Graphic: Timothy Alexander / African News Agency (ANA)
By Professor Sipho Seepe
The long-awaited pronouncement by the KwaZulu-Natal ANC provincial executive committee has set the scene for a battle royal for the soul of the party.
The PEC delayed its pronouncement because it had sought to be guided by the ANC branches. This has ushered in a period of intense political bargaining and horse trading (buying and selling of souls). For now, the political terrain is partly cloudy, with a possibility of a few thunderstorms.
As an indicator of the battles ahead, branches in provinces outside KwaZulu-Natal have started to mount a pushback against their PECs.
The PECs are accused of allegedly jumping the gun in pronouncing their preferred presidential candidate.
With almost 90% of votes allocated to branches, PECs are reminded about who the power brokers are.
The prognosis suggests that the two-person 2017 presidential race will probably replay itself, though under manifestly different conditions. Back then, Ramaphosa was riding on the crest of a wave. He had the mainstream media, unions, so-called civil society organisations and the business community under his spell. Ramaphoria became a new entry in the political lexicon.
In its endorsement of Ramaphosa, a Business Day editorial, on November 20, 2017, remarked: “Cyril Ramaphosa talks of a ‘new deal’ for jobs and growth to be negotiated by all stakeholders in the economy… Investor-friendly policies – fiscal discipline, caution over debt… It is also the language of business.”
Projecting Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as a candidate who is out of touch with reality, it argued that her thinking sounded “a lot like the policies of the left-leaning parts of the ANC – best expressed by Cosatu policy documents – through the 90s and the 2000s”.
Dr Dlamini Zuma stood little chance.
Cosatu, whose language she spoke, preferred a business-friendly Ramaphosa.
The mainstream media projected Dlamini Zuma as just another Zuma.
She could not be judged on her own merit. That would have been too risky.
The fact that she had long separated from former president Jacob Zuma, and that she had even contested against his political slate in 2007, as potential deputy to then-president Thabo Mbeki, was irrelevant.
The truth could not be allowed to stand in the way of a well-orchestrated and choreographed misogynist narrative. Despite this, she proved to be a formidable contender, losing the coveted position by a mere 179 votes.
At the time, Ramaphosa could do no wrong. City Press’s editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya’s observation is profoundly revealing.
“Every speech, action and gesture was met with gasps of ‘Wow!’ Even the
silly act of walking around in funny, colourful socks was endearing. When he repackaged old programmes and pledges to make them look like new ideas, even the informed public got excited. And when he took normal steps that anyone with the job description of president would take, it seemed revolutionary.”
Delivering his first State of the Nation address in 2018, Ramaphosa waxed lyrically about his commitment to ethical leadership. He told the country that the New Dawn marked the end of “the era of diminishing trust in public institutions and weakened confidence in leaders”.
Ramaphosa committed his admin- istration to “re-industrialise on a scale and at a pace that draws millions of job seekers into the economy”.
Promises included “jobs for our youth; new factories and roads, houses and clinics; and new cities and towns where families may be safe, productive and content”. Those were heady days.
Ramaphosa was riding on the crest of a wave of South African politics.
All that proved to be just big talk.
Socio-economic indicators suggest Ramaphosa has failed on every front.
Sunday Times columnist Barney Mthom- bothi’s observation that “Ramaphosa’s falsehoods are hurting his cause” (December 13, 2020) is as true today as it was then.
Mthombothi wrote: “Two years after (Ramaphosa) assumed office, we’ve yet to locate his backbone… Apart from his well-earned reputation as a coward, Ramaphosa is cultivating another unfortunate trait. He’s telling too many falsehoods, the one on Eskom being the latest. Most of them seem unprovoked and unnecessary. And these fibs are not only corroding his credibility.”
Mthombothi joins a legion of disappointed South Africans. South African billionaire Rob Hersov, whose family contributed handsomely to his campaign, had this to say: “Ramaphosa is a disgrace. He is a disappointment.
He is an absolute embarrassment to this country and he should immediately resign… that man (Ramaphosa) is a useless, spineless failure… If I’m to blame, I apologise to all of South Africa, all of Africa and the world for such a disgrace being the president of our country.”
Ramaphosa has also been a disaster on the political front. The ANC has never been more divided. At a May Day rally this year, workers booed him off stage. He had to run for cover – an embarrassing spectacle for a previously self-proclaimed champion of the workers.
Dissatisfaction with a Ramaphosa-led ANC reached stratospheric levels at Cosatu’s 14th national congress held in Midrand this week. Fearing possible humiliation of Ramaphosa, Gwede Mantashe was deployed to deliver amessage of solidarity. Of all ANC leaders, Mantashe could talk down to workers.
This proved to be a serious miscalculation. Mantashe was forced to leave the meeting with his tail between his legs. Significantly, scores of affiliates supported the motion to dump the ANC in the 2024 national elections.
Considering that Ramaphosa is routinely booed in the communities, it will be risky for the ANC to field a demonstrably discredited individual to lead the elections. The recent Afrobarometer survey found that Ramaphosa’s approval ratings had plunged precipitously, even lower than that of former president Jacob Zuma.
With load shedding seeming unre- solvable in the short to medium term, South Africans should brace for more socio-economic hardships.
In a functioning democracy, a candi- date with such poor performance would not even bother to consider running. It would be a walk in the park for any of the presidential hopefuls, be it Dr Zweli Mkhize, Dr Dlamini Zuma or Lindiwe Sisulu. They all boast Struggle credentials and experience in the government. In ANC speak they are “tried and tested”.
But this is South Africa where party members, mainstream media and so-called civil society are all up for sale.
The Phala Phala Farm scandal has exposed the fragility of South Africa’s democracy. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has been quick to charge individuals that have violated Covid-19 regulations.
But it does not seem to have the appetite to hold Ramaphosa accountable for patently egregious acts of misconduct and possible criminality. Rama- phosa has been allowed to hide behind the dubious notion of “due process” over a matter that took place two years ago. That is what happens when one has full control of a pliant judiciary, the NPA and the SAPS at his disposal.
Chief Justice Raymond Zondo is arguably the chief culprit. He is on record for intimating that Ramaphosa’s victory as ANC president saved South Africa. He is not alone.
In 2019 despite the rolling blackouts, a full Bench (made of three judges) chose to join the bandwagon of Ramaphosa’s praise-singers. The Bench argued that a “new dawn that engulfed the country in 2018 did not miss Eskom Holdings SOC Limited (Eskom). It brought life to Eskom in that in January 2018, Eskom’s old and inactive leadership was replaced by new leadership with new life to undo years of maladministration and corruption within the organisation”. The truth is the exact opposite. South Africans have since been subjected to an unending trauma of load shedding.
With an endorsement from his home province, Mkhize appears to be steaming away. To level the playing field, the conference’s first order of business is to expunge the controversial and divisive step-aside rule which has been abused to ward off other contenders. Power is addictive.
Nothing prevents Ramaphosa from unleashing the repressive state apparatus against his contenders.
His contenders must forgo their personal ambitions and concentrate on creating a united force.
What is certain though is that more of the same would signal the end of the ANC as the ruling party. South Africans deserve better. They cannot live on unending broken promises.