Cyril must act with boldness

2018-01-07 00:00
ANC branch delegates elected Cyril Ramaphosa to the presidency of the ANC at the party’s elective conference in Nasrec in December. Picture: Leon Sadiki.

ANC branch delegates elected Cyril Ramaphosa to the presidency of the ANC at the party’s elective conference in Nasrec in December. Picture: Leon Sadiki.

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Ramaphosa seems to possess the temperament, political acumen and support to repel any challenge to his authority in the ANC, writes Tebogo Khaas.

Count me among those elated to see Cyril Ramaphosa win what was, arguably, the most searing ANC presidential contest.

However, considering the composition of the new top leadership, and the manner and margin of his victory, his agenda could be imperilled, particularly if he should need to make bold and necessary, but unpopular, decisions. Also, the ANC seems to be unfazed by the palpable irony in electing venal characters into vital leadership positions, while agitating for moral uprightness in its organisational renewal discourse. Considering the apparent tensions, inherent contradictions and exigencies, Ramaphosa’s term as president could prove tumultuous.

Let me explain.

For many people, the manner in which Ramaphosa conducted his campaign was just as sweet as his victory. Most South Africans now wait with heightened expectations after the leadership baton changed hands from erstwhile ANC president, Jacob Zuma, an avowed constitutional delinquent, to his former deputy, Ramaphosa, a constitutionalist. It is expected that Zuma will vacate Mahlamba Ndlopfu early and thus allow Ramaphosa to ascend to the highest office in the land.

In keeping with longstanding tradition in the US, President Barack Obama reportedly left his successor, Donald Trump, four pieces of advice in a letter he placed on the desk in the Oval Office as he vacated the presidency. Obama eloquently prefaced his missive thus: “We are just temporary occupants of this office. That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions.”

For two reasons, Ramaphosa would be remiss to expect such a missive from Zuma when the latter clears his desk in Mahlamba Ndlopfu. Firstly, it is clear that Zuma harboured ambitions to continue to occupy the presidency, vicariously, through his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, for selfish reasons. Secondly, Zuma, in his position as president, has proven to be a shameless marauder of democratic institutions and traditions.

Zuma has systematically rendered key criminal justice institutions ineffectual, and repurposed these and other key state-owned enterprises to serve the private pecuniary interests of his family, close friends and acolytes, while substantially impairing our constitutional project.

Save, perhaps, for placing a “Please get me out of jail!” note on his desk as he vacates office, there is seemingly no worthwhile counsel Zuma could leave Ramaphosa, given that Zuma’s public life is destined to end in ignominy.

For the first time in its 106-year history, the ANC admits that it is ailing, in acute distress and needs salvation. However, judging by its conduct during the national elective conference, the party is unable, or unwilling, to adopt and implement the essential internal reforms needed to remedy the structural problems afflicting it.

The ANC has endured two significant splits since Zuma became its president, and struggles to avoid further haemorrhaging. Some opportunistic party leaders latched on to this vulnerability and exhorted the ruse of “unity” during the elective conference. Thus the crucial need to reform and strengthen the ANC was marginalised as the pursuit of personal interests and ephemeral unity trumped organisational exigencies.


A serious drawback for Ramaphosa could be his election campaign’s failure to ensure victory for his preferred candidate, Senzo Mchunu, for the vital position of ANC secretary-general. Ramaphosa needed someone he could completely trust as secretary-general so that he could ensure that he maintained a firm grip on the party while running government, unconstrained by the need to keep a constant, beady eye on the “engine” of the ANC.

The fact that Ramaphosa’s deputy and secretary-general are individuals of questionable moral standing; are Zuma sympathisers; and face the inexorable prospect of being summoned to appear before courts for malfeasance, doesn’t bode well for Ramaphosa’s agenda.

When electing its new leaders, the ANC ought to have ensured that integrity trumped political expediency.

If the ANC was sincere in its quest for change, it should have, as initially promised, ensured that it addressed the declarations formulated by its veterans and stalwarts before electing new leaders.

Sadly, the ANC seems unwilling, or unable, to mitigate entrenched public perception that it is impervious to the demands that it eradicate graft within its ranks, and to modernise.

In the meantime, the eyes of the nation will be firmly fixed on Ramaphosa as he delivers his maiden ANC January 8 birthday celebrations statement next week.

Although he could do no worse than Zuma, Ramaphosa’s path to success is not assured. In fact, some pundits assert that Ramaphosa has been handed a poisoned chalice and his presidency is bound to flounder.

I beg to differ.

A reinvigorated ANC

Encouragingly for Ramaphosa, his election has elicited considerable goodwill across the political and business spectrum, dividends he should harness for immediate political use.

Ramaphosa needs to inspire not only the ANC’s disenchanted supporters, but also key sections of society to find meaning and expression through a reinvigorated ANC, which espouses a new sense of purpose. And, most importantly, Ramaphosa must act with speed and vigour.

Fortuitously, two significant interventions have been vested with Ramaphosa by the courts for as long as Zuma is still president.

First, an order that the current National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), Shaun Abrahams, vacate that office and that Ramaphosa forthwith appoint his replacement. The NDPP would then determine whether or not Zuma should be prosecuted for corruption.

Second, an order that Ramaphosa set the terms of reference for a judge, to be chosen by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who shall chair the judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture.

These edicts are deemed appropriate owing to Zuma’s inherent conflict of interest in serious criminal matters to be traversed.

Zuma and the National Prosecuting Authority, led by Abrahams, have lodged appeals.

Upon assuming high office, Ramaphosa needs to embolden the criminal justice institutions, hitherto subverted by Zuma, to discharge their responsibilities unfettered.

Importantly, Ramaphosa needs to ensure that these institutions act diligently, and without vengeance or misplaced deference, even as criminal investigations lead closer to his ANC comrades, some of whom may have been instrumental in ensuring his election. As he would know, the burdens of leadership dictate that leaders must make bold and, if necessary, unpopular decisions even if it means alienating themselves from self-serving individuals, including seemingly invincible “power brokers” and state capturers.

A report by Credit Suisse research analyst Carlos Teixeira claims that the balance of forces within the current ANC national executive committee (NEC) is tilted by a ratio of 60:40 in Ramaphosa’s favour. Some pundits boldly estimate Ramaphosa’s support within the NEC to even be as high as 76%. I am a bit sceptical of this assertion, though.

Ramaphosa should, in any event, be able to deliver on his mandate, particularly on fighting corruption, unconstrained by internal party discord.

Also, it is critical that the new ANC NEC address a number of pressing issues urgently.

These include setting policy guidance for the budget review to be presented in February by the minister of finance, subsequent to which Moody’s Investors Service will deliver its verdict on the country’s credit worthiness; and ameliorating the expected tensions born out of the prevailing two centres of power.

A reinvigorated ANC, projecting a willingness to act could, in the short term, realise improved voter confidence and support.

Limited time

Assuming that Zuma does leave early, Ramaphosa will still have limited time within which to prove his mettle before facing a weary electorate.

The electoral setbacks that rattled Zuma’s ANC in 2016 could turn calamitous for Ramaphosa’s ANC in 2019.

Ramaphosa also has his own credibility issues that need attention. Until it became expedient for him to raise his voice, he was seemingly tolerant and supine while Zuma wreaked havoc on our political economy.

Ramaphosa has also, at times, ardently defended Zuma in Parliament, even on positions that seemed to be incongruent with his ethos.

In the process, Ramaphosa sullied his credibility through ostensible loyalty to and association with Zuma.

Other elephants in the room include the now infamous buffalo bid and Marikana quandaries. These two posers will only help propel the vexing issue of inequality and exploitation of the downtrodden by the vagaries of capital, which Ramaphosa’s business fortunes represent, into perpetual public discourse.

There is a likelihood that Ramaphosa could also face internal resistance to act from some within the ANC. And the party is likely to face its toughest electoral battle in 2019.

Depending on how he grapples with these thorny issues, Ramaphosa may have to accept the dire realities to which fate could bind him. These could include a possibility that he serve only one term as ANC president, and the real prospect of the ANC losing the national elections under his leadership or being forced to govern through a coalition.

Fittingly, Ramaphosa seems to possess the requisite temperament, political acumen and support to repel any challenge to his leadership and authority in the ANC. His emergence could be vital for the party as it seeks to avoid certain peril. His universal appeal may also be the right tonic to help stay the ANC’s execution at the polls.

In addition, Ramaphosa could prove to be the much sought after vanguard of our democratic institutions and traditions, and the most capable person to revive South Africa’s troubled fortunes.

As Ramaphosa strives to succeed, boldness will be just as important for him as his drive to fix the morass he inherited.

Khaas is chairperson of Corporate SA, a strategic advisory and consultancy, and an independent political thought leader. Follow him on Twitter @tebogokhaas.


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Read more on:    anc  |  jacob zuma  |  cyril ramaphosa

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