Ramaphosa’s good week at the office

William Saunderson-Meyer says the ANC's RET faction's slow retreat continues


It’s been a good week at the office for President Cyril Ramaphosa. A very good week, indeed.

This will buoy those who, despite the past four years of excruciating inertia, have clung to their belief that Ramaphosa would eventually deliver his promised New Dawn. Not that any luridly coloured dawn is imminent, please understand, but at least CR has probably done enough to secure his party’s nomination for a second presidential term.

Ramaphosa’s accomplishment, achieved at a reportedly heated two-day special meeting of the national executive committee (NEC), may not be, on the face of it, that remarkable. It was merely to get the ANC to state explicitly what is a universal practice in other democracies — that any party member charged with a criminal offence is automatically disqualified from election to any position within the organisation. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

However, in an African National Congress that over the past decade or so has metamorphosed into a criminal mafia, this is a major step. At a stroke, it negates much of the political threat to Ramaphosa and his “reformists” from the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) cabal clustered around former president Jacob Zuma. 

Many in the RET, including its most popular figures, have either been criminally charged or face the very real prospect of this happening. As Bathabile Dlamini, the spectacularly useless former Minister of Social Development and President of the ANC’s Women’s League (ANCWL) once confessed, behind the facade of party unity lies a fear of suicidal mayhem being unleashed if the truth were to out. 

“All of us in the NEC have our smallanyana [tiny little] skeletons,” she warned. “We don’t want to take all skeletons out because hell will break loose.”

This political reality was tacitly recognised by the party’s reformists. They loudly condemned ANC corruption yet, because of its pervasiveness, did everything possible to avoid addressing it. 

Hence an essentially meaningless ANC regulation that criminally charged office-bearers should voluntarily step aside until their cases were decided by the courts. Not surprisingly, those accused clung like limpets to the cupboard walls, arguing that this was a ploy to prevent Ramaphosa’s political opponents from challenging him at the December leadership conference.

They were, of course, right. When Ace Magashule, the ANC’s powerful secretary-general and a key ally of Zuma, refused to step aside after being charged with fraud and corruption, he was eventually suspended. This removed the RET faction’s control of the engine room of the party, Luthuli House, the place where the murky mechanics of party delegations to the leadership conference are decided.

With this week’s NEC decision, which had delegates at loggerheads into the early hours of the morning, the advantage moves further in Ramaphosa’s direction. What perhaps gave the reformists the edge in the tussle was two particularly egregious and reputationally damaging examples of ANC-tolerated criminality.

In Mpumalanga, Mandla Msibi, charged with murder and attempted murder, was a few weeks back elected as provincial treasurer. In KwaZulu-Natal, it was the brazen election of eThekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede as the regional chairperson, which was the tipping point. 

Gumede, another Zuma ally, faces some 2,500 counts of fraud, corruption, racketeering and contravention of the Municipal Finance Management Act. Coming at a moment when KZN is spotlighted in public attention over fears that flood relief funds will be embezzled, her election was particularly indefensible.

Ramaphosa’s skill, so far, has been to prevent all hell from breaking loose during the exhumation process. He has managed to ensure that the relatively few skeletons who have tumbled into public view have mainly been those of his enemies. Also, the process has been executed with finesse — enough skeletons to cause RET disarray but not enough to suggest the kind of full-scale house cleaning that would trigger a cross-factional rebellion against him.

In this regard, it has suited Ramaphosa well that the National Prosecuting Authority has ostensibly struggled to mount prosecutions of any of the close to 1,500 persons and entities implicated in criminality before the Zondo Commission into State Capture. When prosecutions are selectively mounted in the coming months, as the NPA hints will happen, they will act as a further dampener on RET efforts to recall Ramaphosa in December.

And, usefully, if they decide, for instance, to prosecute his erstwhile ally, disgraced former Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, who improbably has just been found blameless by the parliamentary ethics committee for tender kickbacks that found their way into the family’s bank accounts, it will deliver a double bonanza. It will display Ramaphosa’s ostensible evenhandedness regarding corruption while neatly removing a potential rival from the equation.

The decision on criminal leaders was not Ramaphosa’s only success this week.

The NEC also accepted a report recommending that the ANCWL — under the presidency of smallanyana Dlamini, a festering thorn in Ramaphosa’s side — be disbanded as it was “fractured” and “dysfunctional”. It would be replaced with a task team that has as its goal the convening of the league’s repeatedly delayed annual conference and, no doubt, a leadership slate that removes the ANCWL from the control of the RET forces.

Dlamini, another Zuma sidekick, is likely to find herself on the leadership scrapheap. In March, she was found guilty of perjury but argued that the offence was not serious enough to warrant her having to step aside. 

The NEC has now decided that Dlamini will have to appear before its Integrity Commission. This will ponder whether lying under oath to an inquiry set up by the Constitutional Court — and consequently being sentenced to a R200,000 fine or four-years imprisonment of which two were suspended for five years — disqualifies her from an ANC leadership role or is essential to her credentials.

One of the few vipers left within the NEC to plague Ramaphosa is Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. Sisulu continues to thumb her nose at the president, defying him with admirable aplomb.

Earlier this year, Sisulu trashed the Constitution as a colonial construct and black judges as being akin to America’s “house Negroes” who “lick the spittle” of whites. When the presidency issued a statement saying that Sisulu had met with Ramaphosa, regretted her words and apologised, Sisulu simply issued her own statement, saying that this was nonsense. Ramaphosa said not a word.

And despite Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA), the de facto armed wing of the RET faction, being officially disbanded by the NEC, Sisulu seems not to have gotten the memo. Dressed in guerrilla chic — camouflage fatigues with Gucci belt and boots — she was last month filmed “inspecting” a detachment of the now illegal organisation. 

Again, Ramaphosa said not a word. It remains to be seen whether this silence is part of his fabled “long game”, with a neat trap awaiting Sisulu, to be sprung just in time to take her out of the leadership stakes.

Ramaphosa has spent his entire first term fixated on stalking his second term, to the detriment of national governance. With these developments within the party, that goal seems within his grasp. 

Then would come the real test of his mettle. The object of re-election has to be more than just to peer hopefully out the window, waiting for a New Dawn magically to materialise.

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