The dead hand of Jacob Zuma that's throttling Cyril Ramaphosa

2019-05-08 05:00
Former president Jacob Zuma. Photo: Herman Verwey

While President Cyril Ramaphosa is being driven to his voting station in the back of his black BMW with the number plates RSA1 on Wednesday, he will feel the dead hand of Jacob Zuma on his neck, and he will be worried about his party's future, writes Pieter du Toit.

President Cyril Ramaphosa will be waking up in his Hyde Park home in Johannesburg today a deeply troubled man.

The ANC, that he has led into this election, will in all probability register its worst general election result since it first contested an election in 1994. It might lose control of Gauteng, the country's economic and administrative hub, it's on the back-foot in KwaZulu-Natal, the most populous province, and on the back-foot in a third province, the Northern Cape.

As his presidential motorcade makes its way from Hyde Park to Soweto, before he casts his vote at the Hitekani Primary School, he will wonder what fate awaits him and his party when the results are certified on Saturday afternoon. And he will most probably curse his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, for the mess he inherited when he took over the shambles that was state and party.

Ramaphosa has done what he could during this election campaign. He's acknowledged the ANC's criminality and complicity in state capture and corruption and he's promised to do better. He's been the ANC's biggest vote puller – by far – and has walked hundreds of kilometres going door to door in trying to convince people to support the ANC. And he's refrained from attacking political opponents based on race, as Zuma was fond of doing.

In the end however it will be the dead, limp and heavy hand of Zuma weighing him and the ANC down.

Even though almost all South Africans were relieved at being rid of the intransigence, incompetence and impunity that was Zuma (and happy to see Ramaphosa ascend to the Presidency) the depth of the rot inside government and party was worse than most people ever thought.

The ANC that Ramaphosa leads has been defiled and debased by the Zuma term of office. Some, like RW Johnson in his book Fighting for the Dream, argue that the rot started under Mandela and that it was the arms deal in 1999 – where Thabo Mbeki and Trevor Manuel played a starring role – that was the party's original sin. That might very well be true, but there's no doubt that in the years between 2008 and 2017 the ANC and government under Zuma not only engaged in organised corruption and crime, but that governance and service delivery was willfully neglected.

Even as national budgets grew exponentially – social spending (education, health, social services) shot through the roof – value for taxpayers' money decreased markedly as corruption took hold of the bureaucracy. And while the ANC achieved enormous success in the first decade of democracy in the provision of basic services like housing, water and electricity (see the IRR's annual "South Africa Survey"), under Zuma it became the province of unscrupulous party dons like Ace Magashule, who used it as the underpinnings of political patronage networks.

Ramaphosa has done his best to remind voters of the ANC's successes, but he is trading on a past that is long gone. His public appearances and speeches often rang hollow as he attempted to claim some victories from this government's term – but everything he said, everything he did and every promise he made came against the backdrop of state capture, grand corruption and poor governance.

He had to factor in the deadweight of Zuma and the ANC's refusal to accede to the Public Protector's report on Nkandla, their attacks on the Constitution, their lies about the Guptas and capture, their wilful destruction of institutions like the NPA and SARS, their attacks on chapter nine bodies, their refusal to listen to the courts, the co-option of Parliament in their attempts to undermine the law; their banal and brazen attempts to repurpose the state and loot publicly owned companies to the detriment of all South Africans.

When he's sitting in the back of the slightly faded black presidential BMW with the number plate RSA1 on his way to Soweto, Ramaphosa will drive past posters with his face on it and other posters with the faces of the DA's Mmusi Maimane and the EFF's Julius Malema on them. He will look at it and he will know that because of Zuma many ANC voters will now cast their ballot in favour of those two.

It probably won't be because of him, or because of the last 15 months that he has been president. It will be because of the damage Zuma has caused to the country, and his party. And people haven't forgotten.

- Du Toit is assistant editor for in-depth news.

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