President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)
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Two years into former US president Barack Obama's first term as that country's head of state, the hard-line Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, told an interviewer what his party's priority was: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
McConnell, who will be President Donald Trump's most important ally when the impeachment trial soon opens in the US Congress' Upper House, proceeded to launch a scorched earth policy that frustrated Obama's agenda for the rest of his term of office. And although the Republicans were not able to make Obama a "one-term president" (he won re-election in 2012), they did succeed in weakening him and blocking numerous reforms and bills.
They also famously refused to consider appointing a judge to the Supreme Court, leaving the vacancy open until Trump was elected and then moved quickly to appoint their man to the bench.
There are a myriad McConnells around President Cyril Ramaphosa, all working towards the same goal: Making him a one-term president.
Ace Magashule in Luthuli House is building up a head of steam, assisted by those cast adrift since the ANC's Nasrec conference. The EFF is leveraging its access to the corridors of power in the governing party, sowing discord, doubt and division while looming reforms of state-owned companies and the economy will lead to peril for a president not known for assured and decisive decision-making.
Crisis meeting: Discussing Eskom's death spiral are from left to right Pravin Gordhan, Gwede Mantashe, Deputy President David Mabuza and President Cyril Ramaphosa. The power utility's failures have become Ramaphosa's problem, despite inheriting it from his predecessor. (News24 Archive)
The strategy to ensure Ramaphosa's presidency will be the shortest in the history of a democratic South Africa revolves around continued destabilisation in the state and government. The subsequent underperformance and failures in governance will then be used by his opponents in the ANC to sow discord and dissent, which will in turn form the basis of a challenge at the party's next elective conference in 2022.
This is evidenced by the reaction this week to developments at Eskom, SAA and Telkom, three state-owned companies undergoing major upheaval. At the heart of all three is a misfiring economy and, in the case of Eskom and SAA, years of corruption and mismanagement. All three urgently need clear and determined interventions, including restructuring and lay-offs.
Telkom have already announced that it will proceed with a process of dismissals, with Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, a green and inexperienced Cabinet minister of unknown loyalties, arranging a meeting with the Telkom board. To what end is unclear, but there is no doubt she will attempt to persuade the board to prevent any redundancies.
The ideological battleground will be Eskom, SAA and the broader economy, all of which requires dramatic and deep interventions to both stabilise and repair the damage done by wilful neglect and grand corruption. And Ramaphosa's personal emissaries, the ministers of state seconded to effect those changes, have been attacked mercilessly from inside the ANC and outside.
The ANC’s national executive committee will be devoting the whole of Saturday to a discussion on the future of state-owned companies, and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Public Enterprises Minster Pravin Gordhan is sure to come under attack. That is a given.
Ramaphosa now owns Zuma's problems
Ramaphosa and his government have major internal problems, not least of which is his leadership style, which is increasingly frustrating many who joined his campaign for the ANC leadership in 2016 and 2017.
As many have argued before, he inherited a failing state, weak and deteriorating economy and corrupted and criminally liable party.
But Ramaphosa, in charge of the governing ANC since December 2017, and head of state since February 2018, has been singularly ineffective in addressing the biggest structural deficiencies inhibiting and restraining economic growth and good governance. Poor financial management at all levels of government has shown no signs of improvement, while a series of warnings and red flags by National Treasury and ratings agencies have gone all but ignored.
And because two years have elapsed since Ramaphosa ascended to power, the problems he has inherited from former president Jacob Zuma have now become his problems. And with Eskom's continued death spiral and the proliferation of load shedding, the collapse of the power utility has become the fault of Ramaphosa - and Gordhan.
Gordhan, the former minister of finance, has become a lightning rod for proxy attacks on Ramaphosa. A week ago, Deputy President David Mabuza, a political mercenary with long-term presidential ambitions, launched a broadside at Gordhan, while he has been in the crosshairs of a range of groups with vested interests, including Numsa (who is close to the coal lobby), a variety of rent-seekers pushed to the outside post-Zuma, ANC heavyweights (including Cabinet ministers and senior members of the ANC NEC) and elements in the media (with the Independent Group leading the charge).
Mboweni, the other minister holding up Ramaphosa's arms, is also under attack. He has made his frustrations patently clear, and this week challenged those who insist on "nationalising" the South African Reserve Bank to clearly explain exactly why they want to do so, notwithstanding what the ANC decided at its elective conference two years ago. His challenge was met with a chorus of criticism, with the ANC issuing a statement warning him ministers are not "freelancers".
The net effect of the week's events is that both Gordhan and Mboweni - and seemingly Ramaphosa - have dug in their heels and their detractors are going to struggle to prevent the reforms both ministers are mooting.
President Ace Magashule and his deputy, Nomvula Mokonyane? That is a distinct possibility after the ANC's next elective conference, some veterans of President Cyril Ramaphosa's CR17 campaign feel. (News24 Archive)
SAA is about to be put on the chopping block, while Andre de Ruyter, the new group executive of Eskom, has already moved to stop at least one stupendously expensive tender being irregularly awarded. And Mboweni, while he still has the reins at Treasury, will clearly continue to try to force the limping ship of state in the right direction.
Almost all the actions Ramaphosa, Gordhan and Mboweni want to take are contrary to ANC dogma and policy. The selling of state companies, privatisation, downsizing of workforces and a reduction in the public sector wage bill are all tantamount to fireable offences.
And that will be used against him when the party mid-term review conference, the national general council (NGC), takes place in the winter. Magashule and his faction will try to pack the delegates with like-minded loyalists, and although they will not be able to remove Ramaphosa, they will point to the government's failings and his government's diversion from the Nasrec resolutions as evidence of a president gone rogue.
Among veterans of the CR17 campaign there is already talk of mounting a campaign to ensure victory at the party's next elective conference in 2022. There are genuine fears of a Ramaphosa camp being ill-prepared for the NGC and then being caught offside in three years' time.
One veteran laid out a possible future if they do not act with conviction: A Magashule presidency, with a deputy coming from the likes of Nomvula Mokonyane and Bathabile Dlamini.
And Ramaphosa a one-term president.
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