Ralph Mathekga

Why Ramaphosa shouldn't (and won't) get rid of Zuma's ministers

2019-05-21 09:12
Former president Jacob Zuma in court. (PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla)

Former president Jacob Zuma in court. (PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla)

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The best way to neutralise the Zuma factor in the ANC is to find space for some people so that they do not feel left out of the 'New Dawn'. It's strategic deployment: keep them there, yet far from critical levers of power, writes Ralph Mathekga.

Political developments in South Africa since the May 8 election show that our politics is not about to turn dull. There have been interesting shifts, showing that the next term of Parliament will be even more sizzling than the previous one.

The nation is currently preoccupied with the gripping question of who will make it into Cyril Ramaphosa's cabinet. This is important in light of the public outcry about some of the individuals who will be headed to Parliament on the ANC list. The topic will continue to concern many throughout this term. Ramaphosa's inauguration as the president of South Africa is also a topic that has preoccupied the minds of many people.

It is not often that the president's inauguration takes place in the same week that a former president is appearing in court on criminal charges. As plans are made to ensure people come to watch Ramaphosa's inauguration on Saturday, former president Jacob Zuma is mobilising political support as he appears before the Pietermaritzburg High Court in his latest bid to stop the NPA from prosecuting him on a nearly decade-old corruption matter.

Zuma has also pledged support for the embattled eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede, who is facing corruption charges after her dramatic arrest by the seemingly emboldened Hawks a few days ago.

Gumede's arrest and Zuma's appearance in court make things very intense in the ANC. Some would say Gumede's arrest is long overdue. The timing is also interesting; just after the elections and shortly before Ramaphosa's inauguration. This sends the message to the cynics that indeed Ramaphosa is resolute on anti-corruption and he will pursue this project even if it has the potential to intensify already existing divisions in the ANC.

It is still proving tricky for Ramaphosa to isolate Zuma politically, making it more difficult for him to get a good grip on KwaZulu-Natal. The best way out of this is a divide and rule strategy, which seems to be already underway. It is clear that the newly appointed KwaZulu-Natal premier, Sihle Zikalala, will now have to tread carefully when it comes to dealing with Zuma's allies in the province. Zikalala's main priority should be to distance himself from the embattled Zuma and Gumede, and focus on his premiership.

Zikalala's political fortunes are no longer tied to Zuma's. Once a staunch ally of the former president, he will now have to ensure that Zuma and Gumede do not use government platforms to fight their political battles against Ramaphosa. This will be difficult as Zikalala will be accused of betraying Zuma for a few pieces of silver. I will not be surprised if Zikalala faces attacks from some of his comrades in the province for withholding support and platforms for Zuma and Gumede.

As Ramaphosa's attempt to rein in KwaZulu-Natal unfold, the big question remains how Cabinet positions will be allocated. A compromise is one way to go. Ramaphosa cannot get rid of all compromised former Zuma allies, and not all of them are compromised. The best way to neutralise the Zuma factor in the ANC is to find space for some people so that they do not feel left out of the 'New Dawn'.

It's strategic deployment: keep them there, yet far from critical levers of power. This will also get people to think deeply that Zuma is gone and there isn't much he can offer anyone at this point since he is fighting for his own freedom.

The complex game of managing the transition from Zuma to Ramaphosa's presidency is underway. There are too many battle fronts to this conflict. The best way for Ramaphosa is to never underestimate his detractors. What we can all agree on is that no one could script this one; and we are heading into a very interesting and complex political term where decisions are made out of consideration of multiple factors.

For Ramaphosa, this is the political battle that will not be determined by a single event such as Cabinet appointment; it is essentially a long-term game won through small incremental efforts as opposed to a big bang approach.

- Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.

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