Alet Janse van Rensburg

Why you won't be hearing from Ramaphosa soon

2017-03-30 16:35
Cyril Ramaphosa (File: AFP)

Cyril Ramaphosa (File: AFP)

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Ramaphosa: 'Kathrada was humble and honest to his core'

2017-03-28 14:38

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa described ANC stalwart Ahmed Kathrada as a humble man, with great integrity who was "honest to his core". WATCH

With the recent developments around a possible Cabinet reshuffle, many people have asked if it’s not time for Cyril Ramaphosa to show leadership and make a public stand against President Zuma’s alleged plans to fire Pravin Gordhan.

A lot was made of Ramaphosa’s reaction to former President Kgalema Motlanthe quoting Ahmed Kathrada yesterday in his eulogy, asking Zuma to step down as president.

Motlanthe’s call for Zuma to resign received a standing ovation from a crowd of ANC heavyweights. Some of those seen applauding included Max Sisulu, Aaron Motsoaledi and Lindiwe Sisulu. As the camera panned over the crowd at Kathrada’s funeral, scanning for familiar faces, Ramaphosa was caught, sitting next to former President Thabo Mbeki and his wife, stone faced.

One would’ve hoped that the man who many South Africans are pinning their hopes on for saving the country from the scourge of state capture, could’ve mustered the courage to show where his allegiance lies, especially in a setting where this sentiment was clearly shared by the majority in the room.

But Ramaphosa didn’t move a muscle. (Or at least, tried very hard not to.)

So why isn't he going to openly oppose Zuma? There are several reasons.

The first, most obvious reason is that Zuma might fire him, leaving him completely without influence. When Mbeki fired Zuma in 2005 as deputy president (he later said that Zuma stepped down of his own accord, but nonetheless), a precedent was set. It might not be ideal for the ANC, but it’s been done before and can be done again.

While Zuma had two years until the next ANC elective conference to claw his way back to the top, Ramaphosa only has eight months until the party decides who their next president will be. This is not enough time to stage a comeback should Zuma fire him and would mean the end of his political career.

A public split between Zuma and his deputy could also be highly problematic for the proper functioning of government. It’s a known fact that the two have a tense working relationship and that Zuma does not really trust Ramaphosa, but a lot of important government work is contingent on him staying in his position and he knows this.

Ramaphosa is the leader of government business in Parliament, chairs a number of government programmes including the Aids Council, is the driving force behind the National Development Plan and represents South Africa on various international fronts, where his reputation as businessman and struggle credentials stand us in good stead. All of this could fall flat if he is removed from his position.

Taking a public stance against Zuma will have much bigger consequences for Ramaphosa than it would, for example, for someone like Gwede Mantashe, who only answers to the ANC.

Furthermore, let’s not forget the ANC’s tradition of not speaking out publicly on party affairs or campaigning for yourself. Ramaphosa would have watched closely what happened to the likes of Tokyo Sexwale, who in 2012 campaigned hard for the position of ANC deputy president. It didn’t work out so well and while Motlanthe (who ran for ANC president) retired from politics, Sexwale was left out in the cold.

Speaking out against Zuma now will do no good. The best chance Ramaphosa has at staging a coup, is to wait for the vote at the electoral conference in December and in the meantime do what he does best: network. This way, the ANC’s new system, which aims to do away with slates and take away the power from regional and provincial leaders to influence who the province chooses, might work in his favour.

Some say this is exactly what he’s been doing, working behind the scenes to garner support. Let’s hope it’s true. 

- Janse van Rensburg is opinions editor of News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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