Guest Column

Ramaphosa gets the green light, but must overcome history of inertia

2017-12-22 08:20
Newly-elected ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. (Themba Hadebe, AP)

Newly-elected ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. (Themba Hadebe, AP)

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Gwen Ngwenya

While the balance of political players from both warring factions might be a positive sign for internal ANC unity, it does weaken Cyril Ramaphosa’s hand in dealing effectively with the party’s patronage networks and implementing policies that challenge the populist rhetoric of radical economic transformation along racial lines.

The ANC top six – president, deputy president, chairperson, secretary-general, deputy secretary-general and treasurer-general – are now split evenly between two slates.

The possible dynamics flowing from this could go one of two ways; the 50/50 split could help engender a sense of unity, or drive up internal acrimony and division.

It is likely the first key decisions and appointments Ramaphosa makes will determine which of these two possibilities is made real. Of those, establishing an uncompromising commission of inquiry into allegations of ‘state capture’ and his attitude towards the position of public prosecutor will help define his approach to corruption.

In turn, how he sets about exerting control over the economy and fiscal policy, through positions like the finance minister, will be key indicators. Such decisions are likely to be the litmus test of how relations in the top six play out.  

According to the ANC constitution, all top six positions serve at the behest of the national executive committee (NEC), which is where true organisational power lies.  If Ramaphosa is able to secure a majority on that body, it will go some considerable way towards nullifying the split nature of the top six.

From a provincial perspective, it is deeply significant that KwaZulu-Natal did not secure a single position in the top six, and Ramaphosa, who drew heavily on support from Gauteng (represented by Paul Mashatile) is likely to draw great strength from that region. If he does, and the centre of power does move way from KwaZulu-Natal and towards Gauteng, his first order of business will be securing the province in 2019.

Ramaphosa victory disastrous for mature democracy

An Ipsos poll in May 2017 revealed that Ramaphosa was viewed favourably by 5.3 out of 10 eligible voters, a favourability score that placed him ahead of other political leaders, including those of opposition parties. Based on this and other polls, it is likely that, with Ramaphosa at the helm, the ANC will secure the 2019 election.

That the ANC is both the source and the solution of South Africa’s problems is the most serious threat to democracy. If the ANC wins in 2019, the party will not experience the ballot as a punitive judgment by the electorate, or as a measure of its rating based on performance. It is important that governance failures are not rewarded with electoral success if we are to create and strengthen the right incentives.

South Africa’s electorate have at best doled out uneven sanctions at the ballot box for political parties who did not deliver on their promises, and at worst rewarded them for their failures.

Consequences for ANC and the alliance 

Ramaphosa’s election is likely to be beneficial for the alliance. Both Cosatu and the South African Communist Party supported his candidacy and, after relations had deteriorated to the point of outright hostility under Jacob Zuma, Ramaphosa – who has built a life-long reputation as a negotiator – is likely to be able to repair much of the damage that has been done and strengthen the alliance. The SACP, for one, had recently hurt the ANC in a series of Free State by-elections, where it took a small number of important seats off the party in Metsimaholo.

Ramaphosa will urgently seek to bring the SACP back into the fold, and secure a cessation of open electoral hostility. The same will be true in the case of Cosatu and the various factions that have split from it. Of these, he is also likely to want to bring Zwelinzima Vavi and his newly established Federation of Trade Unions into the alliance. 

But as one set of internal relations can be better addressed by Ramaphosa’s election, another set of problems will have manifested. The ANC leagues – the Youth League, Women’s League and Veterans League – all sided with Nkozasana Dlamini-Zuma, and Ramaphosa is going to have to work hard to ensure they do not become unofficial platforms for the disenchanted and aggrieved in the way Cosatu and the SACP did under Zuma.

Restoring party discipline is one of the primary organisational problems Ramaphosa faces. It has totally collapsed and, for an organisation that historically has prided itself on how strictly it adheres to the precepts of Leninist democratic centralism, Ramaphosa has not ever led with an iron fist, in the way Thabo Mbeki did. He is going to be hard-pressed to draw a line in the sand and restore an internal sense of institutional authority to the ANC collective.

A history of inertia

Before assuming office as deputy president, Ramaphosa made many promises, almost none of which have materialised.

Ramaphosa promised to ensure the implementation of the NDP. In 2014, in his own words, he said the ANC was ‘on the cusp of implementation’; three years later we are presumably once again at that cusp.

Furthermore, he promised to bring unity in the ANC, and spoke of the ‘decade of the cadre’ which was going to ‘inculcate the most outstanding values and ethics amongst the members of the ANC’.

The corruption scandals which have beleaguered the ANC reveal that it has indeed been the decade of the cadre – at the expense of the public. But his well-laid out intentions amounted to nought, and, in fact, combusted in spectacular fashion, South Africa’s would-be saviour was not at the centre of the fire, stamping out the flames, but ever on the sidelines, doing nothing and saying nothing. In conclusion, the Ramaphosa of fantasy, the figure of a decisive man of action, has never manifest himself in reality.

We congratulate Cyril Ramaphosa on his win, and, like many South Africans, are hopeful. Hope breeds confidence – but we must reserve room for scepticism in order to minimise surprise.

- Gwen Ngwenya is the chief operations officer of the South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR) – a liberal think tank that promotes political and economic freedom.

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:    cyril rama­phosa  |  anc


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