Guest Column

Will the ANC be by Ramaphosa's side?

2018-02-25 06:05
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his inaugural State of the Nation Address. (Photo: Ruvan Boshoff, AFP)

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his inaugural State of the Nation Address. (Photo: Ruvan Boshoff, AFP)

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The Greek philosopher Plato characterised the best government as being composed of people who were not interested in power. He said in a good and just society, there would be as much of a race to avoid power as there was to get it. So those who end up as politicians do so only out of fear of being governed by people worse than themselves.

I was reminded of this while pondering how to make sense of President Cyril Ramaphosa. I am not saying Ramaphosa is one of the good men who hates power. He probably loves it. But he is a different sort of politician.

My sense is that he is more than a politician. More specifically, he is a trade union leader who formed the then mighty National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), he was later central to the formation of the United Democratic Front in the early 1980s to consolidate all the anti-apartheid movements scattered across the country. He distinguished himself when he negotiated for the post-liberation dispensation in the early 1990s; the man who helped extract major concessions from the National Party that would ensure whatever happens we would end up with one man, one vote so that the will of the majority prevailed.

Ramaphosa is currently the toast of town, celebrated as the new president who will restore the ANC and the country to essential values and elevate both to greater heights. He is enjoying it as well. You can see it in his relaxed demeanour whenever he makes a public appearance. Even the opposition parties gave him a standing ovation in Parliament last week.

So confident is Ramaphosa that he surprised many by how magnanimous he was towards former president Jacob Zuma, who had become somewhat of a persona non grata as he left office. But he knows that the honeymoon will not last for long.

Already the news from the first budget he presides over is depressing. The budget which included a VAT increase has been slammed across the board for being anti-poor. Yes, Ramaphosa, who was only president for less than a week when the budget was presented on Wednesday, might argue that it is not really his budget.

He can also argue that the tough decisions from the budget were a result of Zuma’s populist policies. So the budget was the first stumbling block.

The second one will be the mooted Cabinet reshuffle. He will receive applause (lots of it) for removing incompetent ministers who served under Zuma. But he will also be criticised because he will not remove all of the enfant terrible. Political considerations dictate that he will not remove all of Zuma’s sycophants for fear it will be interpreted as a purge.

By the time the elections happen in just over a year’s time, the adoration and hero-worshipping will be long gone. He will be vulnerable like any other politician. But it will obviously help his case if he is not personally involved in any scandal. He seems determined not to be. Then he would be in a position to keep the ANC above 50% electorally, defying projections since the 2014 and 2016 elections that the party could lose power. This is easy enough for Ramaphosa as voters, who turned their backs on the ANC because of Zuma, could return.

But winning the 2019 elections might not be the biggest of his challenges. The toughest assignment, I believe, will be whether he can take the ANC along with him in whatever milestones he seeks to achieve. Remember the ANC is still the same party that saw nothing wrong with Zuma’s looting and his poor leadership over the years. Some of the party’s brightest minds are MPs who accused the opposition, civil society and the media of all sorts of agenda when they pointed out these obvious flaws.

It is therefore a party that has lost its moral compass in the past years and defended some unashamedly. It is the same party in which many of the members have voiced themselves terribly uncomfortable with Ramaphosa’s association with minority groups. His friendships and associations with whites (and Jews) has been used to come to the conclusion that he does not care about black people, especially poor ones.

I do not see Ramaphosa refraining from practising what he views as a central tenant of the ANC’s principles of nonracialism, nonsexism and democracy. However, that stick (if we can call it that) will be continually wielded against him inside the party, leading to a challenge of his leadership in five years.

That might just prove to be a rather harder nut to crack for the affable man from Chiawelo, Soweto. Of all the ANC presidents since democracy, I think he will be the one who will battle most with the dilemma of whether to remain loyal to the party or to do what he really wants to do. His values might not be compatible with the dominant ethos and behaviour of Africa’s oldest liberation movement.


What do you make of the new president? Is he the one who can save SA’s diminished reputation?

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Read more on:    anc  |  jacob zuma  |  cyril ramaphosa

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