If Ramaphosa's all we've got, then what?

Jeremy Gordin cautions against investing too much hope in the ANC President


Responding to comments on a recent Politicsweb piece, one reader wrote:

“1. The ANC was crooked and is still mostly rotten. But that is what we must deal with for the foreseeable future.

2. It may be that nothing can change but equally possible that it can.

3. Anybody who says that Cyril [Ramaphosa] has not embarked on ambitious moves to stop the rot can only be willfully blind: Zondo; PIC; [Nomgcobo] Jiba; Sars; NPA.

4. That old chestnut ‘Cyril was there’ [when deputy-president] is the naivest. If he had said a word, three things would have happened. He would have been fired. The Hawks and the NPA would have buried the complaint. Mrs [Nkosazana Dlamini] Zuma would be president. La Luta Continua. [I’m] looking forward to fellow posters commenting on events as they happen in the present .... Raking over the minutiae of the last 25 years is as pathetic as the ANC dragging up apartheid.”

Not a lot there with which to disagree. We should deal with realpolitik: “politics ... based primarily on considerations of given circumstances and factors, rather than ...ideological notions or moral and ethical premises”.  And, yes, we shouldn’t rake “over the minutiae of the last 25 years,” though George Santayana’s words, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” do echo faintly in my draughty cerebellum.

What does bother me, however, are those comments stating that Ramaphosa has tried “to stop the rot” and that, given the exigencies of realpolitik, we need to take a “non-naïve” attitude to the fact that he was deputy-president of the country for roughly half of our “nine lost years”.

Now it’s no secret that we have a general election looming; and I infer from the reader’s comments – please note: I infer, I didn’t say the reader infers – I deduce that the reader’s comments suggest that Ramaphosa is “all we’ve got”.

In other words, the realpolitik with which we must deal is that the ANC holds power and is likely to continue holding it for the foreseeable future and therefore, since Ramaphosa is ANC boss and has “embarked on ambitious moves to stop the rot”, well, perhaps we had better give him a clear and large mandate and help the beloved country return to health.

I’m not too keen on this line of thinking. Here’s why.

First, Ramaphosa is the president of the ANC. But he is not the ANC. The party, besides being in disarray at branch (and other) levels, is a divided organisation in which the souls of some of its influential members, including leaders and office bearers, “panteth” after the days of Jacob G Zuma – the halcyon days of impunity. (“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God” – Psalm 42:1.)

Much of the party’s leadership and membership are apparently indeed “rotten” as well as inept. It’s a way of life. How can Ramaphosa repair this without gouging massive holes in the party’s fabric and thereby bringing about his own demise?

I do not believe the corrupt or nostalgic faction, or factions, are as influential as the media would have us believe; I don’t believe they’d launch a coup d’etat. But, as more “revelations” emerge from the Zondo commission and other places (if they do), Ramaphosa’s “ambitious moves to stop the rot” will make more and more ANC folk deeply uncomfortable. Ramaphosa is on a knife-edge in the party. He has a great deal of power but, due to the party’s command structure, he is simultaneously merely a figure-head. He can be “recalled”.

Bottom line: Ramaphosa must tread very carefully; so carefully must he tread that, once safely voted into power by a larger margin than his predecessor, he might not tread at all.

Second, the issue of “Zondo; PIC; [Nomgcobo] Jiba; Sars; NPA.” The commissions of inquiry, the removal of Tom Moyane, and the appointment of a new NDPP are great moves. Who could argue otherwise? But so far there has not been one, not one, successful prosecution relating to any of the above – nor any prosecution of those who ripped off the SOEs. One does not say this happily – it just is.

Ramaphosa spent much of Tuesday afternoon at the mining indaba in Cape Town lauding Gwede Mantashe. Hello? And he hasn’t even suspended Nomvula Mokonyane. Can you imagine a minister in the UK, US, France, Germany or Scandinavia not being at least suspended after testimony like ex-Bosasa executive Angelo Agrizzi’s?

Third, “The old chestnut: Cyril was there.” Well, he was there. He was deputy-president of the Republic for four years. It’s one thing being shrewd and playing a “long” game, it’s another lacking a pair of cojones. The point here is not be rude but to note that, with very few exceptions, you don’t suddenly grow a pair; once an appeaser, always an appeaser. It’s also a way of life. This means: you continue appeasing even if it means appeasing the needs of the rotten folk.

Fourth, Ramaphosa is a politician and he is an ANC politician. I’m not going to regurgitate all the trite sayings about how spineless and crooked politicians are. But politicians, whether Barack Obama or Donald Trump, are indeed people who play the game to garner votes for their parties and to grasp the fabled levers of power. They are not generally of the ilk of Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama or the Pope. Why should Ramaphosa be any different? Why would he sacrifice (his) power at the altar of doing the ethical thing if he can avoid doing so? I am not suggesting he’s necessarily an evil man; I’m merely noting that he’s a politician who bats for the ANC.

Fifth, why – I have been wondering – do quite a few ostensibly intelligent people, many of whom are white by the way, hang on so tightly to the idea of Ramaphosa as saviour (even if a flawed one)? Well, it’s a good thing then that I was directed to a column written in The Sowetan on 28 January by Prince Mashele.

Headlined “Biggest conundrum for whites today: how to vote for Ramaphosa, not the ANC,” it begins by recording Mashele’s chat of a few years ago to (mainly white male) members of the Cape Town Press Club.

“While the group,” writes Mashele, “wanted the ANC to die quickly, they did not welcome my critical reflection on Nelson Mandela. They kept reminding me of his greatness.”

Mashele continues:

“My Cape Town Press Club experience is being replayed today. Whenever I address forums of white South Africans, and whenever I tell them how rotten the ANC is, they enjoy it. But there is one man they do not want me to touch: Cyril Ramaphosa. For most whites, he is the second-best black thing that has ever happened – after Mandela. For the first time in years, white people are eager to defend a black ANC politician.”

Why would this be, Mashele wonders. This is his answer.

“It is because whites are practical people [sic]; they always defend their interests. ... ...After Mandela, it took time for whites to find another political horse to ride in the ANC. Thabo Mbeki was too race conscious to be trusted. Zuma’s barbarity was deemed too primeval to be tolerated in ‘civilised’ circles. In the space between Mandela and Jacob Zuma, Ramaphosa was ripening nicely in the formative ovens of white financial power. If you sense a hyperbole here, ask yourself: How did Ramaphosa make his billions?

Given that Ramaphosa's money dwells in white banks and factories, perhaps it is understandable why he is the sweetest darling of white circles. Whites are certain that, in the process of protecting his money, Ramaphosa will not jeopardise white wealth.”

Interesting take, not so? Especially as, also echoing faintly in my draughty cerebellum, is a story I heard in December 2017: the well-regarded, (white) head of an eminent multinational investment bank assured his closest acquaintances – one of whom was, unfortunately for the banker, an acquaintance of mine – that his good friend Ramaphosa would make him Minister of Finance. Perhaps needless to point out, Ramaphosa didn’t.

Finally, let’s return to the issue of realpolitik. If, as seems clear, the ANC is going to win the election one way or t’other, and Ramaphosa is all we’ve got, then, despite what I have written above, why not add to the ANC’s vote tally in the forthcoming election, thereby shoring up Ramaphosa?

Well, sometimes perhaps one has to say, “Realpolitik be damned – despite where the smart money’s going, despite the odds, I refuse to give my vote to the corrupt and destructive, I’d rather vote for a party that at least seems to have integrity, even if I know that it’s not going to be in power”.

Given the state of the opposition parties, I know this is going to be a difficult choice. But don’t be disconsolate. Worst comes to worst, there’s always The Dagga Party of South Africa. Now there’s a cause worth supporting, and its members are probably too chilled to be corrupt.