ANALYSIS: Cyril Ramaphosa, PW Botha, and how not to waste a good crisis

2019-07-25 16:18
Former foreign affairs minister Pik Botha and former prime minister P.W. Botha. (Archive)

Former foreign affairs minister Pik Botha and former prime minister P.W. Botha. (Archive)

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"Robert Cabelly, who was (US assistant secretary of state for Africa) Chester Crocker's assistant, said that there comes a time where every politician must have the guts to go for his opponent's jugular and to make it a fight to the end. I think that that time has come for Ramaphosa." – Leon Wessels, deputy chairperson of the Constituent Assembly (1994 to 1996) when Ramaphosa was chairperson.

In the early 1980s, while Oliver Tambo was trying his best to keep an ANC throttled by exile alive, apartheid prime minister PW Botha was spoiling for a fight inside the National Party (NP).

His gradual, but limited, reforms of the apartheid system had stoked the embers of dissent inside the hardline party caucus, where some believed Botha's predecessor John Vorster to be too liberal and excessively enlightened.

This conflict came to a head in 1982 when a group of angry NP MPs stormed out of a caucus meeting, with Koos van der Merwe (later to become the long-serving chief whip of the IFP) famously declaring: "I'm done with the 'prog' PW Botha!"

It led to the formation of the Conservative Party, which remained the largest opposition party in the white Parliament until the coming of democracy in 1994.

The conflict turned on the constitutional reform proposed by Botha, which would see the expansion of government to include coloured and Indian representatives (but still excluding black representatives). Botha's opponents warned that it would be the first step to an inclusive government which would eventually lead to a black head of state – a proposition too ghastly to contemplate at the time.

But Botha built up a head of steam, faced off his detractors and eventually made it so uncomfortable for them that they were left with no option but to leave the NP.

Thirty-seven years later, President Cyril Ramaphosa – albeit in a different constitutional context – is facing a similar revolt inside his own party.

His reform process is being sabotaged by his own, frustrated by the broken system of governance he inherited from former president Jacob Zuma and attacked by the EFF, hellbent on his political destruction.

There seems to be a co-ordinated assault emanating from a faction or grouping inside and outside the ANC, broadly aligned to the interests represented by Zuma. These interests and traits include, but are not limited to, an aversion to account for events during the years of capture and corruption, a determination to resist structural economic, governance and criminal justice reforms, a commitment to undermine the rule of law, and a nascent form of racist populism.

With the assistance of a Public Protector whose competence, method and independence have been called into question by the High and Constitutional Courts, this grouping has proceeded to use the authority of the office to drag Ramaphosa and his closest ally, Pravin Gordhan, into a legal brawl which has provided Julius Malema and the EFF with more than enough ammunition. He has, of course, not been helped by his own team's clumsiness, with the eminently avoidable calamity of being drawn into the Bosasa quagmire wounding his cause.

The Zuma grouping, with Ace Magashule and associates making common cause with Malema and his acolytes, wants Ramaphosa to fail. They want his allies to be removed and they want a change of leadership in the governing party. And they are using the arcane, antiquated, corrupted and lumbering internal ANC systems and conventions of loyalty and administration to achieve this.

Ramaphosa is forever bound by the wrists

It is these systems and conventions that are constraining Ramaphosa from visibly taking charge.

It goes something like this: Ramaphosa derives his presidential mandate from the ANC's Nasrec conference. He reports back to the national executive about progress, while the national working committee manages the party's daily affairs. Any deviation from the Nasrec resolutions is considered a subversion of the revolution and could be grounds for dismissal.

The ANC's system of party governance, where a myriad of interests clash in a battle for power and control, means Ramaphosa is forever bound by the wrists. He simply cannot do what needs to be done, notwithstanding assurances by his advisors that, once he assumed office after the May election, he would start to break some bones.

This of course completely undermines and usurps the Constitution, from whence the head of state ultimately derives his power. Ramaphosa's deference to party instead of state will eventually render him ineffectual and further beholden to the Zuma-Magashule axis, helped by Malema who retains strong links to the party.

ace cyril

If Luthuli House, where Magashule seemingly rules the roost, and the NEC are party battlegrounds for supremacy and survival, there are two other centres of power that Ramaphosa could claim as bulwarks against a coup: Cabinet and the parliamentary caucus.

The Constitution - in Articles 83, 84 and 85 - vests "the executive authority of the Republic in the President". That includes the appointment of ministers who execute the authority of the state on his behalf.

Ramaphosa can't afford to waste this crisis

MPs who occupy the benches of the parliamentary caucus discharge the constitutional mandate of providing oversight of the executive. They are also legally the only grouping that can reprimand the president by removing him or censuring him.

Both Cabinet and caucus swear allegiance to the Constitution, not Nasrec, Magashule or Luthuli House. And Ramaphosa needs to shore up his support in caucus to ensure a firewall between himself and his enemies in Pixley ka Isaka Seme Street in central Johannesburg.

He might be under pressure from within the party and at war with the EFF-supported Public Protector, but he has the authority of the Constitution and the powers of executive to drive through the reforms and changes that are in the national interest. Act 108 of 1996 should be what informs and drives his decision-making. Not keeping a brittle coalition together. Because in the end it won't last.

Wessels, who became a NP MP in 1978, says although Botha ejected his opponents in 1982, he didn't follow through on the reforms to include black South Africans in government. "He wasted a good crisis," Wessels remembers.

We're in the midst of a crisis. Ramaphosa cannot afford to waste it.

Read more on:    ramaphosa  |  pw botha  |  cyril  |  julius  |  malema  |  ace maga­shule
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