Ramaphosa’s honeymoon is in need of a tyre change

Rapule Tabane is politics editor at City Press.
Rapule Tabane is politics editor at City Press.

Even Cyril Ramaphosa must have known that the honeymoon would end. He was soaring in popularity ratings when he took over as president of the country earlier this year. But it is all levelling out now. A study conducted by the SA Citizens Survey has shown his popularity has plummeted in the third quarter of the year.

His job performance rating grew from 64% in the first quarter to 68% in the second quarter. But it has now come down with a thud to 54%. He has had the worst luck – almost being a spectator as the economic situation worsens right in front of him.

The price of fuel has climbed to the highest levels because of a combination of factors, including the weakening rand, the international price of oil, declining business confidence and diminishing growth prospects. An unexpected announcement of a technical recession in the third quarter was also a shock.

And, just when the rand was beginning to recover, the Zondo commission delivered a blow as it claimed the political life of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. Nene resigned days after revealing he had held private meetings with the Gupta family at their house while he was deputy finance minister and in his first stint as finance minister. He had said previously that he had met the family only at public gatherings.

Unlike his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, who was always at the heart of every unfolding scandal, Ramaphosa has been peripheral to these events, even as they carry huge political implications for him

One of the celebrated doyens of this democracy, former public protector Thuli Madonsela struck a huge blow for democracy when she ordered a commission of inquiry into state capture after her initial investigation pointed to a pattern of private individuals trying to usurp the powers of the president (with his acquiescence). But politically it is a hot potato for the governing party as more damning evidence looks set to emerge right until and throughout the election period in May next year.

The ANC argued that “it is not on trial” at the commission, but the evidence so far is a reflection of its governance. Ramaphosa, as ANC president, cannot afford to distance himself from all who will be shamed by the commission by trying to paint them as Zuma people. They are his ANC comrades. And no one knows if he himself will not be dragged into the web of intrigue of tales told there.

The party did not properly strategise on an approach to the commission and it has now lost control of its narrative. I am told there was huge embarrassment in government and party circles when Nene disclosed Cabinet meetings to the commission, which is ordinarily anathema.

Ramaphosa virtually has to change his tyres while the vehicle moves. But, in finding a replacement for Nene, Ramaphosa hit a masterstroke.

The appointment of Tito Mboweni will enable him to achieve his purpose of stabilisation and continuity. Despite his pompous personality and Twitter theatrics, Mboweni is a safe pair of hands with the necessary gravitas to tell off those inclined to interfere with the work of Treasury.

One of the more unique dynamics about Ramaphosa’s presidency is that he will spend most of it fighting opposition from within the ANC, instead of pressure from opposition parties.

ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule spends most of his airtime in the media and on public platforms talking about and singing the praises of former president Jacob Zuma. Magashule simultaneously attacks Ramaphosa’s character, boasting that “he [Magashule] was not made by big business or whites”, insinuating that the president was. But Magashule is only the symbol of an anti-Ramaphosa thread that runs through many in the ANC, especially among its women and youth leagues. They celebrate any stumbling block he encounters more than any opposition party. Some are contemplating not voting for the ANC in next year’s elections just to spite him.

However, in the biggest irony, the Citizens Survey found that the elevation of Ramaphosa is responsible for the public’s change in perception of the ANC.

The ANC has benefited from Ramaphosa being at the helm of the party and the country. In the past year support and preference for the ANC has seen a net growth from 42% to 58% and from 36% to 43% respectively.
Citizens Survey

But Ramaphosa must know that people do not eat Ramaphoria; the increase in the cost of living due to these astronomical petrol prices will influence their perception of the government. In fact, the same survey shows that 65% of South Africans now believe that the country is heading in the wrong direction.

Rapule Tabane
Politics editor
City Press
City Press
p:+27 11 713 9001
w:www.citypress.co.za  e: rapule.tabane@citypress.co.za
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