Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Is Ramaphosa serious about his presidential ambition?

2017-07-21 08:53
Cyril Ramaphosa (File)

Cyril Ramaphosa (File)

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At a recent meeting with traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was referred to as president. He gently urged his admirers to desist from calling him president "for now". "Otherwise," he said while smiling, "I will be fired."

Ramaphosa made light of the presidential title given to him while clearly enjoying it. But it also exposed something about Ramaphosa’s leadership qualities that cast doubt in his capacity to clean the country of the governance rot: his deference to President Jacob Zuma.

Ramaphosa seems to find it difficult to rock the boat even when circumstances warrant it. He was, in terms of the Constitution of the country, president of the Republic at the time of the meeting in the Eastern Cape because Zuma was out of the country. He could have taken any decision that a president would take.

If Ramaphosa is serious about his presidential ambition, why can’t he, when given a chance, use it accordingly? The first step to use an opportunity accordingly is to not deny that you are the president.

South Africa is facing many crises that require a tough leader to sort out. The shy approach of Ramaphosa is not ideal. Whether Ramaphosa likes it or not, and no matter how many times he speaks about the need to establish a commission of inquiry on state capture, one thing is certain about him: he fears Zuma.

If Ramaphosa is to be the kind of leader who will clean up the mess, he must tell the nation what he has told Zuma in official correspondence about the Guptas, corruption, state capture, the destruction of the economy and the decline of the country’s prestige globally. There is no middle ground to this.

Either Ramaphosa, sworn to perform his duties honestly, has told Zuma he is messing up or he hasn’t. If the latter is the case, then he is complicit to Zuma’s crimes and he is in breach of his own oath of office.

At the ANC’s national executive committee meeting where principled people like Derek Hanekom and Aaron Motsoaledi demanded Zuma’s resignation, did Ramaphosa speak? What did he say? In the absence of his clear attitude to Zuma’s damaging actions and inactions, we have no option but to take what we see as the truth. And what we see often is Zuma and Ramaphosa laughing together. Are they laughing at us poor souls who are bothered by the radical decline of our country under the two of them? Is Ramaphosa whispering to Zuma that he is actually doing well?

The only time we got to hear that Ramaphosa disagreed with Zuma was when he publicly criticised the dismissal of Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas from the finance ministry. In Parliament, he has voted in defence of Zuma when a motion of no confidence in the president was tabled. He could have chosen to be absent from Parliament or abstain. It would be interesting to know where he stands on the secret ballot decision.

Civil society groups recently approached the court to argue that Ramaphosa should appoint a commission of inquiry on state capture because Zuma, as a beneficiary of state capture, is conflicted. Given the fact that Ramaphosa is going around the country telling people that he wants a commission appointed urgently, he should have agreed with the application, or at the very least tell the court he would accept any outcome. Instead, he is opposing the application outright.

It can be argued that Ramaphosa is duty-bound to sustain a cordial relationship with someone who is essentially his boss. It would indeed make sense if the kind of president who deserved such treatment was as morally principled as Chief Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela or even the least popular Thabo Mbeki.

Zuma is the direct opposite of all these leaders. Deferring to any of these leaders, who have never brought shame to their organisation would, regardless of their many other shortcomings, make sense.

Ramaphosa is making the mistake of treating the current succession battle as normal. In the increasingly unlikely event that the ANC wins the next election and Ramaphosa becomes president of the country, there is a real possibility that the reconstruction of the country will be postponed for another five years. It’s not enough to replace Zuma. It’s about what will be done afterwards.

So far, Ramaphosa has not provided a way forward. And even if he does come up with something during the 2019 election campaign, it would be difficult to believe his message because of his current behaviour towards Zuma.

South Africa is facing unprecedented crises that require urgent and unprecedented responses. None of the ANC presidential hopefuls have outlined anything substantive that shows they have something practical to steer the country from the precipice. Nor do they have a vision for their own party.

- Mpumelelo Mkhabela is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) at the University of Pretoria. 

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Read more on:    anc  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  jacob zuma  |  state capture  |  anc leadership race  |  politics
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