Ramaphosa: Less corrupt than compromised

William Saunderson-Meyer on Arthur Fraser's ongoing information war against the President


It’s now a life or death footrace. Which will collapse first, the African National Congress or the Republic of South Africa?

The longer the ANC thrashes about in protracted death throes, the more likely it is that the country will also be fatally injured. On the other hand, the sooner that the ANC is put out of its (and our) misery – a scenario made more likely by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Farmgate scandal – the better South Africa’s prognosis for survival.

As I argued in this column last week, no matter how grotesque the line-up of those eyeing CR’s job, there are positives to the reputational thrashing the president is getting. One of them is that it invalidates the expedient narrative of this being an ongoing battle between a noble ANC, represented by Ramaphosa, and a villainous one, represented by former president Jacob Zuma. They can clearly now be seen, even by the most one-eyed and partisan ANC supporters, to be sides of the same coin.

It creates a difficult situation for the ANC’s dwindling old guard and constitutionalists. In the light of Rambo-phosa’s flexed-bicep posturing as the party’s trusty corruption buster, Farmgate has left the president hoisted lethally high on his own petard. 

As an analysis on Polity put it, “Ramaphosa has made no serious attempt to uproot perpetrators of Zumaism from high office and end their practices. It is beyond question that widespread corruption has endured. Extensive state violence continues … many departments of state continue to be dysfunctional.” ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

This assessment is so self-evident as to be almost trite, were it not that it comes from Raymond Suttner, a lifelong ANC cadre who in the 70s and 80s spent 11 years in jail and under house arrest. Suttner, an emeritus professor at the University of Johannesburg, has always been a supporter of Ramaphosa, as he notes on his website.

Acting outside the law “has become the norm”, writes Suttner. Although he doesn’t like the imprecision of the term “failed state”, there has undoubtedly been a crumbling of governance and morality that has caused an “extraordinary crisis” with the potential for the “disintegration or collapse of the [South African] state”.

Admittedly, Suttner, as an old white man, doesn’t carry much clout in the new ANC. However, it seems that steadily more of those whom Ramaphosa likes to describe as “our people” — black Africans, probably party members but certainly, historically, party supporters — are losing faith.

Kaizer Nyatsumba, a former newspaper editor who moved into the corporate sector, wrote on BusinessLIVE this week that despite Ramaphosa's notorious weaknesses as a leader, he has been “the torchbearer in the fight against corruption and was deservedly seen as our last hope against wholesale turpitude”. Whatever explanations he and his legal team might now construct, CR’s moral stature has been irretrievably compromised.

“Sadly, the man who was preferred by Nelson Mandela to be his successor appears to be destined to go down in history as the first post-apartheid president not to finish even his first term in office … All that is left now is the timing and manner of his departure.”

Ramaphosa’s point-blank refusal to provide an iota of explanation as to what happened on his farm two years ago has shaken the confidence of many. His justification — that it might be conceived as undermining the police investigation — is ludicrous, especially since he simultaneously volunteered to appear before the ANC’s so-called Integrity Commission and answer to it. 

Cheryl Carolus, a former party secretary-general and faithful backer of Ramaphosa, gives short shrift to this tactic. While dismissing calls for him to step aside as premature, in an interview with Business Day Carolus called on the president to “come clean” and called for the “full might of the law” to be used to get the necessary answers.

“It is in the best interest of the president and the ANC for him to account and hand over the necessary information in order for him to clear his name … It is in the interest of South Africa for the ANC and law enforcement agencies to act with haste. The president must present himself and provide proof of his version,” Carolus said.

There is a sense, also, of waiting for the other Ramaphosa shoe to drop.

Last week, at a press conference, Economic Freedom Fighter leader Julius Malema, a man not unaccustomed to dealing with accusations of corruption, called on Ramaphosa to step aside at once, failing which there would be dire consequences.  “I want to warn the president. There is more. There is more where money in dollars is counted in a plane. Let them continue to push Fraser [former State Security Agency head Arthur Fraser]. There is more.”

This week, Fraser, who threw in his lot with Zuma’s Radical Economic Transformation gang after Ramaphosa fired him over corruption allegations, was once more burnishing his good citizen credentials with a follow-up visit to the Hawks, to supposedly provide them with more information. Fraser described this as a “fruitful” meeting and unctuously warbled his “appreciation” of the Hawks’ “professionalism and the speed” with which they were responding to his allegations.

For the ANC’s spooked reformists the immediate issue is probably no longer whether Ramaphosa goes, but how long his departure can be delayed to implement Plan B, if there is such a thing. When the December leadership conference takes place, they need to have a credible alternative candidate, failing which the party is heading towards oblivion. It will not only lose power in the 2024 election, as many have predicted, but it may split before then. 

One of the names bandied about ever since his out-of-the-blue appointment as Justice Minister three years ago, is Ronald Lamola. He is charismatic, intelligent and more capable than most ANC cabinet ministers, present or past. 

Lamola had already launched his bid for the deputy-president slot on the Ramaphosa slate before CR’s slow-motion self-implosion. He may now become the reformists’ Plan B, although it is questionable whether a 38-year-old has any hope of winning the top spot in a party dominated by geriatrics.

And there is at least one worrying rumour. that will dog Lamola. News24 assistant editor Qaanitah Hunter writes that after CR had shuffled Fraser off to head Correctional Services from his SSA job, Lamola at some stage wrote to Fraser asking him to explain why he should not be suspended for being incompetent.  

“Insiders claim,” writes Hunter, “that Fraser sent a file back to Lamola that thwarted any effort to remove him [Fraser]. It became clear that Fraser's deal with Ramaphosa was simple: you leave me alone, and I will leave you alone.”

It would seem that deal, to avoid mutually assured destruction, is now history. 

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