Cyril Ramaphosa has become the President of the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party of South Africa since 1994. Ramaphosa is closer to becoming President of an increasingly divided country when general elections are held in 2019. However, his ruling the nation isn’t guaranteed.
It was a stormy road to the ANC’s 54th National Conference which was held this past weekend (December 16-20 2017). The build-up and the nature of politics carries insight into the uncertain future of South Africa.
INCONVENIENT FRIENDS & CONVENIENT ENEMIES
2017 has arguably being the worst year for the ANC since its leaders were being tortured and jailed during Apartheid. The ANC’s current prison is entirely of its own making, the bars of personal greed and consequent corruption imprisoning the party’s ideology of equality for all.
Corruption has seemingly fractured the ANC into those that receive and those that hope to receive more. Ramaphosa is the hoped for exception since black advantage has already made him a billionaire. That stated awkwardness isn’t to deny his abilities – he has a reputation as a strong negotiator, someone whom big business (for better or worse) can work with.
His strength is also his disadvantage, his critics seeing him more as one of the rich or, worse (as a racist definition), more like a white person than as a champion of the poor. Whether true or not, his perceived role in the Marikana Massacre isn’t soon forgotten.
A problem with politics is it being personified by individuals and their often biased factions rather than by merit and practical intention. Perception trumps fact, increasingly so as the increasing poor become increasingly uneducated, resulting in easily miseducated voters supporting devils with interchanging faces.
Enter Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as opponents in the latest battle for control of the ANC. The fight has been defined by the polarising figure of President Jacob Zuma which made voting either for Zuma (Dlamini-Zuma, his ex-wife) or against him (for Ramaphosa).
The media, particular television, made recent effort to repeatedly state that it was unfair to refer to Dlamini-Zuma as “Zuma’s ex-wife”. Instead, she’s a powerful and experienced woman. It’s possible that those platitudes were delivered in case she won. Honesty is that Dlamini-Zuma made no effort to distance herself from corruption, instead surrounding herself with questionable friends of Jacob Zuma, and running a dishonest campaign that matched his desperate offers to the poor so that he could cling to power. It’s fair to refer to her as “Zuma’s ex-wife” because it’s the bed she chose to lie in again. And if she’s Zuma’s wife, then the ANC Women’s League is his prostitute. The organisation seems to act for Zuma, not women. If they had supported others (such as Lindiwe Sisulu), the election results wouldn’t have been so chauvinistic.
There were other candidates, none with a hope of winning but one of the strongest dilutions was likely Sisulu, the Minister of Human Settlements. She saw the writing on the wall, decided that second best was better than third or fourth, and threw her lot in with Ramaphosa, almost resulting in her becoming the ANC’s Deputy President.
Stopping Sisulu was a stroke of devilish genius by Dlamini-Zuma supporter, ANC Mpumalanga Chairperson David Mabuza. He launched a campaign for party unity. Delegates could actually vote for “Unity”. On the day of the election, he switched those votes to Dlamini-Zuma. The Unity trick will prove divisive.
As the Chairperson of the ANC and long regarded as Zuma’s protector, it was controversial when Baleka Mbete renounced her candidacy to support Ramaphosa, stating she was acting in the best benefits of the party. Her last moment decision can be seen as survivalism-as-the-winds-blow rather than honest commitment to a leader she believes and supports. But with the election of several Zuma supporters to top leadership, Mbete is in an awful political situation.
Ramaphosa’s win was greatly assisted by corruption in the Zuma faction; not the more serious, long rape of South Africa’s economy but rather the illegal convening of ANC branches which were to send delegates to the national conference. In Mahikeng, a town in North West Province, the court disqualified 50 delegates. In Pietermaritzburg, in the Zuma strong-hold of KwaZulu-Natal, the court upheld an earlier ruling that overturned the 2015 election of provincial party leaders who would’ve voted for Dlamini-Zuma. In all, approximately 400 delegates were not allowed to vote.
Ramaphosa had received the backing of 1,860 branches ahead of the vote. Although, Dlamini-Zuma seemed far behind with only 1,330, it was hailed as a close race because of votes counted outside of the branch structure (e.g. ANC Women’s League), and because newspapers, without proof, were repeatedly alleging voter bribery by the Zuma camp. During the conference, there was delay as delegates were verified or disqualified. That latter dishonesty became mostly a loss of votes for Dlamini-Zuma. It’s extreme irony that if her supporters had followed the rules, she would have won.
There was more drama as Jacob Zuma proposed that posts be created for two Deputy Presidents and two Deputy-Secretary Generals instead of the current one. That would have ensured heated faction battles through to 2019, and given him opportunity to try keep his faction in power. Delegates voted against the first and he was forced to withdraw the second.
That, the same week, another court ruled that investigation into State Capture must go-ahead, and that Jacob Zuma must personally pay expensive legal costs for objecting to it, was surely the cherry topping the dung cake of politics. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), the ANC’s Alliance partners, rushed to welcome the judgment, effectively supporting Ramaphosa.
Logically, Zuma’s betrayers and the court decisions made Ramaphosa the likely winner. However, it was closer than any serious stakeholder could’ve imagined (TV coverage’s repeated too-close-too-call statements was sensationalism that strangely came true).
ANC 2017 ELECTIVE CONFERENCE RESULTS
The following is the election results for the top leadership posts of the ANC’s National Executive Committee which has 86 members. The top 6 are referred to as the NEC6:
- President: Cyril Ramaphosa 2440 vs Dlamini-Zuma 2261 (won by 4%)
- Deputy President: David Mabuza (won by 8%)
- National Chairperson – Gwede Mantashe (won by 3%)
- Secretary General: Ace Magashule (won by 0.5%)
- Deputy Secretary General: Jessie Duarte (won by 6%)
- Treasurer General: Paul Mashatile (won by 7%)
Those figures express an ANC divided.
The NEC’s rules state: “The National Executive Committee, as a whole, shall not consist of less than fifty percent (50%) of women.” It’s poor reflection that 5 of its 6 leaders are men.
Politically, that’s Ramaphosa, Mantashe and Mashatile versus Mabuza, Magashule and Duarte. What happens to South Africa may be decided by how those camps are divided between the remaining 80 members of the NEC.
Who is Ramaphosa? Does his leadership mean a brighter future for South Africa?
Cyril Ramaphosa, now one of the richest men in Africa (R5.67-billion), seems faraway from his remarkable role in establishing the powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and forming the umbrella organisation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
His organisational skills were put to good use when he became one of the major negotiators transitioning South Africa from Apartheid under the National Party (NP) to a parody of democracy under the ANC. There’s much to criticise from that era, especially the free ticket corporate apartheid profiteers were given, but not without South Africans being thankful that the realistic fear of civil war became, in the greater context, a peaceful handover. The secondary white fear of South Africa becoming a second Zimbabwe never materialised.
After Nelson Mandela surprisingly never chose Ramaphosa as his successor to the Presidency, Ramaphosa became a businessman, discovering wealth in the energy sector, telecommunications, real estate and banking. In 2012, he gave up his many seats on corporate boards to become the Deputy President of the ANC, and then Deputy president of South Africa in 2014.
Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption/anti-State Capture electioneering platform is ironic considering he supported Jacob Zuma (until recently) and was in charge of the same corrupt state enterprises for 3 years. A devotee may offer the excuse that he was waiting for the right moment to make a difference.
Regardless of which opinion you side with, the real Ramaphosa has to step forward now.
“Will the ANC break up?” has never been a more relevant question or wish than today. Break-up is defined as significant, something nearer to halving rather than the micro breakaways of the UDM and COPE, or even the more respectable and influential Economic Freedom Fighters EFF (which won 6.35% in the 2014 national election and 8.2% in the 2016 local government elections).
It’s possible that the ANC rebels (now the ANC winners) have secretly colluded with the ANC’s main opposition, the Democratic Alliance under Mmusi Maimane (or whoever truly leads them). Indeed, the increasingly biased media was clearly on ‘their side’. However, no matter the many efforts of the DA and (later) secret ANC voters to get rid of Jacob Zuma, the ANC rebels first option was always to get rid of him from within, in that way giving themselves more chance of taking over the ANC as a whole rather than a fraction. Although increasingly difficult, the goal will still be the whole chessboard rather than a few squares.
If Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has won the ANC presidency, it’s likely that the ANC would’ve split in two, the 2019 elections becoming a victorious win under under the possible coalition government of Ramaphosa and Maimane, an agreement big business would’ve been very happy with. If die-hard supporters think that impossible, remember when Helen Zille, then DA leader, stated that her party would never partner with the EFF… yet that is what happened. To DA voters, Ramaphosa looks like a cuddly teddy bear in comparison to the fiery Malema.
Politics is a fickle beast only if the voter expects politicians to be honest with them. Voters are pawns whilst political leaders are incestuous kings and queens on a chessboard of corporate and foreign interests. The best the voter can hope for is a life of less debt and more safety.
Now that the Ramaphosa faction has barely won, the consequences are harder to predict although the odds of a major ANC break-up lessens. Their alliance partners, COSATU and (the increasingly irrelevant) SACP, have, for the most part, already chosen the winning side.
Malema remains kingmaker more than any other. Although his EFF considers the NEC to be a toss-up between Gupta corruption and white monopoly capital, it would be logical for the EFF to hedge their bets and strengthen their negotiation positions by switching some of their coalitions with the DA to the ANC. A deal with Ramaphosa could dress several municipality’s in red and several EFF members in ministerial titles. Ramaphosa would look like a uniter, a father bringing a son back home. Malema may not want to come home but he is a master of opportunity. And if Ramaphosa took back major centres such as Port Elizabeth, he would look to many as the successful leader to vote for in 2019.
The DA is in a precarious position but may benefit from long-term in-fighting.
But it’s the short term that will decide what eventually happens. Winning with an edge isn’t enough to win a smooth ride. At the top, in places like the ANC’s National Executive Committee, the losers can be pushed out (unpunished to avoid commotion). At branch level, conciliation with the losers is the best pursuit but may fail. The power of patronage is strong and few would want to increase their risk of going to jail for corruption by meekly accepting whatever is decided by them by their new bosses. Purging the lower ranks could be met with resistance by those with more maneuverability in their localities.
A DIVIDED ANC, TROUBLE FOR SOUTH AFRICA
The ANC, as an organisation, shouldn’t fool itself. The results of this election didn’t come from the masses but from behind-the-scenes deals by the powerful who control them.
Ramaphosa didn’t get the team he wanted which would have included Lindiwe Sisulu (Deputy President) and Senzo Mchunu (Secretary General ). Instead, half the members of his most important committee are enemies and Zuma supporters.
Mpumalanga’s David Mabuza could be considered to be Ramaphosa’s nemesis. The Zuma stronghold of Ace Magashule’s Orange Free State will be problematic but possibly lessened by in-fighting. They, like Duarte, have had accusations of corruption levelled at them.
KwaZulu-Natal has the most to fear. When it comes to power, there’s an element that has never overcome centuries old tribal viciousness or the more recent 1990’s wars between the ANC and Inkatha, Xhosa and Zulu (in which so many died). The fight for power at ANC branch levels is severe. National politics heats that up. Assassinations are already common place. And the losing ANC faction nationally is by far the majority provincially.
Ramaphosa will likely fight back against the Zuma camp through his replacement of Shaun Abrahams (seen as a Zuma ally) as the Director of Public Prosecutions.
WHAT NEXT FOR SOUTH AFRICA?
The next question is, “Will Jacob Zuma be removed as South Africa’s president before the national elections… and will he go gracefully?”
ANC icon, Ahmed Kathrada, wrote a highly publicised letter to Zuma in 2016, asking him to resign for the sake of South Africa. The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation followed that with a request that Zuma be recalled as president at this weekend’s national conference. It’s notable that Zuma, at the conference, implied the letter was fake.
Zuma has proven smarter than the majority of his critics said he was. In fact, he’s one of the smartest. And he’s always demonstrated that he’s a fighter, coming out top when he should’ve been down. But when power shifts, supporters, those with the money, often shift too. Additionally, strategically, his enemies could repeatedly take him to court so that the pressure of legal bills forces him out. Zuma doesn’t want to be broke or go to jail so it must be expected that he’ll fight using the power of his office. If Ramaphosa doesn’t get rid of him soon, he will dig in. And Zuma has the Constitutional right to deny an ANC recall as President of South Africa. He has an army too.
Zuma’s departure could also be tactically delayed by Ramaphosa, the same way the DA defied Pravin Gordhan (now suddenly their darling) and delayed their takeover of Oudtshoorn. It’s practical to have no liability and someone else to blame come election time. However, that would definitely mean more attacks from within government.
A Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma win would’ve benefited the rhetoric of the EFF. Ramaphosa’s win weakens them. The EFF needs to bargain with its coalition power in hung municipalities but that risks them diluting their ideology and losing some of their political party identity.
In the short term, Ramaphosa’s win will find the Rand strengthen and the rating agencies murmur politely. That’s easy to do cause economics is more the result of sentiment and manipulation than actual worth. When that golden ride is over, Ramaphosa will face resistant problems e.g. the indeterminate value of South Africa’s Federal Reserve Bank which refuses external audit; the country’s abysmal growth rate, 28% (or more) unemployment; and R2-trillion debt.
The rich get richer, the poor poorer mantra will likely hold true. The politics of gaining votes with hate will continue.
And there are greater external forces on South Africa than anything within, forces uncontrollable by the likes of even a billionaire like Ramaphosa. … especially influenced by the diminishing power of the USA and the blow-back that will have on the world, especially developing nations. By necessity, South Africa’s ties to China will have to strengthen. It will be interesting to witness the inclination of an ANC under Ramaphosa.
It’s often the fool who tries to predict the future where politics is involved but it’s certain that, back home, South Africans still have much to worry about, especially minorities whose place in the future seems unimaginable whilst all major parties pursue the vote of the increasing majority who think that the sins of particular, unknown, distant ancestors lasts forever.
Personal Note: It’s impossible for this writer to be cynically practical. Life is far murkier than good versus evil. There often aren’t perfect choices with perfect outcomes. Corruption will never disappear. It’s the human condition to want more, especially by the strong who put their foot forward, ahead of the meek who only vote or don’t vote at all, who never improve their own street let alone their own town. For better or worse, doers are more influential than the Inappropriately Opinionated. Corruption grows but is stemmed by new leadership from the ranks of the enemy. With sufficient changes in leadership, corruption will survive but never become an uncontrollable beast that eats everything. The song of Cyril Ramaphosa sounds better than the other song on the playlist. South Africa isn’t going to become reasonable overnight. She’s forgotten she’s a Republic to think she’s a notion of unattainable democracy. Hell, she doesn’t even know what a Republic is. She’s a beast that resists taming. Never forget that WE ARE SOUTH AFRICA and WE ARE THAT BEAST. We can all play a part or must silently accept whatever results. In this moment, at the very least, no matter who we support, we can wish Ramaphosa and his team well. For our sakes, we have to.
Read sequel thoughts: