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Ramaphosa and Mkhwebane: A debilitating crisis of credibility

2019-07-22 05:00
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Gallo Images/Sowetan/Esa Alexander)

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Gallo Images/Sowetan/Esa Alexander)

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The Public Protector's report is a crisis for the new president. And, it is one that requires not just a legal judgment in his favour, but a holistic change-of-being between himself and his party, writes Daniel Silke.

It would be an understatement to say that Cyril Ramaphosa is now an embattled president. 

Following the dramatic events of last week – at the hands of Jacob Zuma on Monday and Busisiwe Mkhwebane on Friday – the country now faces a crisis of credibility on three fronts with overlapping agendas complicating the resolution prospects.

Zuma's resurrection of a litany of conspiracy accusations and threats to de-frock other "comrades" labelled as spies, will have left an uneasy feeling within the ANC.

Given the history and sensitivities of the liberation era – and notwithstanding the severely damaged credibility of former president Zuma himself, claims that the governing party still houses a secret coterie of former (and perhaps current) spies, can create a McCarthy-esque atmosphere in Luthuli House and beyond.

When a political party fears its most senior activists are either not genuine or have substantial conspiratorial motives, it gnaws away at co-operation and cohesiveness and ultimately disables coherent policy formulation and execution.

And, whether the innuendos from Zuma were believed or not, the sense of unease in the corridors of ANC power across the country will have debilitating ripple effects in undermining unity so critical at this juncture.

Within the ANC therefore, a first crisis of credibility is emerging: just who are the believable or trustworthy personalities to take the country forward? For Zuma, his assertions were enough to add fuel to the already factionalised polarisation that largely inhibits good governance from the governing party.

That Zuma was attempting to deflect and divert from his own role in state capture was patently clear. Still, injecting doubts into the ANC over legitimacy and reliability also adds pressure to the role of Ramaphosa and his own views and knowledge of this matter – not to mention his leadership of a fractious, factionalised and fearful political party in the danger of descending into dangerous back-stabbing to defend positions, power and privilege.

Against the backdrop of Zuma at the Zondo commission came the bombshell report of the Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

Mkhwebane was already under substantial pressure regarding her own suitability for office following a number of High Court judgments against her – with potentially more to come.

With swirling allegations that she herself is unfit for office or is aligned to a faction seeking to diminish the power of President Ramaphosa, her own credibility was being questioned.

Within that context, she too chose to interpret her evidence and research in a manner that dealt a major blow to Ramaphosa. Without pontification on the merit or demerit of her findings – which include suggestions of money laundering – she has sewn enough seeds of doubt about the president himself.

Therefore, just as Zuma succeeded in deflecting and hurling counter accusations to take all our minds off the Guptas, so Mkhwebane – rightly or wrongly – has done the same. She has honed in on issues that not only question the integrity and authority of the sitting president, but also suggest an equivalency of malfeasance between Ramaphosa and Zuma.

The innuendos of the huge financial contributions to the CR17 campaign amidst an air of malfeasance and impropriety draw a type of "moral" or "immoral" equivalence between Zuma's own misdeed and now those potentially ascribed to Ramaphosa.

Within one week, therefore, the pendulum of accusations has swung away from the former president to the current. Politically, therefore, the credibility of the office of the president is therefore now also in question.

No country can afford a crisis of credibility in its critical institutions of governance. It's distracting and undermines efforts at forging unity of purpose and implementing corrective measures to reboot South Africa.

Above all else, the diminishing of the legitimacy of the Presidency and Public Protector largely disengage the process of holding those liable for state capture to account. After all, suggesting that huge amounts of donors' money went into the CR17 campaign is creating a second tranche of state capture well beyond the Guptas.

To this end, Ramaphosa has now thrown down the gauntlet to Mkhwebane by not only describing the report as "fundamentally and irretrievably flawed" but also taking it on judicial review.

The effects of his Sunday night statement largely reflecting the earnestness and urgency of the matter but similarly – on national television – putting his case to the public and his own party. As president, Ramaphosa's credibility is on the line in a dramatic and damaging atmosphere. And with Zuma on the sidelines and other political vultures within the ANC waiting to take a bite out of the president, it's an unnerving period yet again for South Africa.

With the courts set to decide, this is a high-stakes game that can result in either the end of the Ramaphosa Presidency barely before it has begun or a process leading to the removal of the Public Protector herself. It's hard to see either party recover from findings against them.

That the position is clarified via the courts timeously goes without saying. But it is clear too that those seeking to undermine Ramaphosa will stop at nothing to create dissent and unease.

Make no mistake, this is a crisis for the new president. And, it is one that requires not just a legal judgment in his favour, but a holistic change-of-being between himself and his entire political party. There are multiple fronts of attack within the ANC presently. Some collide deliberately, while some take advantage of unforeseen and unpredictable stress.

As has been said before, a new president keen to root out the rot of the past faces a highly dangerous period in confronting the vested interests of malfeasance. But, with his enemies circling, he has to be beyond reproach himself. Any misstep, whether deliberately, or unintentionally or even as part of a political stitch-up creates opportunities for your adversaries.

Fasten your seatbelts as we ride this one out.

- Daniel Silke is director of the Political Futures Consultancy and is a noted keynote speaker and commentator. Views expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielSilke or visit his website

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  busisi­we mkhwebane  |  cyril rama­phosa
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