Steven Motale
2 minute read
26 Jun 2014
7:00 am

Ramaphosa’s Ethiopia gaffe

Steven Motale

Tthe ANC is going through a rather troubled period, so it is understandable that Cyril Ramaphosa's political comeback last year was welcomed.

Sunday Independent Editor, Steve Motale

Many see in our deputy president a man with the potential to restore the dignity and integrity of the highest office in the land. That is if he succeeds Zuma, now serving his last term in office.

The billionaire has been a presidential and statesman-like presence during most of his public appearances since assuming his position as Zuma’s second-in-command.

But he made what, to my ear, was a bit of a gaffe in a recent speech – considering who he was talking to and what he said.

Let us note that Ramaphosa is deservedly admired and respected in both politics and business. The former trade union leader headed ANC negotiations with the apartheid regime in the run-up to the 1994 elections and was instrumental in drafting South Africa’s first democratic Constitution.

He was subsequently touted as the frontrunner to be Nelson Mandela’s deputy during his presidency. But ANC internal politics saw Thabo Mbeki appointed to the position. Ramaphosa then went into business – to further resounding success. Yet he, too, can make errors of judgment.

Last Friday he was a guest speaker at the

annual Nat Nakasa Award for Courageous Journalism, hosted by the SA National Editors’ Forum.

Ramaphosa urged our media to “tell the stories that are good – and there are many – but to also tell the stories that are difficult, painful and troublesome. Give us an account of an African continent that is growing and developing, and beginning to take its rightful place in the world”.

Encouraging words. But then Ramaphosa cited a massive housing development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as an example of the kind of success the media are failing to highlight.

Yes, such stories need to be told.

But Ethiopia regards freedom of the press as synonymous with terrorism. Ethiopian journalists practise their craft in a climate of fear; many have been jailed. To mention Ethiopia as an example of African success at an event paying tribute to courageous journalism was at best somewhat awkward.

Eskinder Nega, an Ethiopian publisher and journalist was awarded the 2014 Golden Pen of Freedom at the 21st World Editors’ Forum in Turin, Italy earlier this month. This is the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

Nega is still serving an 18-year jail sentence under anti-terror legislation for publishing an article criticising his government’s use of the 2009 Anti-Terror Proclamation to jail and silence critics. Other Ethiopian journalists currently in prison include Solomon Kebede, Wubset Taye, Reyot Alemu, and Yusuf Getachew.

There are other African countries boasting genuine success that Ramaphosa could have mentioned. Why heap praise on Ethiopia, a country with a horrible human rights record and whose government continues to severely restrict basic rights of freedom of expression and association?

And it was clumsy to do it at an occasion paying tribute to Nakasa, an outstanding journalist whose career and life were cut short after he was stripped of his right to citizenship by the immoral apartheid state.