The ANC’s unity showdown

2018-01-21 05:43
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa.

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa.

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Appearances can indeed be misleading. While the composition of the ANC leadership suggests that its newly elected president Cyril Ramaphosa will not have outright authority, events of this past week indicate the contrary.

The centre of power is shifting from the president of the republic, Jacob Zuma, to his counterpart at Luthuli House. In the process, it is becoming clearer what version of “unity” will ultimately hold sway within the ANC.

It is no coincidence that measures to recover proceeds accrued from state capture and the charging of the alleged culprits got underway soon after Ramaphosa ascended to the helm of the ANC. Some officials in the office of the public prosecutor possibly had interest in pursuing the leads arising from the leaked emails about state capture much earlier. What we know, however, is that there was no institutional interest to prosecute. Evidence of this is multifold.

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Shaun Abrahams, for instance, never held a press conference to reassure the furious public that his office was following up on the leaks, never mind prosecuting the alleged culprits. It could only have taken indifference to remain silent in the face of an outcry from society, including the clergy, for action on constant revelations about the massive siphoning of public finances.

Further evidence of Abrahams’ disinterest to move on state capture is his handling of the case involving the possible reinstatement of charges of racketeering and fraud against Zuma. Once the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in October 2017 that charges must be reinstated, Abrahams not only agreed to Zuma’s request to make fresh representations, but extended his deadline for making submissions from the end of November to the end of this month. This was a two-month extension, following the more than a month that Abrahams had given Zuma to make new representations. Zuma was buying time in the hope that his proxy, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would win the ANC presidency, which would have enabled him to manoeuvre his way out of facing charges. Abrahams was complicit.

That the NPA is finally acting is the result of the changed mood in officialdom. Ramaphosa has prioritised the fight against corruption and state capture. This explains Police Minister Fikile Mbalula’s sudden firing of police crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli, another Zuma ally. Years ago, Mdluli handed Zuma a report purporting to contain information that some of his comrades, including Bheki Cele and Tokyo Sexwale, were plotting to oust him. In doing so, Mdluli in effect used his position to curry favour with Zuma. That’s why he had been suspended for seven years on full pay, instead of being fired and put on trial for his alleged involvement in all manner of criminality.

Mbalula does deserve some credit though. He did not wait for the change of political leadership to do the right thing. He got rid of the clownish Berning Ntlemeza as head of the Hawks. Ramaphosa’s election has strengthened Mbalula’s hand. He even said himself as he announced Mdluli’s exit: “This new paradigm and environment is good for the country and fighting corruption. For once we won’t be pussyfooting when it comes to the fight against corruption. We will be decisive.”

This affirms the influence of the office of the ANC presidency. For anyone who still wishes for a future in the public service, it is clear their activities should accord with the agenda of the new ANC president. Ramaphosa holds their future in his hands, while Zuma faces an imminent exit and bleak prospects.

Restore "integrity and credibility"

The crackdown related to state capture shows there was nothing sophisticated about it. It was not some elaborate and crafty scheme, but simply brazen thievery without any pretence of providing services in return. Zuma simply concealed it through his hold on power. The leaked emails said everything, without the need to dig up anything. Now that the cog that held the network together – Zuma – is being removed, more sleaze will come into the open. Accomplices will confess in the hope of getting mercy.

This can’t be good for all those ANC leaders with a twisted version of unity. The new song about unity may be the latest hit in ANC circles, but not all of them share the same idea. For some it means granting amnesty to all those convicted of corruption, in order to keep them in the ANC. This is how Bathabile Dlamini explained it at the Nasrec conference, referring to alleged fraudster and former ANC spokesperson Carl Niehaus: “South Africans, why are we not forgiving? They always want to label people. Why are they not saying, let’s listen to Carl for a change and give him an opportunity to change … If we are able to forgive apartheid, why is it difficult to forgive someone else and ensure there is remedial action on some of the issues.”

Ramaphosa sounded an emphatically different version of unity in his speech at the ANC’s birthday celebration in East London last Saturday. The party’s cadres need to restore the party’s “integrity and credibility”, he said.

“We need cadres who are committed to serve no other interest than the interest of the people; who seek no advantage for themselves or their families from the positions they occupy and who safeguard public resources … The investigation and prosecution of those responsible will be given top priority.”

This is the tune Mbalula is following, which Dlamini may not yet have grasped. In fact it has just come out that she paid R149 000 for a slot on the SABC programme that profiles personalities and their families. This was clearly not about publicising her work, but profiling herself. If it were about her work, she wouldn’t have needed to pay: airing public news is part of the public broadcaster’s mandate, which is why ministers have never had to pay for airtime.

Genuine unity, therefore, will come through cleansing. A nasty showdown is looming. It will pit ANC deputy president David Mabuza and secretary-general Ace Magashule against Ramaphosa and those who share his vision. Some of Mabuza’s acolytes – State Security Minister Bongani Bongo and his predecessor, David Mahlobo – are associated with corruption and impropriety. Bongo is the subject of a corruption investigation and Mahlobo is alleged to have used his time at the state security ministry to spy on Zuma’s adversaries. Lindiwe Sisulu and Blade Nzimande were among those who complained of being placed under illegal surveillance. Ramaphosa may have been subject to this as well. Mabuza doesn’t see anything wrong with his sycophantic duo. He engineered their election to the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC). Ramaphosa’s clean-up may possibly encounter stiff resistance from Mabuza.

A similar confrontation is likely to ensue with Magashule too. He may want to shield his loyalist Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane from being fired and kicked out of the NEC. Zwane apparently faces an imminent arrest arising from state capture. Besides wanting to protect Zwane, Magashule himself may soon be fighting to maintain his position as secretary-general. He elevated the unknown Zwane to national government, where he quickly advanced the interests of the Gupta family, who might have possibly given him a share of the spoils, as per their modus operandi. Unity does not imply docility. It is not divined, but enforced. A showdown looms!

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

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