ANALYSIS | New year, old habits - Why ANC skirmishes are more bad news for Ramaphosa

2020-01-17 06:29
President Cyril Ramaphosa (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

President Cyril Ramaphosa (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

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It's difficult to imagine that Cyril Ramaphosa has decisive control of his own party, the ANC, as he enters the third year of his presidency of the organisation.

Over the past few days, and in the build-up to the party’s 108th birthday celebrations, several instances have pointed to a party wracked by disagreements, public skirmishes and members scheming against one another.

Halfway through the start of 2020, it's clear Ramaphosa is facing a political storm from within.

READ: 2020 - The year Ramaphosa must make hard decisions to survive

It's going to be a long, hard year for the man millions of South Africans are looking at to create jobs, stabilise the economy and simply keep the lights on.

It's an open secret that when Ramaphosa took the reins from his predecessor Jacob Zuma, he shifted his attention from Luthuli House to the Union Buildings.

Many in his inner circle and some of his rivals believe this to have been a grave mistake for his political survival.

Several observers and party insiders believe, unlike his predecessor, who even went as far as publicly stating the party was more important than the state, given the trajectory of South Africa's economy, this was a necessary sacrifice.

Necessary or not, it's left him and control of the party open for assault.

It's been speculated that Paul Mashatile and David Mabuza, who were allies of the president during the latter stages of his 2017 ANC election push, are plotting to launch a bid for top office.

Mashatile and Mabuza, who is close to Ramaphosa after he instructed his Mpumalanga supporters to back Ramaphosa instead of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, have been attempting to consolidate support in the hopes of making a play for power in 2022 when the party next meets to elect leaders.

Ace Magashule has solidified his space at Luthuli House, gathering backers and wounded anti-Ramaphosa members around him. Nomvula Mokonyane, Malusi Gigaba and ANC Women's League president Bathabile Dlamini all hold key positions at the party's headquarters.

Hasty Ramaphosa's 'own goal'

It has been argued that Ramaphosa scored an own goal by hastily making a statement following the implementation of Stage 6 load shedding and as citizens were crying out for answers. His number two in party and state, Mabuza, would subsequently pounce on Ramaphosa's promise as he capitalised on the early-year load shedding furore.

MUST READ: Gordhan and Eskom board 'misled' Ramaphosa about load shedding - David Mabuza

In December, shortly after the country was plunged into Stage 6 load shedding for the first time ever, Ramaphosa jetted off to Egypt.

Succumbing to criticism that he was leaving the country during a crisis, he turned back and immediately met with the Eskom board, Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, his number two and one of his most trusted allies, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.

The meeting led to Ramaphosa’s infamous address in which he assured South Africans planned load shedding would be avoided from December 17 to January 13. Within days of seeing in the new year, South Africans were faced with another bout of rolling blackouts.

Whether he was "misled" or not, is neither here nor there.

Speaking on SABC last week, ANC veteran Tokyo Sexwale called his premature statement "sloppy".

A high-ranking party insider agrees. Speaking to News24 on condition of anonymity, the ANC NEC member said while he did not believe the president was deliberately misled, he was too quick to respond on the matter.

"We were supposed to wait it out, get a full investigation without going the easy route of calling it sabotage and give the country a clear explanation of the problem. I would have even advised the president against cutting his trip short but I can’t fault him there. What this did was it gave naysayers ammunition to attack and criticise the president and his men, and they did," the party insider said.

'Gordhan becomes a proxy battle' against Ramaphosa

Political analyst Ongama Mtimka believes Ramaphosa has failed to communicate any of his small victories to build momentum which could reignite the hope of South Africa. This has led to some in the party and its alliance calling for Gordhan and the board to resign and for Eskom to be moved to the energy department.

On Sunday, Dlamini and Mashatile each told News24 and EWN that it was only logical for Eskom to move to Mantashe’s department, a question Ramaphosa avoided in three sit-down interviews with political editors at the SABC, Newzroom Afrika and eNCA.

"I would say we are seeing contestation coming out again in the open and we are seeing posturing by leaders who want to augment their power and their potency in factional alliance," says Mtimka.

"To say the president was misled and the person whom you say misled the president is a trusted ally. What he is doing is in appearing to be criticising the inner circle of the president, he is threatening an exit from the establishment. He is doing so with a subject close enough to keep us guessing."

Mtimka believes the whispers for Gordhan to step down as public enterprises minister are politically motivated and disingenuous, put up against legitimacy.

"If you look at those within the ANC that are critical, say for [example] Cosatu, you will find that it’s known opponents of Ramaphosa and the so-called elusive new dawn, so Pravin then becomes a proxy battle for what otherwise is a political storm directed at the president."

OPINION | Melanie Verwoerd: It is far from game over for Ramaphosa

Ramaphosa received the support of ANC stalwarts and veterans on Wednesday, when party elders issued a statement backing their president and Gordhan.

The 20-member group, which includes Wally Serote, Mavuso Msimang, Frank Chikane, Sydney Mufamadi, Cheryl Carolus and Aziz Pahad, said the recent attacks on Gordhan were "self-evidently designed to bring about the removal of a president committed to rehabilitating the country's institutions and eliminating corruption".

They said the real target of "those ANC politicians and their fellow travellers who are leading the attack [on Gordhan], is President Cyril Ramaphosa".

Hours before the veterans' statement, the ANC sent out its own missive, aimed at Finance Minister Tito Mboweni.

The party publicly slapped Mboweni on the wrist after his latest series of tweets in which he categorically stated that the ANC's resolution on nationalising the South African Reserve Bank was wrong.

Last Friday, the man controlling the public purse posted warnings of doom on Twitter, clearly frustrated that his party, colleagues in government and others were not moving fast enough to shake South Africa out of its economic malaise.

He warned that if the country could not "effect deep structural economic reforms, then game over!"

Mboweni’s frustrations are nothing new. The former Reserve Bank governor turned finance minister has been vocal about his thoughts on a range of topics, including the resolutions that emerged from the Nasrec ANC conference. This has often been uncomfortable for some in his party, or just downright blasphemous for others, who have taken him on publicly.

When your finance minister – a politician whose slightest action could influence the markets – feels his only recourse is to turn to Twitter to vent about policy and implementation, you know something is deeply wrong in the ANC and its leadership structures.

OPINION | Daniel Silke: Ramaphosa is yet to tame his own party

Many have asked how long Mboweni, who had to be convinced to stay on as finance minister, can stomach the inertia in party and state. I'd suggest you check his Twitter timeline regularly.

It's become patently clear that Ramaphosa doesn’t have the power base to effect the deep structural reforms Mboweni and many of the president's other allies are agitating for.

The Nasrec resolutions and how Ramaphosa has managed to implement them in his government will surely take centre stage during the national general council this year. Ramaphosa's detractors are hoping his reluctance to drive the ANC policy agenda will weaken him before then, causing cracks among his faction of supporters.

Ramaphosa is likely to get another taste of this resistance when the ANC convenes a special NEC meeting and party lekgotla this weekend.

Read more on:    anc  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  politics
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