OPINION: Ramaphosa faction still dominates the ANC. But the threat of a recall is real

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa during the ANCs NEC meeting in Pretoria. Photo: Thulani Mbele
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa during the ANCs NEC meeting in Pretoria. Photo: Thulani Mbele

It can take a lifetime to build what is destroyed in the blink of an eye. In South Africa's case, that blink was Zuma's second presidential term. Now, the rebuilding effort is getting stuck in the rubble, writes Christi van der Westhuizen.

South Africa has reached a new political and economic low, but one waits in vain for signs that President Cyril Ramaphosa and his faction can bring matters under control. The corrupt forces regrouped within a short period after the ANC's Nasrec conference, and the onslaught is fierce and on several fronts.

Two fundamental and related differences stand out between the political approaches of the two factions, which seem to put Ramaphosa on the backfoot. The first is the Zuma faction's willingness to fight to the full, whatever the dystopian consequences. As political commentator Ranjeni Munusamy puts it: they have mobilised to "break" South Africa. In a broken South Africa, they will be triumphant.

This means no action is too extreme from their point of view: if it advances their will to regain state power, it is acceptable, notwithstanding the damage done. Other examples of this kind of destructive action have been seen in Nelson Mandela Bay, for example, where government officials stirred up service delivery protests for emergency tender procedures to kick in, making state budgets available for looting.

The indications that power shortages were similarly abused at great cost to the country, serves as another example. So does Jacob Zuma as president allowing the landing of the Gupta family's passenger aircraft at the Waterkloof Air Force Base, a national key point (an actual one, not like those the ANC has tried to claim as having this status). With this kind of mentality, even national sovereignty is for sale.

Fatalism is inherent to this politics. The tale of Aesop's goose that lays the golden eggs applies. The focus of the Zuma faction is aimed at short-term gain and absolutely individualistic, despite the opportunistic racial collectivist talk. That is why this self-enrichment has forced several state enterprises to their knees: the greed will only end once the goose's neck is wrung. This apparently applies to South Africa as a whole.

It is also a politics of nihilism. Chaos is being wreaked. The over-reach of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane's findings testifies to a pathetic understanding of the law, but keeps on being arrogantly imposed upon us. Racial speech is wielded to capitalise on historical divisions. And them Zuma digs up ancient ANC paranoia about apartheid spies and presents it as if he was spied on by the apartheid regime this very morning. 

Ultimately, this is a politics of destruction, as opposed to the Ramaphosa faction's attempt to rebuild. It proves the saying that it can take a lifetime to build what is destroyed in the blink of an eye. In South Africa's case, that blink was especially Zuma's second presidential term, but it extends further back. The rebuilding effort is getting stuck in the rubble.

The second fundamental difference between the political approaches of the two factions is that the Ramaphosa people seem to be under the impression that their opponents will be defeated by only "rational" methods. Therefore, it is commission after commission, court case after court case.

Much is being written about this so-called "lawfare" nowadays: the shifting of political contestation to the courts, which puts undue pressure on the latter. EFF leader and Mkhwebane ally Julius Malema recently made a threatening remark that the struggle is being taken to the courts because the anti-corruption proponents know they can't win the struggle in the streets.

This might become true, especially if the Ramaphosa faction loses touch with the ANC rank and file, as happened with Thabo Mbeki in the run-up to his removal as president of the country in 2008. Remnants of the old Mbeki group have since joined forces with Ramaphosa.

One hopes they have learned that lesson: control over the state apparatus (which can only ever be limited anyway) cannot replace control over the ANC. The Zuma hangers-on know this very well: they have always used the party as a vehicle in relation to the state, thus creating protective, party-based patronage networks for themselves.

The emphasis on institutions, laws, rules and regulations is essential in a constitutional democracy, but it only works up to a point. As indicated, the corrupt’s foul play knows no limits.

Given who he is dealing with, Ramaphosa should have known that his opponents would do anything to find the smallest blemish on his record. Hence the leakage of the emails showing he also knew some of the details of funding to his ANC presidential campaign. The campaign against Minister Pravin Gordhan is similar.

In this way, public discourse over the past few weeks was dominated by Ramaphosa's legal private funding, and public attention was shifted away from the illegal and actual large-scale theft and abuse of government money. Unfortunately, the media are embroiled in all of this.

At this stage, the media are duty-bound to measure every leak against its consequences for the anti-corruption effort. If the cleaning operation will be adversely affected, the information must be balanced.

For example, where are the news reports on the manipulation of ANC branches and membership numbers in provinces such as the Free State and the Eastern Cape over many years and also in the run-up to the Nasrec conference? Large sums of money were apparently paid over. Where are the leaks about Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's campaign funding?

The danger cannot be overstated: The Zuma faction is aiming for another recall, as was achieved with Mbeki. Against the background of deepening socio-economic distress, as confirmed by the hike in unemployment, rank and file members are even more susceptible to corruption in an ANC where bribery nowadays determines allegiances.

The ANC national executive committee's apparent support for Derek Hanekom after Zuma's attack on him suggests that the Ramaphosa group is still dominating. But for how long?

- Van der Westhuizen is associate professor at the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy at Nelson Mandela University.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
Voting Booth
When assisting your child with remote learning this year, did you:
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Follow the school's comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) curriculum?
13% - 265 votes
Adjust the CSE curriculum to suit the family's morals?
24% - 477 votes
Ignore the schools CSE programme and do your own teaching?
63% - 1273 votes
Brent Crude
All Share
Top 40
Financial 15
Industrial 25
Resource 10
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo