Is a disappointing president better than the worst one ever?

Trevor Noah is one of South Africa’s top comedians and a brilliant satirical political commentator.

This week, he had a stand-up show in Pretoria, where he made several powerful political statements dressed up in comedy. Foremost, he said Hendrik Verwoerd was South Africa’s worst president and that Cyril Ramaphosa is the most disappointing one ever to lead our beautiful country.


The statement elicited abundant sniggering from the 8 000+ audience, but in hindsight, it rings true.

I will not debate who the worst South African president was, as there are many candidates, but Noah’s labelling of Ramaphosa as the most disappointing deserves further elaboration.

He took over from Jacob Zuma in 2018, one of the foremost ‘worst ever’ candidates. Ramaphosa had South Africa at his feet, with high expectations and the ubiquitous belief that he would turn things around.

Sadly, many have been left bitterly disappointed.

I have unsuccessfully trolled the Internet for research as to which is worse: A poor leader or one that disappoints.

It may be difficult to prove empirically, so it is probably not a surprise, but it remains a good question.

I believe a ‘disappointing leader’ is much worse than a poor one.

My premise is simple. When a leader is poor, everyone knows what to expect. It is almost a case of aiming low and avoiding disappointment.

If there is a belief a leader will make a positive difference but fails to do so, the disheartening effect is much more devastating. It also allows the leader to get away with bad decisions for longer as people are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

When Ramaphosa took the reins, there was much euphoria, hope and belief that he could change the moral, financial and political degradation that festered under Zuma. After all, he is a seasoned politician and negotiator, having played a pivotal role in drafting the Constitution.

He was perceived as one of the few honest people in the ruling party. He was also wealthy, a successful businessman and seen as the man to clean up Zuma’s mess.

He started with his famous Thuma Mina (Send me) State of the Nation Address in February 2018, which inspired the nation. The promises of rooting out corruption, appointing competent political leadership, and improving economic activity instilled the belief of good things to come.


In the subsequent months and years, many politicians and business leaders echoed the Thuma Mina theme, but sadly, it has faded away.

Ramaphosa never acts decisively. In fact, the Thuma Mina promises were broken through inaction.

Corruption continues unabated, criminal syndicates operate everywhere, useless cadre-deployed ministers such as Gwede Mantashe and Bheki Cele remain in their positions, and the economy is on its knees.

South Africa needs leadership, but of all the good qualities Ramaphosa has, leadership is unfortunately not one of them.

Many will quickly argue that Ramaphosa remains the ‘best’ ANC candidate. It may be true, as the most apparent successor would be Paul Mashatile, but numerous excellent News24 investigative exposés have seriously dented his moral credentials.

Next year’s election will be critical for Ramaphosa and South Africa. As I have stated before, I doubt that we will see a non-ANC president, but the new administration will be much less ANC-controlled.

The president is a big fan of Noah, but perhaps he should review his affinity because no one wants to be named in the same sentence as Hendrik Verwoerd.

If South Africa sees a new president, I doubt whether he (or she) can be a greater disappointment than what we are stuck with now.