Ramaphosa's rubicon moment

The sacrifices of our founding fathers, including all those to whom we owe our freedom and democracy, seem perilously close to being surrendered at the altar of political expediency.

This, ostensibly in pursuit of ANC unity and in possible attempts to navigate the nefarious obligations and selfish interests of our indentured, delinquent president.

Otherwise, Cyril Ramaphosa’s apparent reticence in dislodging President Jacob Zuma from office forthwith is incomprehensible.

Let me explain.

There has never been a time in Russian and Chinese history when these two regional power blocs were able to exert as much political and economic influence in Africa as they have in the past decade.

South Africa, a regional economic and political powerhouse in Africa with world-class financial and legal systems, has played a pivotal role in the increased influence of both these countries in the continent.

The establishment of Brics, an association of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, led to the formation of the New Development Bank in late 2013. South Africa committed to invest $5bn (about R60.5bn) towards its initial capitalisation in 2015. The bank is intended to provide a counterweight to the prevailing global political and economic influence the West commands through the International Monetary Fund.

However, South Africa’s role in Brics can best be described as an act of unrequited economic and political benevolence to Russia and China. Our participation in Brics seems to primarily be to lend credence to the association and enable access by China and Russia to Africa’s commodities – including votes at the UN. However, it otherwise prostrates Africa as a docile consumer market for Russian and Chinese goods and services.

The only other beneficiaries in this incestuous relationship seem to be Zuma, his family, the Guptas and their acolytes.

It is doubtful that Ramaphosa would take a keen interest in Brics, never mind exude the unbridled exuberance Zuma has for this geopolitical body.

As speculation mounts, the significance of a withdrawal by South Africa from Brics could form part of discussions in the ongoing “transition negotiations” between Zuma and Ramaphosa.

South Africa’s divestiture from Brics and its bank could severely harm the interests of both Russia and China in Africa.

For Ramaphosa, the $5bn committed to the Brics bank could provide much-needed liquidity to our troubled state-owned enterprises (SOEs), particularly Eskom, which needs R20bn to help stave off a looming financial calamity.

However, just as the UK learnt from Brexit, termination of global trade and political agreements can be a costly affair.

Another factor in the “transition negotiations” could purely be personal: Zuma’s precarious legal conundrum. Anecdotal evidence, including the 783 criminal counts Zuma faces; evidence revealed through state capture allegations, leaked Gupta emails; and new evidence relating to the arms deal, strongly suggest that Zuma is an indentured president, in the clutches of economic hitmen and foreign interests.

The extent to which Zuma is beholden to local and international interests, including the underworld, is yet to be fully uncovered.

What is, however, incontrovertible is Zuma’s links to economic hitmen and some local financial benefactors, notably the infamous Gupta family.

It is widely rumoured that Zuma has made commitments to Russian President Vladimir Putin and former KGB agent and ex-Norilsk Nickel CEO Vladimir Strzhalkovsky. Zuma has reportedly committed to deliver the nuclear deal to Russia.

Ramaphosa, however, has unequivocally ruled out any new nuclear build in the foreseeable future. This would’ve surely placed Zuma in an invidious position with regards to Putin.

In his bestselling book The President’s Keepers, author Jacques Pauw details how Strzhalkovsky delivered medical equipment and vast amounts of cash to Zuma’s Nkandla homestead. Pursuant to this, Norilsk was allegedly promised new ore extraction and processing projects in the country.

With Zuma on his way out, and Ramaphosa unlikely to serve Zuma’s interests, this would surely place Zuma in an invidious position with regards to Strzhalkovsky.

An intriguing observation was the arrival of the Guptas’ private jet in St Petersburg, Russia, on Wednesday. The timing of the Guptas’ visit to Russia has fuelled speculation that the Guptas could be acting as Zuma’s emissaries, as he tries to appease the apparently restless Russians.

Zuma’s penchant for ostentatiousness beyond his means has ensnared some of his family members in misdeeds.

The prospect of footing his personal legal bills, followed by a possible lengthy jail term surely looms large for Zuma. He must be consumed by all these as he engages in transition negotiations.

Zuma’s apparent obstinacy in vacating office could be motivated by, among other things, a desire to minimise the consequences of his misdeeds.

I don’t believe that Zuma thinks Ramaphosa has the legal authority to offer him indemnity from prosecution. Neither is there a likelihood that Ramaphosa will consider offering Zuma amnesty for crimes that are patently not politically motivated.

Ramaphosa could, however, be able to offer Zuma a presidential pardon, after he has been convicted, served some time in prison and apologised for his crimes.

There are inherent political consequences for Ramaphosa and the ANC should Zuma be pardoned, or Ramaphosa act in a manner that evokes suspicion.

Ramaphosa and the ANC’s credibility in fighting the scourge of corruption could suffer irreparable damage should he be seen to be treating Zuma any differently to those employees in SOEs accused of wrongdoing.

Equally, there are political risks for Ramaphosa and the ANC should Zuma follow through with threats of bringing the ANC political temple down with him, in the event he feels mistreated.

Put simply, Zuma may be down, on his way out, but he is not yet out!

It is clear that Zuma has compromised South Africa financially, economically and politically beyond measure. The extent and potential consequences of this exposure is only known to him and those he may confide in as he departs.

Ramaphosa may just be discovering the true extent of Zuma’s morass, while plotting how best to mitigate the potential corrosive effect of his excesses.

While the public frustration over Ramaphosa’s apparent procrastination is understandable, it is equally important that the public doesn’t get blinded to the potential gravity, complexity and fluidity of the situation confronting Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa cannot afford a misstep so early in his epic journey as this could have a deleterious effect on his legacy.

Sadly for Ramaphosa, his Rubicon-crossing moment has arrived earlier than he could have fathomed.

Khaas is chairperson of Corporate SA, a strategic advisory and consultancy firm. He invites you to follow him on Twitter @tebogokhaas


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