Ramaphosa's 3 biggest challenges right now

2019-05-13 08:03
cyril ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press

Cyril Ramaphosa's power will immediately be challenged from Luthuli House as the Zuma camp regroups to undermine and ultimately unseat him, writes Adriaan Basson.

After finishing off Jacob Zuma's term, President Cyril Ramaphosa will officially be sworn in as president of the republic on May 25 after 57.5% of the electorate voted for the ANC with his face on the ballot paper.

The lights at the national results centre in Pretoria were barely switched off when the Zuma faction in the ANC, unofficially led by secretary-general Ace Magashule, started grinding their axes.

It is no secret that Magashule and the other Zuma supporters in the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) despise Ramaphosa. Whereas Zuma abused his executive powers to keep himself and other crooked comrades out of jail, Ramaphosa has emboldened and encouraged the law enforcement agencies to act against state capturers inside and outside the ANC.

His presidency is literally a threat to the livelihood of Magashule and his ilk. A stronger Ramaphosa will be met by an equally stronger opposition to undermine and hoodwink him at every turn.

These three challenges are Ramaphosa's most urgent inbox matters right now.

1. Watch your back and that of your deputy

Ramaphosa's power will immediately be challenged from Luthuli House as the Zuma camp regroups to undermine and ultimately unseat him. It won't be easy – the ANC performed better at the polls than most anticipated and there is no doubt that Ramaphosa contributed vastly to this electoral victory.

Magashule's psychological warfare against Ramaphosa, by repeatedly stating that he was not individually important for the ANC to win the election, is aimed at undermining his stature and respect in the party. Magashule is hoping to convince ANC leaders and members that Ramaphosa is replaceable.

The Sunday Independent reported yesterday that Lindiwe Sisulu and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma are both waiting in the wings to take over from David Mabuza as deputy president.

There are different versions of the back story to this, but one theory in the ANC is that Magashule and co are betting on Sisulu's blind ambition to become president to unseat Ramaphosa. It is no secret that the relationship between Ramaphosa and Sisulu has been strained. Do not be surprised if she does not make it back to Cabinet.

The Zuma camp has never forgiven Mabuza for turning against them at Nasrec and giving his votes to Ramaphosa for president. Ramaphosa needs Mabuza's loyalty to buffer him from Luthuli House attacks.

A major headache for Ramaphosa is the list of the ANC's integrity committee with names of people they recommend should not represent the ANC in Parliament. Mabuza's name alongside that of other Ramaphosa allies Gwede Mantashe and Fikile Mbalula apparently feature on this list.

The list also includes the names of unsavoury characters like Nomvula Mokonyane, Bathabile Dlamini and Malusi Gigaba, but Ramaphosa can hardly only act against those "rogues" who are seen to be Zuma supporters.

2. Cutting Cabinet without spiting your face

Ramaphosa has promised to shrink his Cabinet and it is the right thing to do. South Africa's executive has 36 members and 35 deputy ministers on top of that. It is obscene and could be cut in half.

He simply has to cut back, but who to cut? Although Ramaphosa's position in the ANC has been cemented by the electoral victory, he is not untouchable and firing a number of experienced, senior ministers could spell danger for his long-term game.

Ramaphosa is still a politician and will have to reward his support bases like the SA Communist Party when he decides on a Cabinet. He can also not afford to alienate the ANC Women's League (ANCWL) and will have to find a way of giving something if he fires Dlamini.

3. His relationship with the EFF

Ramaphosa has a charming relationship with EFF leader Julius Malema, but the party is the biggest threat to the ANC's long-term existence. If it wasn't for suburban voters in Johannesburg taking their national votes from the DA to the ANC, the governing party may have lost Gauteng due to the large increase in township voters turning to the EFF away from the ANC.

The EFF has made major inroads in black communities in this election. The party appeals to a cross-section of middle-class and township voters who may feel the ANC is not actively championing the rights and issues of black people.

How does Ramaphosa champion non-racialism and issues pertaining specifically to the majority African population? Land and race will be central to the EFF's continued erosion of ANC support. Ramaphosa will simply have to deal with these matters in a way that stops the bleeding of ANC votes in townships and doesn't alienate white, coloured and Indian voters who have turned to the ANC in support of Ramaphosa's "thuma mina" call.

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24.

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