' by Barbra Taylor Bradford will suffice instead: “We are each the authors of our own lives. We live in what we have created. There is no way to shift the blame and no one else to accept the accolades."

Edited by T Jalio