Analysis: Ramaphosa’s crossroads – It’s now or never

Charles Molele

Days after the ANC won the general elections with a reduced majority, President Cyril Ramaphosa finds himself between a rock and a hard place. He faces the biggest test of his presidency as he’s expected to act without fear or favour towards party members found to be on the wrong side of the law, as well as senior politicians across the ANC’s factional lines.

There have been all sorts of corruption allegations against top officials such as Deputy President David Mabuza, Secretary General Ace Magashule and Chairperson Gwede Mantashe. Ramaphosa must restore the rule of law in the country and win back the trust of South Africans and investors. In order to do this, he will have to act on the commitments he made, and use them as his ticket to root out corrupt elements within the governing ANC.

While on the campaign trail, Ramaphosa said he had the interests of the poor at heart and promised that it was not going to be business as usual after the elections. He vowed to fight endemic corruption and deal with controversial ANC leaders who are facing serious allegations of corruption and misconduct.

Top of the agenda at Monday’s special national executive committee (NEC) meeting in Pretoria, will be the possible reconfiguration of Ramaphosa’s new Cabinet and deployment of cadres to the National Assembly. The meeting is also expected to address the public spat between Magashule and head of the elections campaign, Fikile Mbalula – and whether it was Ramaphosa or ordinary branch members of the ANC who saved the party in these recent elections.

Those expected to be included in Ramaphosa’s new Cabinet include rising star Ronald Lamola, ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu, Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, head of ANC presidency Zizi Kodwa and Mbalula.

The tripartite alliance leaders from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the SA Communist Party (SACP), also expect to be accommodated in Ramaphosa’s Cabinet as a reward for their open support for him as ANC president.

Do for some, do for all

Ramaphosa plans to trim his bloated Cabinet from 35 ministers to 25, and is also expected to do away with some deputy ministers.

But the big question is: Who does he sacrifice? Can he afford to get rid of Mabuza, Mantashe or Magashule?

The ANC’s Integrity Commission recommended that the party remove from its public representative list the following people; Mabuza, Mantashe, former Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, ANC Women’s League president and Minister in the Presidency responsible for Women, Bathabile Dlamini, and Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane.

Notwithstanding the negative publicity she received following the SASSA scandal, there is no doubt that Dlamini wields a lot of power within the ANC, given her position as president of the ANC Women’s League.

Gordhan, on the other hand, is currently being investigated by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane for granting early retirement to Ivan Pillay, the former deputy commissioner of the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and his subsequent re-employment as SARS deputy commissioner in 2010 – among other things. Gordhan was finance minister at the time.

If he acts against Mokonyane, Dlamini and Gigaba, some within the ANC will also expect him to act against Mantashe, Mabuza and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan to avoid being seen as only purging allies of former president Jacob Zuma.

David Mabuza

While the Integrity Commission recommended that Mabuza be among those who are removed from the list of public representatives, the reality of the matter is that Ramaphosa owes much of his rise to power to Mabuza, who ensured his election as ANC president during the 2017 elective conference in Nasrec, Johannesburg.

Mabuza – just like Zuma – is seen by many as a cunning and guile person.

Prior to the 2007 watershed conference in Polokwane, Mabuza dumped former president Thabo Mbeki at the last minute. He did the same with Zuma in 2017 when he switched his allegiance to Ramaphosa on the eve of the elective conference.

Mabuza is fully aware that some in Ramaphosa’s camp don’t want him to succeed Ramaphosa as president. They have, instead, suggested ANC treasurer general Paul Mashatile as the next ANC president.

It’s also understood that some in the ANC are pushing for Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma – former AU Commission chairperson and Minister in the Presidency responsible for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation – for the position of deputy president of the country.  

Mabuza, also known as ‘The Cat’ for his slippery ways, is fully aware of this and is closely watching Ramaphosa’s every move.

The president knows very well that he does not command enough support within the ANC structures, and needs Mabuza to survive. However, if Ramaphosa keeps Mabuza as his deputy in government, and Mantashe as a minister – despite the Integrity Commission’s recommendations – and acts against others such as Dlamini, Mokonyane and Gigaba, then he will most likely be accused of purging his political opponents.

Ace Magashule

Then there’s the ANC secretary general, Ace Magashule, who has accused Ramaphosa of using state resources to kick him out of the ANC. He’s also used the ANC Youth League to attack the president and his allies, such as Mbalula.

Supporters of Ramaphosa want Magashule to be charged for alleged corruption that occurred when he was Premier of the Free State. Party veterans such as Mavuso Msimang want him removed as ANC secretary general. Magashule has been hard at work mobilizing structures in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Limpopo, North West and the Eastern Cape.

The road to the party’s national general council (NGC) in June 2020 is going to be a bumpy ride and will definitely be filled with casualties of war.

The youth league conference in two months’ time will also lay bare the deep divisions within the governing party, as Magashule’s faction is pushing for KZN youth league leader Thanduxolo Sabelo while Ramaphosa’s supporters want a different candidate to head the league.

Lindiwe Sisulu

Government insiders believe Ramaphosa is likely to redeploy International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu from her current position, but keep her in his Cabinet.

Sisulu played an important role for Ramaphosa during the ANC elective conference. Her supporters, who initially wanted her as ANC deputy president supported Ramaphosa as party leader at the elective conference.

Now, Ramaphosa is said to be unhappy with how she conducted herself at Dirco – including allegations that she appointed a review panel of the department without consulting Ramaphosa first.

The president is also said to be unhappy that she left a crucial meeting in South Sudan a few months ago, without notifying him prior to her departure back to South Africa.

Recently, she is said to have appointed a team of international relations experts – including former deputy minister of foreign affairs Aziz Pahad, to assist her to broker a deal between Felix Tshisekedi and former president Joseph Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo without consulting Ramaphosa.

The president was apparently angered by this and has rejected Sisulu’s team of experts and opted for his own.

Premiers

Another headache for Ramaphosa will be the appointment of premiers in the 8 provinces governed by the ANC. His supporters expect to be rewarded after they worked hard campaigning for him. In the Eastern Cape, ANC provincial chairperson Oscar Mabuyane wants to take over as premier. Stanley Chupu Mathabatha, one of the key Ramaphosa allies, expects to be retained as Limpopo premier after the ANC in the province under his leadership performed better than all other provinces.

Chairperson of the ANC in the Northern Cape, Zamani Saul, who supported Ramaphosa prior to Nasrec, is expected to replace the current Premier Sylvia Lucas, who is a staunch Zuma supporter.

It remains to be seen if Ramaphosa will retain Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni, who has made some leaders within the ANC, including Mabuza, uneasy for always contradicting the party on Facebook and Twitter.

Maria Ramos, former CEO of Absa, has come out as a possible replacement for Mboweni. Ramos previously served as a Director General at National Treasury and Group CEO of Transnet.

It’s time for Ramaphosa to prove whether or not he is a man of his word or if he will get cold feet and succumb to the limitations of internal party politics.

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