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Ramaphosa’s “big talk” fails to calm ANC’s stormy waters may be down, but he won’t go out easily

FILE – ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa with his fellow NEC members releasing doves at the party's 110th birth day celebration held at Peter Mokaba stadium in Polokwane on 08 January 2022. File photo: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

FILE – ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa with his fellow NEC members releasing doves at the party's 110th birth day celebration held at Peter Mokaba stadium in Polokwane on 08 January 2022. File photo: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jan 16, 2022


OPINION: As we brace ourselves for the titanic battle for the soul of the ANC, we may do better by taking counsel from the late American President JF Kennedy to heart. Kennedy warned that “those who make peaceful evolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”, writes Professor Sipho Seepe.

In terms of its Constitution, the ANC is expected to host an elective conference by the end of this year. The electoral process provides the party with an opportunity to renew itself and to adapt to new challenges.

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The elected leadership collective is entrusted with the responsibility of carrying the mandate of the organisation as expressed in its conference resolutions. Whether the current leadership is re-elected will depend on how it has carried out the mandate given in 2017. Put differently, the prospect of President Cyril Ramaphosa being re-elected will depend on his performance as opposed to his usual promises.

It is safe to say that in a functioning democracy, where leaders are held to account, President Ramaphosa would not think of availing himself for the second term. If anything he would be preparing a way of trying to salvage whatever modicum of respect he still commands. The hype that accompanied his election disappeared from the get go. All that is left is just big talk. He has lost all forms of credibility and believability.

This past week must have been tough for Ramaphosa. In a meeting with traditional leaders in Limpopo, Ramaphosa was told that he is a liar to his face. The meeting was part of lead-up to the ANC’s 110th anniversary. The perception that his words and promises are worth nothing also came out in the subsequent interviews that he entertained. Interestingly, a year earlier Barney Mthombothi foresaw this development in his column Cyril Ramaphosa’s multiplying falsehoods are hurting his cause (Sunday Times 13th January 2020).

Ramaphosa does not need anyone to discredit him. He has mastered the art of doing so himself. He can complain about the culture of ill-discipline within his party, bemoan the fact that members look the other way when acts of indiscipline happen, but still expect that his party not to be bothered when he is guilty of the same.

A case in point was a glaring abuse of platform by Mr Mathabatha, the provincial chairperson of the ANC in Limpopo at the party’s rally. Mathabatha turned unashamedly his welcome address into a campaign speech for the re-election of Ramaphosa as president of the ANC.

Ramaphosa pretended not to notice this flagrantly divisive act. His silence could only be matched by that of a church mouse. A disciplined leader would have walked the talk by pointing out that, while noting Mathabatha’s sentiments, this was not the platform nor the occasion to do so.

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Ramaphosa could also have pointed out that discipline also includes being patient and adhering to the processes of the ANC. He failed. As if to lecture Ramaphosa, Tony Yengeni responded on twitter:

“January 8th is a sacrosanct ANC birthday. A day when members not only celebrate but chart the way forward ... For the first time it’s been defecated upon by senior ANC officials to launch their factional and personal 2022 campaigns. This political travesty must be condemned ... Loudly.”

Indeed, through his silence Ramaphosa sent a wrong message that ill-discipline is only acceptable when it favours his political fortune.

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On the government’s side, Ramaphosa’s performance leaves much to be desired. Dreams and promises of a better and functioning government that he promised in his State of the Nation Address have since turned into nightmares.

Business confidence plummeted to its lowest level yet during the second quarter of 2020. This was the lowest since the RMB/BER business confidence index (BCI) began in 1975. State Owned Enterprises have all but collapsed.

The lackadaisical performance of the economy cannot be blamed solely on Covid-19. The economy was already on a downward spiral long before its onset on our shores. Business Day, a daily sympathetic to Ramaphosa, noted in its editorial (March 4, 2019) “economic growth in 2018 came in at a paltry 0.7%.

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Not only is this far from the levels of about 5% that are needed to make inroads into the country’s unemployment crisis, but it is also only just more than half the rate achieved during Zuma’s last year in office, when the economy expanded 1.3%.“

Echoing what many economic analysts expressed on the state of the South African economy under Ramaphosa, columnist and television host Justice Malala writes:

“… the new season did not herald hope and renewal. It was a spring of despondency. The country had plummeted into the foulest mood ...The currency was plummeting to new depths ... Business confidence indices sealed the cocktail of pessimism, saying the mood was the bleakest since the 1980s” (Sunday Times October 20, 2019).

Even those known to be sympathetic to Ramaphosa have bemoaned the lack of economic stewardship. Mcebisi Jonas (Sunday Times 19/07/2020), an economic envoy appointed by Ramaphosa, argued that instead of turning the economic fortunes around we have been “presented with a multitude of plans, but little sense that anyone is in charge. Debates are often stuck between competing ideological positions rather than developing and driving real productivity and provide jobs.”

And in her article “Ramaphosa and Gordhan fail on every energy promise as load shedding grips SA” (Daily Maverick, July 14), Ferial Haffajee reminds us that Ramaphosa was entrusted with turning around the fortunes of Eskom as far back as 2014.

Instead of focusing on getting the economy on a positive trajectory the Ramaphosa administration continue to invest more time and energy on its internal battles. No amount of spin doctoring would erase Ramaphosa’s dismal failure on the economic front.

But before one jumps the gun, too much has been invested in Ramaphosa to allow him to throw in the towel. He is probably the only candidate assured of escaping any form of accountability. No politician has had it so good. Veteran journalist Justice Malala forcefully argues that there is “No accountability in the Ramaphosa administration” (Sunday Times January 10, 2021). Malala writes:

“It must really be nice to be in President Cyril Ramaphosa's administration. Imagine we were back in the year, say 2016, and a virus had come along and killed thousands of South Africans. Imagine the revelation that 29 other countries had begun inoculating their populations, SA had not concluded any agreements for direct supply with pharmaceutical companies ...”

Jacob Zuma, who was president at the time, would have been eaten alive. People like me would have written long columns calling for heads to roll. Ministers and directors-general would have been asked to resign.

There would have been threats of marches, lawsuits and parliamentary inquiries. Not so in the age of Ramaphosa.

This administration, after a spectacular shambles in the handling of the vaccine rollout and clear lack of strategy, is continuing in its opaque ways, with little or no noise from most quarters. There is no accountability, no taking responsibility and no consequence ... Our government has been sitting on its hands for months and we are silent.“

Where does this leave the ANC? The recent local government electoral outcomes should indicate that more of the same would not do. Flogging a horse that can’t run is to gamble with the future. The only trump card remaining for Ramaphosa would be an attempt to use the report by Deputy Justice Raymond Zondo to muzzle his political opponents. But this will not work. And besides, it takes time to conclude criminal investigations, let alone winning them. Abuse of state power is something that members of the ANC will be watching with a hawk eye.

The ANC is not bereft of talent. The likes of Ace Magashule, Mathews Phosa, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Supra Mahumapelo, Zweli Mkhize and Lindiwe Sisulu have been punted as the core that can replace the current leadership.

Magashule, Phosa, Mkhize and Mahumapelo are former leaders of provincial government. Phosa, Magashule and Mkhize were in the top six of the ANC.

Under the ANC, the party was saved from the embarrassing spectre of being unable to pay its own workers. As Phosa explained during an interview at the ANC rally, under his watch not only were workers paid on time, they received seven percent salary increases and bonuses. It boils down to ensuring that the ANC restores confidence it lost among its stakeholders and the ordinary people.

Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma is certainly a formidable competitor. She lost by a whisker to Ramaphosa who has been accused of buying his presidency. Indeed, Ramaphosa is the only person who can have money raised on his behalf, benefit from it, ask the courts to put a lid on the information related to the money, and then proceed to plead both ignorance and innocence.

The Ramaphosa camp ran a sexist campaign against Dlamini Zuma by deliberately linking her to her former husband, Jacob Zuma. Doing so was to ensure that she pays for sins of commission or omission by the former president Jacob Zuma.

In criticizing Sisulu, ANC veteran Mavuso Msimang has done a pretty good advertising job for those who may not know her. Mavuso writes that Sisulu has “an impressive track record that dates back to her training as an Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) cadre who specialised in security. She has been a member of Parliament since 1994.

A longstanding member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC, Sisulu started in government as deputy minister of Home Affairs, following which she successively served as minister of Intelligence; Defence; Public Service and Administration; Human Settlements; International Relations and Co-operation; Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation; and now, Tourism.”

Replacing Ramaphosa is not going to be easy. A lot of business people, some of whom harbour an intense dislike for the ANC have invested in him. They have also invested in the downfall of the ANC.

This is why they don’t give a damn whether ANC office workers are paid or not. They have their own project and agenda to finish. With Ramaphosa’s demonstrable performance failure, those challenging Ramaphosa must ensure that the votes are not split. That is the only thing that his camp can count on.

If the onslaught on Sisulu is anything to go by, we should brace ourselves for the worst. Sisulu ruffled feathers when she dared to suggest that the post 1994 dispensation has failed a majority of our people who are still trapped in conditions of squalor.

The response was swift and vicious. Those that have invested in, and continue to benefit from the status quo, would not take the challenge she poses lying down. What could have been considered as an expression of an opinion was opportunistically turned into a crisis of democracy. The message sent is crystal clear: “thou shall not speak out of turn.”

Be that as it may, no amount of her public flagellation will remove the fact that South Africa is the global poster child of inequality, this is despite its best Constitution. The fact that the chairperson of the ANC, Minister Gwede Mantashe, has jumped to her defence is encouraging. As we brace ourselves for the titanic battle for the soul of the ANC, we may do better by taking counsel from the late American President JF Kennedy to heart.

Kennedy warned that “those who make peaceful evolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”. This is the core message that Sisulu’s detractors should focus on.

* Professor Sipho P Seepe is the Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC) – Institutional Support, University of Zululand.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.