Graphic: Timothy Alexander/African News Agency – Iconic ANC leaders (from left) Chief Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela maintained unity within the African National Congress despite being confronted with immense challenges while at the helm of Africa’s oldest liberation movement. Former presidents Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma are stating the obvious fact that Cyril Ramaphosa (right) has demonstrably and dismally failed both as head of state and also as leader of the ANC. The surest way of ensuring that the ANC loses power is to elect a person who has failed in all respects, says the writer.
By Sipho Seepe
Except for the wilfully blind, there is absolutely no doubt that South Africa has entered a winter of despair. This is best described in Dickensian terms as the age of foolishness and a season of literal and figurative darkness.
Antonio Gramsci must have had in mind such a situation when he wrote in Prison Notebooks that “the crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
The public excoriation of President Cyril Ramaphosa by his predecessors – Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma – must be seen within this context.
While this may be coincidental, it does not help that this public hammering of Ramaphosa took place on the same day. This gives the impression that it was orchestrated. It can be argued however that the three leaders were driven by different motivations.
Previously, Mbeki, Motlanthe and FW de Klerk pulled the same stunt during Zuma’s presidency. Thanks to the EFF, this stunt was swiftly brought to an ignominious end.
Not expectedly, the public escapades of Ramaphosa’s predecessors have drawn sharp criticism within the ANC with at least three provincial structures openly stating their displeasure. This is what the ANC does best. It rallies behind its sitting president. This is how the party responded when former President Nelson Mandela publicly criticised Mbeki for his stance on HIV/Aids. Mandela was villainised and branded an agent for pharmaceuticals.
The party has since advised the former presidents to raise their concerns through the internal structures of the ANC. This is routine stuff. It is plausible however that the former three presidents may have reached the conclusion that the current leadership is incapable of self-correcting. The flow of money and the ease with which comrades can be bought have rendered the prospect of self-correction near impossible.
What has been unusual this time around however is the speed with which embedded journalists have jumped to the defence of Ramaphosa. Those obsessed with Zuma could not miss the golden opportunity. They characterised this as a case of a kettle calling the pot black.
None of what the three musketeers have said is novel. All the big talk about bullet trains, smart cities, and commitment to clean, and transparency has come to nothing. Under Ramaphosa the ANC is in disarray. None of the resolutions meant to improve people’s lives have been implemented. The party cannot even fulfil the most basic obligation of paying its employees. With load shedding a daily nightmare, economic growth is an illusion. The Pretoria News editorial, “A president reduced to fixing potholes” (5/09/2022) aptly sums up Ramaphosa’s administration.
“The sight of President Cyril Ramaphosa patching a pothole in Mpumalanga while his fellow ANC comrades watch in glee is very sad. By all accounts, it shows that the governing party’s leader, and his organisation, have normalised the abnormal … (under the guise of) placing the structures of the ANC at the forefront of resolving common challenges … the president is seen bending over and holding his knees, with his eyes fixed on a newly fixed pothole, almost in awe of a job well done …These desperate actions suggest that the ANC has internalised its service delivery failures.”
The former presidents are stating the obvious fact that Ramaphosa has demonstrably and dismally failed both as head of state and also as leader of the ANC.
In his article, Ramaphosa is re-elected, so what? (Sunday Times, 16/10/2022), Peter Bruce gives us a glimpse of a probable future.
“Ramaphosa re-elected means broadly that nothing will change. Sure, he would have new party colleagues to whom he would need to extend patronage in the form of Cabinet jobs and the like. But we would still be stuck with a leader who cannot seem to join up talk and action; who simply cannot make things happen. We know this now, for certain … come a likely re-election as party leader in December, his judgment of competence and character will suddenly improve. Neither should we hold our breath on reform. He likes to think of himself as a reforming leader, and may even be one in his soul … Cyril reborn is pie in the sky. Just not going to happen.”
After making song and dance about dealing with corruption, Ramaphosa has again sought refuge in obfuscation. In his response to the recommendations of the Zondo Commission, Ramaphosa preferred the sound of silence when it came to dealing with members of his executive that are implicated in the commission. Pontificating about ethics in government is one thing. Doing something about it is another matter.
What is concerning however is the knee-jerk reaction by certain journalists whose only purpose is to shield Ramaphosa from being held accountable. They have sought to underplay the seriousness and possible truths that attend to the statements that have been made by the former presidents.
Three takeaways from Zuma’s speech that no journalistic mischief could wish away include clear violation of the Constitution by Ramaphosa, possible acts of treason, and probable judicial misconduct by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
As Zuma correctly points out, “conducting private business while holding the high office of President is inconsistent with the nature of that office and the Constitution.”
In terms of section 96 (2) Ramaphosa is possibly guilty on two counts. By his own admission, Ramaphosa is engaged in a paid occupation through his farming business. Second, Ramaphosa has exposed himself to a “situation involving the risk of a conflict between their official responsibilities and private interests”. No amount of spinning could get him out of this knot. Only a corrupt judge would acquit him.
The Constitutional Court has already ruled on this matter, ironically, in a matter involving Zuma. The apex court argued that to “find oneself on the wrong side of Section 96, all that needs to be proven is a risk. It does not even have to materialise.”
The very fact that the Phala Phala matter is being investigated, a private matter, introduces a material conflict with Ramaphosa’s duties as president. What aggravates the case is that a president of another country has also been drawn into Ramaphosa’s private interests. In the meantime, Ramaphosa’s drum majorettes in the media and so-called civil society have done their darndest to try to underplay these probable constitutional transgressions.
Third, under the guise of supporting a just transition, it is possible that Ramaphosa may have acted treasonously in mortgaging the country’s future by accepting a dubious loan from Western powers. There is reason to fear that this is likely to plunge the country into a perpetual state of darkness. Interestingly, the countries that want South Africa to abandon coal are eagerly importing coal.
Last, in a functioning democracy, Zondo’s conduct would be considered disgraceful. The dictum that one cannot be both a player and a referee has escaped him and his colleagues. The fact that he was appointed by Zuma is only defensible as long as he conducts himself fairly and that he acts without bias.
As soon as Zondo entered into a quarrel with Zuma regarding matters of fact, his impartiality was thrown out of the window. Zondo was later found incompetent when he appeared before the Judicial Service Commission. He effectively contradicted himself when quizzed by commissioner Julius Malema.
The surest way of ensuring that the ANC loses power is to elect a person who has demonstrably failed in all respects. In this regard, opposition parties have nothing to fear. The ANC delegates can be relied upon to embark on a suicidal mission.
Seepe is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Institutional Support at the University of Zululand