Ramaphosa – cometh the hour…?

Ramaphosa – cometh the hour…?
  • PublishedFebruary 1, 2018

Cyril Ramaphosa emerged as the winner in the brutal battle to lead the African National Congress (ANC) as its president, leaving his opponent and Jacob Zuma’s protégé, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, bleeding and wounded but not politically dead. But now, reports Allen Choruma, Ramaphosa’s real battle to unite the party and in essence the country, only begins.

In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, there is a moment when a sergeant describes the fierce battle near a camp at Forres thus: “Doubtful it stood, as two spent swimmers, that do cling together and choke their art”.

In the battle for the ANC presidency, it equally looked doubtful as to who would emerge the victor – Cyril Ramaphosa or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – as the pair entered into an even contest for the top party job at the ANC’s 54th National Elective Conference, held at Nasrec Expo Centre in Soweto in December 2017.

Ramaphosa came first with a slender victory of 2,440 votes against Zuma’s 2,261 votes. But Ramaphosa’s victory is not a case of winner-takes-all.

For the Zuma camp, the national elective conference (NEC) election is a battle lost and won. Won in the sense that three of the top six NEC members are from her camp. They are: David Mabuza (deputy president), Ace Magashula (secretary general) and Jessie Duarte (deputy secretary general).

The so-called Zuma ‘premier league’ members will keep Ramaphosa’s manoeuvres at the NEC under check. He will need a lot of diplomacy and tactics to stamp his authority as ANC president.

While ANC politicians were jostling for positions at the conference in December, the majority black population in South Africa were asking what independence was all about, if it did not address their bread-and-butter issues? The narrative among black South Africans is that the black man cannot live on political freedom alone

According to Stats SA, in 2017 unemployment peaked at 27.7% (a 13-year high), a sign that the economy, with an IMF-projected growth rate of 0.70%, has stagnated. 58% of the young people (15-34 years), mostly high school and college graduates, are finding it hard to secure employment. The weak economic growth has condemned 30.4m South Africans to poverty between 2011 and 2015 and a widening gap in income equality.

Corruption involving big-wigs within the ANC – exposed by the ‘State Capture’ report – poses a further threat to socio-economic development in the country.

This is the backdrop and mirrors challenges that lie ahead as Ramaphosa assumes the presidency of the ANC and potentially of South Africa in 2019.

During the run-up to the elective conference in December, Ramaphosa adopted a pragmatic approach to reform dubbed ‘The New Deal’, which brings government, business, labour and civic society together in partnership. It focuses on 10 priorities which include job creation, economic transformation, land reform, education reform, wealth re-distribution, among others.

As the new ANC president, Ramaphosa has inevitably made some adjustments to align his New Deal with ANC policies passed at the 54th elective conference. This adjustment is very evident on issues around radical economic transformation, land reform and nationalisation of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB).

Not bogged down by dogma

Notwithstanding that, what is evident is that he is not bogged down by political dogma, populist slogans and cheap rhetoric. He strikes a clear balance between the need for reform and maintaining economic stability and growth.

During his visit to Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini in Kwa Zulu Natal on 8 January, Ramaphosa announced that the ANC is seeking to amend the constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation – but stressed this would be done in a way that does not harm the economy, the agricultural sector or affect food security. 

He has been consistent in pointing out that failure of leadership and misguided priorities are to blame for the slow pace in land reform.

During an interview with South Africa’s ANN7 on 14 January, he spoke of the need to nationalise the SARB, arguing that central banks worldwide are largely owned by governments and the people – but again stressed that this should be done in line with international best practice.

He supports ANC calls for free education but argues that this should not be carried out in a populist manner but on a sustainable and affordable basis.

Ramaphosa needs to be given credit for coming out with a clear and well-articulated vision for both the ANC and the nation at large. He laid this out during his public address at the ANC’s 106th birthday celebrations in East London recently.

On the downside, he needs to take care of some skeletons in his cupboard over the Lonmin/Marikana shootings in August 2012. Back then, as a director of mining group Lonmin, he was quoted in the media as referring to the striking miners at Marikana as involved in a “dastardly criminal act”. How he is going to manage this stain on his reputation going forward remains to be seen. His public apology has already been termed disingenuous and dishonest.

Jacob Zuma vulnerable and trapped

Given the allegations of corruption hanging over his head, President Jacob Zuma will remain a festering sore for Ramaphosa and a liability for the ANC.

How is Ramaphosa going to work with Zuma, as the two can hardly see eye to eye? Already there is talk doing the rounds that his camp could push for an early Zuma exit, ahead of the crucial State of the Nation address in February.

The Constitutional Court judgement issued on 29 December 2017 could be a game-changer as it provides a new dynamic. It paves the way for the impeachment of President Zuma.

Further to that, the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into ‘State Capture’ and the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) investigations targeting companies controlled by or linked to the Guptas (the likes of McKinsey & Trillian) and their dealings with state enterprises such as Eskom, will be very damaging to Zuma.

Zuma is exposed, vulnerable and trapped between a rock and a hard place. He could even throw in the towel himself and resign as the impeachment, NPA investigations and commission of inquiry processes gather momentum.

Ramaphosa’s strategy could be to simply catalyse these processes, as this could bring Zuma down quickly. There is very little room to manoeuvre inside the ANC for an early ouster of Zuma given the power dynamics within the party.

During a series of interviews with mainstream media houses on 14 January, Ramaphosa commented that ‘the Zuma must go’ call is a delicate matter that has to be handled with a certain level of maturity, with proper decorum, and should not be done in a way that is going to humiliate President Zuma.

Can Ramaphosa unite the ANC – split by internal power struggles and mired in corruption scandals – and usher in a new brand of leadership? Is he the long-awaited messiah who is going to bring hope to all the masses of people stuck in the trenches of inequality, unemployment and poverty in South Africa?

For Ramaphosa, his victory as ANC president is a double-edged sword. He faces challenges on either side, within the ANC and outside it. He needs to jump-start the ANC and transform it into a vibrant political organisation.

He has an odious task, needing to catalyse a metamorphosis within the ANC to ensure that the party members are there to serve the people and not focus on lining their pockets through corruption.

Anything short of that and an already fragile ANC will die a natural death on Ramaphosa’s watch and be buried in the annals of South African history. NA

Written By
New African

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