2020 - The year Ramaphosa must make hard decisions to survive

2020-01-12 12:37

President Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to continue walking a tightrope when it comes to pleasing both South Africans and the ANC.

This is the suggestion from some within the party and political analysts who anticipate, after hearing his January 8 statement, that the president was in for a difficult year ahead.

The president’s address, which was delivered in Kimberley on Saturday, continued in a similar vein to the 2019 speech that had been combined with the party’s elections manifesto.

“He honestly must make one or two unpopular decisions,” one national executive committee member told News24.

The insider said Ramaphosa would be a “victim” of circumstances due to the changing global dynamics which could have a more dire impact on the developing world, as well as South Africa’s own endless domestic problems.

In 2019, Ramaphosa faced stern challenges brought on by the electricity crisis, a depressed economy, SAA’s debt problems, crime and corruption.

Another senior leader in the ANC, who continues to believe Ramaphosa is the right person to rescue both South Africa and the governing party, admitted the challenges were mounting while attempts to act seemed slower or insufficient.

“I don’t think Cyril Ramaphosa knows who he is at the moment,” said the University of Pretoria’s Dr Sthembile Mbete, speaking to News24.

She said it was clear he was set to have a difficult year, citing numerous reasons such as failing to lay a solid political foundation for himself and not capitalising on a window of opportunity and good will, which he had between 2018 and the May 2019 elections.

“He’s lost that 18 months to build a political base ... he wasted that,” remarked Mbete.

“Now there’s a challenge for him, it’s difficult to build that foundation now, mainly cause of all the other fires he needs to put out.”

ANALYSIS: Empty promises, hollow rhetoric define the ANC today

Officially, the ANC has over the years as a governing party lamented at the erosion of its values of selflessness - the kind of political morality that guided the struggle for freedom. On important occasions to celebrate its anniversary, party leaders typically reflect on the once-glorious movement of the people.

Agreeing with this view was University of KwaZulu-Natal political analyst Lukhona Mnguni, who told News24 the president was in a far weaker position than he was following his victory at the ANC’s Nasrec elective conference in 2017 when he had society’s good will on his side.

“There are decisions he could have taken to at least inspire society that he is willing to deliver as the country’s president even if it costs him in the ANC. It doesn’t help to nurse ANC politics, they are ever dynamic and changing,” said Mnguni.

Ramaphosa has been trying to arrest the continued decline of the country’s economy, create jobs and to fight corruption, with South Africans fast growing impatient with his efforts and accusing him of being an “indecisive president”.

“He is trying to play it safe, continuously picking the least risky option, the least fall out in the ANC and please the most number of people… you can’t lead like that, let alone run a country,” observed Mbete.

Echoing many of the sentiments shared by ANC leaders News24 spoke to, she said he was a victim of circumstances, in this case through picking up and seeking to set right things done by his predecessor Jacob Zuma.

“Unfortunately for him we are at the logical end of what started in the Jacob Zuma administration and he is blamed for it, Khusile and Medupi, have been problem for long and the effects are being felt today. When it comes to economic growth, we are feeling the worst consequences of bad decisions the worst today,” she said.

Ramaphosa’s political survival

The president is set to have his term assessed by the party, along with his leadership collective, by ANC members when the party holds its national general council later this year but as he heads towards what is expected to be a fiery evaluation there are still questions about the quarter he’s receiving political advice from.

“He lives on a borrowed constituency,” said Mnguni, reflecting on the president’s Nasrec win being orchestrated by those who favoured him in the party, rather than his own popularity within the former liberation movement.

“If he wants to survive politically, he must make an even more unpopular decision and choose a side in the ANC,” added Mnguni.

Mbete said it was clear the president had no strong political strategists in his corner.

“In the staffing of Luthuli House, he has a few of his allies in strategic positions to balance the Ace (Magashule) factor. At presidency and state, he doesn’t seem to have placed many strategic political actors to help him,” observed Mbete.

She said some of Ramaphosa’s best decisions were legal ones, but it was unclear from whom he was receiving guidance on political matters.

Mabuza more instructive

Citing the recent Eskom crisis and the return of load shedding, which resulted in the deputy president David Mabuza saying the president was “misled” by the utility’s board and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan when assured there would be no load shedding over the festive season, comments which culminated in Eskom board chair Jabu Mabuza stepping down.

QUICK TAKE: Mabuza's move and Mboweni's moan reveals depth of division in party and state

Two seemingly unrelated events over the past 24 hours might give us some indication of where the political and economic year is headed. And early signs are that it won't be pretty. WHAT HAPPENED? First, on Thursday, Deputy President David Mabuza fired a broadside at Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and Eskom chairperson Jabu Mabuza, saying they had "misled" the president about load shedding.

“Mabuza made the unpopular decision and the resignation happened afterwards. For all we know Jabu Mabuza might have been going to resign anyway but the way it played out in the public is that DD made a clarification and action followed,” said Mbete.

She said in the president’s case there were only a few instances in which he made a statement and action followed.

January 8 speech inadequate

Mnguni and Mbete both raised concerns with the president’s speech, seeing it as “inadequate for a number of reasons”.

Mnguni in reflecting on the January 8 tradition, said long-serving ANC president Oliver Reginald Tambo used it as an opportunity to give forces of change agitating for a democratic dispensation in the country a line of march.

“The January 8 statement isn’t for the country,” pointed out Mnguni.

“You didn’t see clarity that the speech captures the moment where the ANC is at. You would have thought that more time is given to unpacking the road map to the national general council, which is happening at a time when the ANC structures are quite weakened in leadership, in eThekwini there is no leadership, the ANC youth league and the women’s league as well,” remarked Mnguni.

Mbete noted the president’s decision to make little reference to the role the country plays in both the African Union and the United Nations, questioning whether he has the ability to make the links to his particularly role in driving the continent’s agenda of silencing the guns, kicking off the Africa free trade agreement and strongly articulating the continent’s position on the US, Middle East tensions.

Mnguni, who noted that Ramaphosa and his NEC had left out the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank resolution from their manifesto having featured in his two previous addresses, said it felt the statement had been more cautiously thought out to avoid further upsetting South Africa’s fragile standing on the global markets.

“You starting to see some relaxation on certain areas, if you remember in East London hot after Nasrec he was forceful on the resolutions of the ANC, even speaking of the nationalisation of the reserve bank. In so far as messaging packaging, they are a bit circumspect in how radical they can be,” he said of the ANC NEC.

Read more on:    eskom  |  david mabuza  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  politics

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