Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

CYRIL Ramaphosa would make a better president than Jacob Zuma and he would be a better deputy president than Kgalema Motlanthe. He’d make a good prime minister if the African National Congress ever comes to its senses and insists someone other than Zuma run the government. But if he accepts the nominations for deputy president of the party in Mangaung, he will align himself forever with what Zuma has done to this country. The institutions and values laid to waste, the lying and cheating. The freeloading.

He’d be Zuma’s Get Out of Jail Free card, a man to bring credibility where it was destroyed, to calm foreign investors nervous about spending a cent more in a country with no leadership, consensus or direction. Thank God, we’ll say when he gets any top job, with the prospect of better times when Zuma finally goes.

But it will be bittersweet. Parts of government, the bits that take care of Zuma’s "security", will be untouchable. Don’t touch the National Prosecuting Authority. Don’t touch the police. Don’t touch anything in KwaZulu-Natal. Don’t touch Jeff Radebe (especially don’t touch Jeff Radebe). Don’t touch this guy in Limpopo, that woman in PE, that branch in Kimberley. Zuma owes so many debts they have crippled his ability to lead a community, let alone a nation. Cyril will inherit them all, and there’ll be nothing he can do about it.

Cyril makes it clear in conversation he supports Zuma, but you have to know it is always relative to the deep hatred he felt for Thabo Mbeki. Zuma, he will say, at least gave us the National Planning Commission, and has at least had the courage to fire a close associate, Bheki Cele, when Mbeki shrank from firing Jackie Selebi from the same job.

That is all well and good, but Zuma has nevertheless done a great deal more damage to the standing of the country than Mbeki ever did — AIDS denialist or not. Cyril, whether he likes it or not, will have to prop up that rotten legacy for the next seven years and without any guarantee that he gets to put things right, finally, as president. Good luck.

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SINCE leaving the editor’s chair at Business Day and becoming its publisher, I have had a lot of time to reflect on the state of journalism, our trade, our product, in SA. We come in for a lot of stick, some of it fair, some less so. In fact, I doubt whether there are many countries where the public has less knowledge of how the media works. It makes almost any hostile conspiracy theory about newspapers possible. My favourite has always been the guy who called in to Radio 702 one day to complain that Makhaya Ntini’s name was always at or near the bottom of the list of Proteas.

But what people see as a failure of journalism here, isn’t really that. It’s a failure of a part of the process. In my experience it is the editing, not the writing, that lets us down. Editors (and I mean all levels, not just the boss) used to run the newspapers when I left the country in 1977. When I came back 20 years later, the whole notion of editing had been displaced. Writers, like headstrong puppies, ruled. The result has been a general failure of newspapers to ask questions of copy, send poor writing back, make reporters cry, get the facts right and get them right on deadline.

Part of the reason was that newspaper proprietors started making political correspondents (who normally object the loudest to their precious copy being edited) editors. They couldn’t see the point of subeditors, the folk who fix their mostly atrocious grammar and extract headlines from incoherent copy.

That was compounded by, first Rhodes University and then others offering "degrees" in journalism, simply stopping the teaching of editing. No, we had first to learn how the capitalists control the media, then how badly women and black people were treated in newsrooms, then how to tweet.

Journalism isn’t worth teaching at university. It’s an experience thing. A trade, like plumbing. And here’s the thing. Editors, dozens per newspaper, make the newspaper. Unless we are able to place them at the centre of each publishing enterprise, we will continue to struggle for credibility and relevance. They’re the reader’s only line of defence.