Will the ANC's election result keep Ramaphosa safe?

2019-05-10 10:12
President Cyril Ramaphosa Photo: City Press

The ANC has pulled off another elections victory. But the big question is what the outcome will mean for President Cyril Ramaphosa and whether the result will be good enough to keep him safe within the ANC, writes Melanie Verwoerd.

At the time of writing this piece, about 75% of all votes cast nationally have been counted. As I predicted, the ANC will receive about 57% of the vote. The DA lost some ground and will receive just below 22% of the vote. The EFF is still picking up slightly and currently sit around the 10% mark.

I also predicted that the FF+ would pick up and they have done so quite dramatically – albeit from a very low base. It was clear to me that many Afrikaans voters who voted DA in the last election did so because they bought the DA's "Let's-unite-against-Zuma" argument. Yet many – particularly in the more northern provinces – never felt 100% comfortable with the DA. These voters have no problem with Cyril Ramaphosa as president and so went back to a party that they believe represents their needs and concerns – such as language and land.

The big question is what the outcome of this election will now mean for Cyril Ramaphosa within his own party, and particularly whether the ANC result will be high enough to keep him safe?

Although naturally, it would have been better for Ramaphosa if the ANC had achieved 60% or above, I still believe that this result will be a good enough result for the him. This is the first election where the ANC's support will fall below 60%. Yet, it will be significantly higher (more than 3%) than their support in the local government elections of 2016.

It was always crucial for Ramaphosa's future that the party's support did not decline below 55%. According to all current projections, this will not happened. I believe there is little, if any doubt that this can be attributed to Ramaphosa's popularity. Ipsos's polls prior to the election indicated unprecedented approval ratings for Ramaphosa (at the level of Mandela's), even though the ANC's support was significantly lower. It is no wonder then that the ANC only used Ramaphosa's face on posters, essentially making it a "vote for Ramaphosa" campaign.

Another election outcome that would have posed a big challenge to Ramaphosa within his own party would have been if ANC support in Gauteng had declined below 50%. Although many votes are still to be counted, most projections indicate that the ANC will retain the majority in Gauteng. This was always very important for Ramaphosa. Given his history in business and popularity amongst the business community and middle class voters, it was the province that he was expected to "deliver" for the ANC.

So a victory in Gauteng (assuming that the numbers remain in favour of the ANC) together with the national numbers will be a very welcome relief to the majority of ANC members.

This of course does not mean that the so-called Zuma faction will disappear. The stakes are simply too high for them. I have no doubt that they will continue to mobilise and try to frustrate Ramaphosa and his supporters.

It is also likely that they will bitterly criticise him and his faction at the national general council (NGC) next year for not delivering on decisions taken at the ANC's Nasrec conference, such as expropriation without compensation and privatisation of the Reserve Bank, as well as the Eskom crisis. As explained in a previous column, the real danger is whether they would then be able to mobilise an early national elective conference by getting five ANC provincial structures to call on the NEC to convene such a conference.

However, with the (projected) ANC election result nationally at over 57% and majorities in all the provinces except for the Western Cape, they are very unlikely to succeed with such a move. Branches will simply be too relieved by this result – especially since this bodes well for the local government elections in about 18 months' times.

Reducing Cabinet size Ramaphosa's first challenge

Ramaphosa's biggest challenge in the immediate future now lies in choosing his new Cabinet. He has promised a smaller, leaner Cabinet. I believe that this will be the first indication of how comfortable he is feeling within his own party.

If he reduces Cabinet with the rumoured 10 positions (to be closer in size to the Mbeki and Mandela cabinets), it will be a sign of an emboldened Ramaphosa.

However, if he is still concerned about the factional problems in the ANC he might feel the need to keep some belonging to the Zuma faction in Cabinet. In order to then have enough of his own team in the executive, this would require that he keeps the Cabinet bigger.

The size of the Cabinet could therefore be one of the first and clearest signs of how comfortable Ramaphosa feels after this election.

However, South Africa and the world can certainly breathe easier today. We came through another election with almost no violence and only limited concerns about election hiccups. The centre (politically) held strong and the extremists were either totally defeated or remained relatively small.

Most importantly, this result should now free Ramaphosa to focus on his "New Dawn" and in time, bring the country back on track.

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

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