Cyril Ramaphosa is expcted to deliver the January 8 Statement on Friday at 7 pm.

THEBE MABANGA AND CHARLES MOLELE

THE African National Congress (ANC), arguably the oldest liberation movement on the continent, embarks on its first virtual annual birthday celebrations on Friday as a result of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Usually, the party hosts the celebrations at jam-packed stadium rallies across the country with much fanfare, including pictures of the ANC’s top leadership popping champagne and cutting a multiple layered cake slathered with cream and frosting in the party’s black, gold and green colours.

For all intents and purposes, the ANC needs a candid and brutal reflection to realize it is faced with the most complex identity, leadership, governance, social and economic crises since it assumed power over a quarter of a century ago.

The party has to reform itself while at the same time restructuring the South African economy and changing its ownership patterns in a way that benefits the majority of its citizens. 

It also has to demonstrate to the rest of the world that liberation movements can make good leaders of government without succumbing to the seduction of State power and resources that comes with it to deliver the liberation dividend.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, as the face of both the party and government, faces his own challenge to retain his grip on power, not just for the remaining two years of his term as ANC president, but hopefully the next 10 years as the country’s president as well.

The celebrations are an opportunity to address a range of challenges, but are likely to focus on the short rather than the medium to long-term challenges faced by both party and country.

THE STATE OF THE PARTY  

The first question that the ANC should seek to answer is who it aims to attract and what it actually stands for. Is the ANC an African Nationalist party? Is it a liberal free market party, or is it a conservative free market party? Sometimes the party appears to be different things to different people, who can then manipulate for their own needs.

For example, former president Thabo Mbeki used the African Renaissance and the re-launch of the African Union (AU) to give the party and government a Pan-Africanist identity, yet that has completely been abandoned now.

It’s not clear anymore what the ANC stands for.

The party’s intellectual heavyweight Joel Netshitendze told delegates at its 2007 Polokwane conference that a governing party should aim to have a membership of 5% of the voting population.

The voting population stood at 20 million then, which gave the ANC a target of 1 million members.

That sounds about a reasonable target of members to have and manage, even as the voting population has grown. But beyond its membership and voter base, the party needs to rethink its configuration as a policy and governance machinery, its own electoral leadership cycle relative to the national election cycle and how it might retail power at all three tiers of government.

Ramaphosa’s saving grace for this year is that the celebrations as well as the National General Council in May will be held virtually.

This will shield him from outward display of dissent but might not shield him for calls to step down at the NGC for failing to implement key conference resolutions adopted in 2017.

His deployment of the ANC’s top six officials to lead provincial birthday celebrations is likely to be another source of exposing party divisions.

He will need to be careful in his deployment or call off the provincial festivities.

At the upcoming NGC, the attack that Ramaphosa will face is his supposed failure to implement the resolutions of the 2017 Conference on Land redistribution and the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank, among others. Internally, there are many who claim that he has not done enough to transform the party and the State machinery at large, particularly radical economic transformation.

But the much-awaited January 8 Statement speech on Friday night offers him an opportunity to shut down his critics, who are mostly supporters of former President Jacob Zuma and ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule, once and for all.

On the question of land, Ramaphosa has argued that government is indeed pressing ahead with plans to redistribute land to the black majority in an orderly fashion, saying Constitutional changes are underway in Parliament to take land without compensation.

Government has since published a draft land expropriation bill for public comment in December 2019 while Parliament has agreed to re-establish the multiparty committee to initiate and introduce legislation amending Section 25 of the Constitution.

Furthermore, Ramaphosa is likely to argue that the SA Reserve Bank will be hard to nationalise as long as there are fears that the motive for nationalizing is to obtain direct control over monetary policy and the country’s reserves and the ANC, given its track record on stewardship of resources, simply cannot be trusted with these.

So the ANC must win the trust of local and international market players to stand any chance of nationalizing the Reserve Bank.

Ramaphosa’s supporters have previously argued that the push for the nationalization of the Reserve Bank will come at a higher cost to government and was clearly unaffordable.

Others argued that the nationalization of the Reserve Bank should be rejected outright because removing the private sector shareholders and reverting ownership to the State would be detrimental and regressive from a corporate governance point of view.

Ramaphosa’s supporters, however, point out that there are many resolutions from many national conferences that have not been implemented, and no President was ever recalled over these.

Sizwe Pamla, spokesperson for Cosatu told Inside Politics ahead of the celebrations: “We currently have a vaccine problem and we want to hear a resolution on the state-owned Pharmaceutical Company. We currently have an economic crisis and we want to hear a resolution on a state-owned bank.”

Ramaphosa can point out that the establishment of these state-owned companies, along with a state-owned construction company, predates his presidency, and only a state-owned mine was registered and has since made little progress.

He may also wish to add that most of this lack of progress took place during the decade when the Zuma faction was in power.

The biggest challenge that Ramaphosa faces is that he presides over a divided party that is perceived to be inherently corrupt.

Ramaphosa operates with the strait-jacket over his slender margin of victory and an evenly split ANC’s Top Six he leads from the NASREC elective conference in 2017.

In the period since he has been in power, Ramaphosa and his faction does not seem to be willing or able to gain an upper hand and seize more power from his opposing faction.  

The result is that he operates within boundaries that his opponent sets.

The biggest challenge that Ramaphosa now faces is that his key rallying crusade of eliminating corruption is on shaky ground after questions were raised about his own fund-raising campaign to gain the Presidency, including possibly misleading Parliament and having those aligned or close to him being implicated in corruption-related to COVID-19 emergency equipment procurement.

Ramaphosa also drew the ire of South Africans when his spokesperson Khusela Diko had to be forced to temporarily step aside from her position after it emerged that her husband was awarded a contract worth R124m by the Gauteng health department to supply personal protective equipment (PPE).

Diko is a member of the ANC provincial executive committee in Gauteng.

Ramaphosa’s son Andile is also involved in a project to provide a safety feature for taxis to limit the spread of Covid-19, through his non-profit company, SDI Force.

Andile partnered with FNB in the R6m project. No state funds are involved in the project, according to the Sunday Times.

On the other hand, Magashule’s eldest son Tshepiso’s Motheko Projects also received a contract for R2.29m and Tshepiso’s brother Thato’s Marvel Deeds scored R427 221 from the Free State treasury.

Tuwo Rhodesia, a company owned by former minister Nomvula Mokonyane’s daughter, Katleho, was handed a R2.7m contract to supply soap to Gauteng’s health department.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) recently said R10.3 billion in alleged irregular contracts are under the unit’s microscope while the new Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke delivered the second COVID-19 relief funds audit, which flagged irregular procurement of contracts and corruption from the relief fund.

Maluleke has revealed that more than 1,500 directors of companies that do business with the state benefited from the state’s welfare grants meant for the poor.

The AG’s other findings included among others:

  • R95.84bn (65%) of the R148.06bn her office is auditing had been spent by September 30, with most initiatives completed or close to completion, while some had been abandoned or redirected.
  • The Unemployment Insurance Fund has recovered about R3.4bn of the Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) funds that may have been disbursed incorrectly.
  • More than 67,000 people benefited inappropriately from Sassa grants.

Ramaphosa will find it even more difficult to convince millions of South Africans that his party was committed to root out corruption when no action is taken against senior ANC leaders.

The court appearance by Magashule on 20 charges of corruption was seen as overdue and a long-awaited blow to the ANC Secretary General’s faction, but if he escapes the charges with suspended sentence or a fine, he and his factions will be emboldened to mount a more vigorous campaign to have Ramaphosa removed.

ANC factions appear divided between those who wish to punish corruption that occurred over the past decade under President Jacob Zuma, currently airing at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry and targeting the likes of ANC parliamentarian Supra Mahumapelo and Magashule, but not any other period or any sphere of society such as the private sector.

There are also those mostly in Zuma’s factions who shield corruption-accused officials such as former eThekwini mayor, Zandile Gumede, by arguing that they have not been found guilty by a court of law, only to move goalposts when they do appear in court and are given hefty bails to reflect the seriousness of the charges.

Ramaphosa’s political opponents within the party say his downfall will be that he is inconsistent with the application of the law, pointing out that others such as Magashule are targeted while his close allies such as Deputy President David Mabuza, national chairperson Gwede Mantashe and ANC’s deputy chairperson in KwaZulu Natal, Mike Mabuyakhulu, were treated differently.  

They also accuse him of using State institutions to investigate and purge his political opponents from government and the party.   

Ramaphosa is also expected to address the party’s ‘step aside’ policy following confusion on how to implement it fairly and equitably.  

THE ALLIANCE  

The birthday celebrations are unlikely to soothe fractured relations with Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), currently at odds over the Public Service Wage Bill and the payment of salary increases already agreed to at bargaining chambers two years ago.

COSATU was one of the first organizations to throw its weight behind Ramaphosa to take over as ANC President, but the relations have since soured over the past years due to Ramaphosa’s failure to implement policies in favour of workers, particularly the public wage agreement.

COSATU has threatened to embark on a ‘mother of all protests’ this year after the Labour Court threw a court application by unions to force the government to pay their 2020 wage increases.  

Union members claim that his administration has not benefited the workers.

Matters were also made by worse when Finance Minister Tito Mboweni first proposed slashing the wage bill in his February budget speech last year, in which he said R160-billion should be cut over the next three years. The proposal in the recent medium-term budget policy statement is likely to accumulate to R160-billion.  

Beyond imploring public servants to sacrifice for the broader good of the country, no charm-offensive will work for Ramaphosa on this one.

Pamla strikes a reconciliatory note when he says “the greatest achievement of the ANC over the past 109 years has been to mobilize South Africans across racial and tribal lines.” 

Pamla says for the ANC to nip an emerging black nationalism in the bud it needs to address factionalism and “the total collapse and irrelevance of its leagues”

THE ECONOMY  

The economy is probably Ramaphosa’s biggest headache, and not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before COVID-19 struck, Ramaphosa had been dithering and indecisive over economic reforms prescribed by rating agencies to avoid downgrades and attract investments.

Ramaphosa can argue that South Africa has largely followed Bretton Woods Institution, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) prescriptions and part from those record consecutive quarters of growth experienced under Thabo Mbeki, the country has never really been rewarded with Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

A question that Ramaphosa must answer as he sets the tone for recovery is why government cannot turn to the Reserve Bank, currently sitting on almost R1 trillion in reserves and a 3% interest rate cushion.

The economy is an area where Ramaphosa can impose and show his hand fully without the fear of being obstructed by the opposing faction.

The ANC is currently driven by a free market ideology concerned with pleasing business by creating suitable conditions for business to remain profitable without addressing issues such as wealth redistribution and tackling inequality.

The Jacob Zuma faction appears to have no economic ideology and is only concerned with retaining government and state-owned companies expenditure, which in turn creates opportunities for accumulation.

Without his own economic blueprint, Ramaphosa will find himself pulled in different directions by competing demands and constituencies.

For a start, Ramaphosa and Mboweni are likely to find themselves under pressure to reconsider the R10-billion South African Airways (SAA) bailout in order to redirect funding to the COVID-19 Vaccine or other causes.

The most critical question to which Ramaphosa and the ANC must respond is how they will revive the economy to replace the 3 million jobs lost during COVID-19, in addition to those lost in a stagnating labour market.

The ANC is once again divided on this one with Ramaphosa placing faith in a private sector-driven, export-led growth which now seems unlikely since exports have been disrupted by COVID-19 while a different group believes in government spending-led revival from a developmental state.

The reality is government has a bigger role to play in the economy, except that it is running out of money and fiscal space to make a meaningful contribution.

This is shown by a decline in investment by SOEs over the past five years.  

During his economic reconstruction and recovery plan, Ramaphosa pledged the creation and support of 875,000 jobs in the 2020/21 financial year, increasing further in 2021/22 and 2022/23.

For now this remains but a bridge too far.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS  

The January 8 statement will also be a launch pad for the ANC’s manifesto for Local Government Elections which have to be held by November this year, COVID-19 notwithstanding.

The ANC will find itself facing awkward questions from voters as municipalities under its stewardship have fallen into governance crises and failing to meet basic service delivery needs, including the delivery of water and electricity in some cases.

The ANC has to demonstrate commitment to clean governance by acting against those found to be persistently or excessively corrupt and identify a few centres of governance excellence where it can showcase delivery.

The ANC is currently emboldened by the performance in its recent performance in the by-elections, but Ramaphosa will seek to restore public confidence in the party ahead of the much-anticipated Local Government Elections by promising to root out corruption in municipalities and deploy suitable ‘cadres’ in government.

During the previous local government elections, the ANC lost control of three metropolitan municipalities, namely Nelson Mandela Bay, City of Tshwane and City of Johannesburg, to opposition parties as a result of the election.

COVID-19 RESPONSE  

Ramaphosa’s year, and probably term in office, will likely be defined by his response to the COVID-19, and this is likely to be the dominant theme of the statement.

Once again, the COVID-19 response will be used by both critics and supporters to bolster the case for or against the President.

From an initial total command when the first case was reported in March last year until he unveiled the R500 billion stimulus package, he seemed in total control.

Since coming under pressure to open the economy and with growing perceptions of corruption around COVID-19 funds, his star has waned and while the poor and jobless will praise him for preserving lives, he is likely to be criticized for the cost to economic growth and jobs lost.

While government has announced plans to roll-out COVID-19 vaccine across the country, unions have described the government’s plan as ‘scant’, ‘ambiguous’ and lacks clear logistical roll-out plan for vaccination in terms of training clinicians to vaccinate.

The unions also believe that the negotiations with vaccine manufacturers should have started long time ago, adding that the government was caught napping while the country faced a deadly pandemic that killed millions of people across the world.  

In the last 24 hours, South Africa has set a new daily COVID-19 record with 21,832 new cases.

This has pushed the country’s cumulative number of cases to 1,149,591.

The Department of Health also reported that 844 people have died after contracting the virus.

The recovery rate has dropped to 80% with 929,239 people having recuperated so far.

It’s a battle he is unlikely to win, at least not in the short-term.

(SOURCE: INSIDE POLITICS)

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