Cyril balanced factions to achieve an objective

2018-03-04 05:58
PHOTO: Gallo images/ Getty images

PHOTO: Gallo images/ Getty images

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Politics is hardly a zero-sum game. Individuals contesting for leadership positions have to stitch together competing factions into a majority in order to secure victory. This involves horse-trading.

Often, the result is that one ends up working with people one would ordinarily shun. This is common in political parties replete with competing factions. What matters most is whether the compromises are such that they derail one from achieving the overall objective.

This is how President Cyril Ramaphosa’s reshuffle of Cabinet should be measured; and, consequently, poses the question: Does the composition of Ramaphosa’s Cabinet really represent a new dawn, one underpinned by integrity and service towards the public good?

It is indisputable that not everyone in the new Cabinet exemplifies integrity or is without a blemish. Bathabile Dlamini remains in Cabinet, even though courts have found her incompetent in her previous portfolio, where she was responsible for the administration of social grants.

An equally questionable reappointment is Nomvula Mokonyane, who distinguished herself with callous comments in the midst of South Africa’s ratings downgrading that threatened job losses and further hardship. Parliament’s public finance committee has just announced that Mokonyane’s previous ministry of water and sanitation is bankrupt and faces collapse.

This should have ruled her out for reappointment, especially in the ministry of communication, which involves reviving an ailing public broadcaster. She lacks credentials to fix things.

Examined on their own, these two appointments boggle the mind. When looked at through the prism of ANC politics, however, they’re understandable. Both Dlamini and Mokonyane lead a strong constituency within the faction-riddled ANC.

This explains why they are members of both the party’s national executive committee and the national working committee (NWC). The two wouldn’t have been elected on to both these structures if they didn’t have strong backing among the rank and file in the organisation.

Does it then mean that, with these appointments, Ramaphosa has prioritised addressing party concerns over placating public sentiment? Certainly, but the appointments are likely to yield long-term benefits for the public. The priority now is to ensure that the party remains sufficiently coherent to contest the looming national elections.

Ramaphosa may rate highly on public approval, but still needs a unified and efficient ANC. He doesn’t contest elections in his personal capacity, but does so through the organisation. Members must go out to campaign for the party, especially among their constituencies. A discordant party does not inspire confidence among the electorate.

Ramaphosa obviously doesn’t have total control over Dlamini and Mokonyane, but he hasn’t given them a reason to turn away from the ANC or work against the party in the 2019 elections.

If anything, they may even turn around, in the period leading towards the elections, to become staunch supporters in order to secure their future within the fold. Keeping the party intact, therefore, offers Ramaphosa an opportunity to secure victory.

The concern for a strong ANC is partly the reason why Ramaphosa took Fikile Mbalula out of Cabinet to become a fulltime party official at Luthuli House. Mbalula will be responsible for elections. For someone who has become attached to the ministerial prestige and lifestyle, Mbalula is probably not pleased by the change of jobs. But, it’s a major boost for the party. Mbalula is the best the party has on campaign work. He has the mind for the task and is hard-working.

Of course, Ramaphosa’s victory in 2019 ultimately rests with the public reaction to his Cabinet reshuffle and whatever else happens between now and then. I doubt that anyone outside the ANC was excited to realise that Ramaphosa retained Dlamini and Mokonyane. Ramaphosa probably knows that too.

However, he has given the public enough to lift their mood. He not only axed ministers who are blatantly implicated in state capture, but has reappointed individuals who stood up against corruption and are hard-working.

Uncovering further corruption, identifying more culprits and recovering the loot, as Justice Raymond Zondo’s commission of inquiry starts working, is likely to improve Ramaphosa’s approval ratings even more. What Ramaphosa is hoping for, therefore, is that the public euphoria around the prosecutions will overshadow the disquiet over his retention of unsavoury characters in Cabinet.

Besides the looming elections, Ramaphosa’s reshuffle was geared towards containing a possible revival of ethnic mobilisation. Zulu ethnonationalism remains a potent force in our politics and only requires a charismatic figure with sufficient gripe to stir it up. Jacob Zuma is one such character.

Zuma has not only proven adept at ethnic politics in recent years, but he is also unhappy. The ANC pushed him out, when he still wanted to hang around for the next six months.

To avoid the likelihood of jail time, Zuma will possibly resort to stoking up Zulu ethnonationalism. This means portraying his legal prosecution as a result of prejudice against Zulus.

Zuma rehearsed this line at Nkandla recently, when he said he was “being prosecuted for building his father’s house”.

That’s a lie, of course. He had agreed to the upgrade of non-security features and promised to reimburse the state from his own pocket. Then he denied ever agreeing or promising to reimburse the state. Zuma doesn’t care for the facts. He’s trying to weave together some sad story that portrays him as a victim to get the sympathy of his kin.

Pietermaritzburg, where the trial is likely to be held, provides a perfect setting for Zuma’s fightback. The idea will be to generate a spectre of instability in order to force Ramaphosa to reconsider continuing his prosecution.

But, Ramaphosa pre-empted the likelihood of Zuma’s ethnic mobilisation. Its appeal depends on those kin being convinced that Ramaphosa is prejudiced against their kind. They won’t find evidence of that.

His Cabinet comprises no less than 14 Zulu-speaking ministers. And, these ministers don’t just have the linguistic credentials, but they go home regularly – baya goduka! Their Zulu-ness is not in question. This was deliberate on Ramaphosa’s part.

Malusi Gigaba’s retention was predicated on this calculation. His appeal to the ANC Youth League, whose headquarters have effectively relocated to KwaZulu-Natal, is an added benefit to Ramaphosa. In other words, a prominent presence of Zulu speakers in Cabinet refutes any likely argument from Zuma that he was chased back home on account of his ethnic identity.

Actually, Ramaphosa has been careful, from the moment he won the ANC presidency, to avoid attracting blame for whatever fate awaited Zuma.

One is obviously not privy to private discussions, but publicly Ramaphosa was sure to create an impression of someone who was bending over backwards to accommodate Zuma. Zuma even said Ramaphosa agreed to his staying for six more months, but was overruled by the NWC. Ramaphosa invited Zuma back to the presidential residence for parties: one with former ministerial colleagues and another with staff to bid them farewell.

Ramaphosa’s Cabinet represents the best he could do. He did not only do what was possible, but risked public displeasure in order to shore up a shaky hold over the party to realise his overall objective. It’s a laudable beginning. We may indeed just be on the cusp of mahube – a new dawn!

- Ndletyana is associate professor of politics at the University of Johannesburg

Read more on:    anc  |  cyril rama­phosa  |  politics

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