Oscar van Heerden writes that, when he travels around the country and listens to the frustration of so many of our chattering classes, regarding the sheer absence of President Cyril Ramaphosa, it conjures up thoughts of the ‘Gemini Man’ – a TV show he watched when he was a teenager.
Many years ago, when I was still a teenager, I remember a TV series which captivated most of my generation. It was called Gemini Man.
It was about a secret agent that could make himself disappear; in other words, become invisible to the naked eye.
These days when I travel around the country and listen to the frustration of so many of our chattering classes, regarding the sheer absence of President Cyril Ramaphosa, it conjures up thoughts of the Gemini Man.
The series starred Ben Murphy as laid-back, denim-clad, motorcycle-riding secret agent Sam Casey, who while diving to retrieve a fallen Soviet spy satellite, was exposed to radiation in an underwater explosion, which rendered him invisible.
The agency for which he worked – a high-tech government think-tank, called Intersect (International Security Techniques) – found a way to return him to visibility and control his new power via the use of a special wristwatch, referred to as a DNA stabiliser. It was invented by scientist Abby Lawrence (Katherine Crawford). Pressing a button on the digital watch would make him vanish, clothes and all, which was a helpful tool in his line of work, but he could only do this for 15 minutes per day, or else he would die.
I immediately set out to track this invisible agent, called Ramaphosa, and see what he’s been up to nowadays. What I found is that he has been using his special watch or DNA stabiliser to good effect actually. These were some of what I found our Gemini Man has been doing.
Ramaphosa has been focused on resolving multiple challenges and advancing the growth agenda:
- Investment: He convened the 5th SA Investment Conference and exceeded the five year investment target;
- Employment: He established the Youth Employment Service (YES) [placed 100 000 youth in one-year work experience] and the Presidential Employment Stimulus [created 1.2 million public employment opportunities since 2020];
- Electricity: He has been taking a hands-on approach to solving the crisis by chairing the National Energy Crisis Committee (NECOM). Reforms have led to a pipeline of over 100 private sector projects, totalling 10 000MW. Incentives have been put in place for rooftop solar. Most significantly, he is driving fundamental reform of the electricity sector to establish a competitive market;
- Economic Reforms: Actively involved in Operation Vulindlela, which has driven reforms in water, electricity, ports, rail, telecommunications and visas. eg. skills visa system is undergoing a major overhaul;
- Public enterprises: He convenes the Presidential SOE Council, which is undertaking a major overhaul of the SOE landscape;
- Infrastructure: He has shown visible support to infrastructure projects, like Lesotho Highlands Water project Phase 2, N2 Wild Coast, renewable energy in Northern Cape;
- Just Transition: He chairs the Presidential Climate Commission, which has been leading the development of a ‘just transition’ framework and brought on board experts in the Presidency to develop the ‘Just Energy Transition’ investment plan;
- Leading government: He has also met with every minister over the last two months to define their top three to five priorities until the end of the term to ensure focused delivery;
- Presidential imbizos: He held imbizos in six provinces, bringing together ministers, premiers, MECs, mayors and councillors to address community concerns directly; and
- Working with stakeholders: This week, he finalised a partnership with organised business on three joint workstreams: electricity, logistics and crime and corruption. There have been ongoing interactions with business in different sectors, organised labour, disability sector, etc.
And if this was not enough, our Gemini Man used his powers in the first five months of this year to receive official state visits from Portugal, Bulgaria, Singapore, Finland, Namibia, Uganda, Tanzania and Belgium.
You may wonder, ‘So what?’.
May I remind you that often these visits come with economic value, due to the fact that they mostly focus on trade and investment opportunities and visiting heads of state are often accompanied by business delegations from their respective countries.
Imagine that it seems this invisible man is invisible for a reason. He is hard at work, it seems.
In his budget speech debate of 1 June 2023, the president also reminded us that:
“Although there were such contributions, there were also those contributions that sought to misrepresent and distort both the South African reality and the actions of this administration.
“The Hon Steenhuisen quoted at length from my inaugural address in 2019, but made no effort to mention what has really happened in this country and in the world in the intervening years.
“So, I will remind the Honourable Leader of the Opposition. Before this administration was a year into its term, a devastating pandemic swept the world, causing the loss of more than six million lives across the globe and more than 100 000 in our own country. The Covid-19 pandemic triggered what the OECD described as one of the worst job crises since the Great Depression. By some estimates, more than 225 million jobs were lost worldwide, including a substantial number in our own country.
“To appreciate the long-term effects of the pandemic on the entire world, one need only look at the International Monetary Fund’s latest World Economic Outlook 2023. It warns of a rocky recovery, with the residual effects of the pandemic, high inflation, financial sector turmoil and the ongoing effects of the war between Russia and Ukraine all looming large.
“Besides the pandemic, we experienced deadly civil unrest in July 2021 that cost over 300 lives and the loss of an estimated R50 billion to the economy.
“International instability is fuelling higher fuel and food prices, increasing the cost of living for millions of South Africans. On top of all this, we are in the grip of an energy crisis that has been many years in the making, the seeds of which were planted more than two decades ago.
“I state all this not to explain away any of the unresolved challenges we face as a country. I state them because the perspective is, as always, critical. Despite the effects of all of these developments, we have been working with determination to fulfil the electoral mandate given to this administration in 2019.
“We have been forthright about the challenges the country faces.
“The anger and frustration that South Africans feel in the face of sustained load shedding is understandable. At times like this, the electricity crisis appears unrelenting, as if there is no end in sight. Yet, if one considers the work that is being done and the progress that is being made – as outlined yesterday by Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa – it is clear that we have solid ground for hope.
“While we have been honest and forthright about the difficult months ahead, we are confident that the measures now in place, including the massive new investment in electricity generation capacity, will enable us to end load shedding and achieve energy security.
“Indeed, the pessimism emanating from the opposition benches is not shared by all. I draw members’ attention to the Standard Bank Group’s Annual Integrated Report 2022, where Group CEO Sim Tshabalala writes:
South Africa’s severe shortage of electricity is costing us dearly. The economy has been severely slowed for several years already by this constraint; we will continue to underperform for as long as the constraint continues to bind. However, the right set of policies are – at long last – in place, and a great deal of new public and private investment in generation is starting to follow. Standard Bank is, therefore, confident that South Africa will, once again, have a fully adequate supply of electricity within the next few years.
Africa’s largest bank by assets speaks in this report about the value of optimism. It says that optimism “is a precondition for more accurate analysis, stronger leadership and better outcomes”.
The president concluded by stating that “this is a sentiment we share”.
So, our Gemini Man might not be as invisible as we have assumed or purported by so many, I might add.
Context is very important and, as Tshabalala states in his annual report, and I have written about optimism here before, “it is a precondition for more accurate analysis, stronger leadership and better outcomes”.
Let us not fall into a trap because we find ourselves in an election year, to place blame at the feet of our Gemini Man unreasonably.
Let’s encourage him to continue working diligently and with greater urgency to find the necessary solutions to our massive challenges in Mzansi.
I also hope that he and his fellow African presidents en route to Ukraine and Russia will succeed in convincing either side that this brutal and horrendous war must come to an end, for the sake of the entire world.
Lastly, even if you remain convinced that Ramaphosa is the Gemini Man, let us, as social activists, the NGO sector and just simple folk with agency, ensure that we are visible for our people and continue to defend and fight for their rights.
– Dr Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of international relations (IR), where he focuses on international political economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular.
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