No more patience for the prince of procrastination

By: Howard Feldman, Head of Marketing & People at Synthesis

Tragedies, by definition, don’t end well. Mostly the curtain descends when the important members of the cast lie dead. Either on or off the stage. And whereas there is a generally a lesson to be learned somewhere, for those in pivotal roles, it is pretty much too late.

Take Hamlet as a case in point. It is the story of a prince of Denmark who spends many hours talking about doing something to avenge the death of his father. To begin with, we throw our full support behind the youngster and hope he succeeds in his noble quest. There is little doubting that “something is rotten”, but our commitment to him begins to wane as he meanders and stalls and redirects in what fast becomes a very slow few hours. Even his love interest sees no way out other than to drown herself just to get away from it all.

Hamlet is plagued by the inability to act. He debates, laments, argues and considers. But in the end, he does next to nothing. His famous soliloquy, although meant to be magnificent in style, is infuriating. And by the end of it all, there is a good chance that if the prince didn’t die by the hand of Laertes (or is it the poison of Claudius?), there is a more than good probability that a member of the audience would have ascended the stage and strangled him in a fit of pure frustration.

Meet President Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s very own prince Hamlet.

Much like Hamlet, when the curtain was raised, there was widespread support for the prince of procrastination. Knowledge of the rotten state of the State and the fact that he was one of the “good guys” in his party, added to the devotion. Spirits were lifted and “Ramaphoria” swept the country.

But much like Hamlet, his word – although beautiful in construct – lacked the action of their promise. They began to sound empty and without substance. And much like the ending of the tragedy, there is a good chance that his inability to act with decision and confidence will result in a lot more dead bodies than is strictly necessary.

Examples are not hard to come by. The granting of Jacob Zuma “time and space” to reach a decision that the court has reached for him; his inability to remove Ace Magashula before granting him a further 30 days to “consult” with ex leaders; and his reluctance to reshuffle his very old, very tired and often corrupt cabinet, are a few that spring to mind. And that is not to even mention the appallingly slow, almost nonexistent vaccine roll out.

In the last few weeks, he has repeated calls for “patience”, something that he is blessed with in abundance. Patience, however, is an awesome attribute to have whilst waiting for a traffic light to change to green, or whilst waiting for Schitts Creek to download off Netflix. It could be argued that it is even an asset during load shedding. But it is a massive liability as attribute when other people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake.

According to reports, President Ramaphosa said government leaders had not been “sleeping on the job” despite losing what he said was “a little time”. He has assured the nation that they are “still on target” and are accumulating more vaccines on “an ongoing basis”. Where that is, is unclear. One thing is certain: the vaccine is not being “accumulated” in the veins of South Africans. There is talk of 400 million vaccines for Africa, of 30 million for South Africa and of the assurance that no arm will be left unpunctured. But talk without action is as valuable as Hamlet pondering if he should suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Meaning no value at all.

There is, of course, a place for contemplation and reflection. Action without thought and strategy is likely as dangerous as contemplation without action. If an ideal exists, it would be equal measures of both.

President Ramaphosa could do well to learn the lessons of Hamlet. He by no means should be forced to endure hours upon hours of contemplation. But then again, nor should we.