The battle to be Ramaphosa's deputy

David Mabuza, premier of Mpumalanga, has campaigned for the ANC deputy presidency as a "unity" candidate. (Photo: Gallo)
David Mabuza, premier of Mpumalanga, has campaigned for the ANC deputy presidency as a "unity" candidate. (Photo: Gallo)

Cabinet jitters abound, as President Cyril Ramaphosa prepares to announce the dream team that he will send to save what's left of our broken country.

He is said to have grounded all international travel, even barring International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane from flying to Zimbabwe to attend the funeral of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Officials say that for all international travel - including trips approved by former president Jacob Zuma - ministers must be prepared to have a one-on-ones with Ramaphosa to plead their case.

At first, Ramaphosa was going to have to walk a fine line between avoiding an obvious purge of the Zumaite ministers who could threaten the fragile facade of unity within the party.

But so many of Zuma's chosen executives have signed their own resignation letters by lying to Parliament, avoiding being held accountable, opening state coffers for the Guptas, and failing to adhere to a Constitutional Court judgment. 

That they have not voluntarily resigned just shows their desperation to keep their blue light brigades for as long as possible. 

But the key position now is that of deputy president, and the decision might be out of Ramaphosa's hands. 

When the party's national working committee (NWC) was elected, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, his rival in the race for presidency, topped the list. She was followed by Lindiwe Sisulu, and both were seen as obvious choices to warm the DP seat until 2019, while David Mabuza finished his term as Mpumalanga premier.

Dlamini-Zuma as deputy president would have helped nurse the gaping wounds of the defeat of the Zumaites – who have had permanent frowns every time Ramaphosa has spoken. They were planning to push strongly for her to get the job, in the interests of unity and a gender balance. 

But those close to Dlamini-Zuma have confirmed that she has no interest in being second in command, which would force Ramaphosa to consider Sisulu. 

Her name has consistently emerged for the position in the numerous, widely distributed shopping lists for the next executives. But Sisulu spoke herself out of the position when she peddled a lie during the debate on the State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Parliament, claiming that SABC anchor Peter Ndoro had lost his job for accidentally saying that Ramaphosa, instead of Zimbabwean MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, had died.

She spectacularly missed an opportunity to show her presidential credentials and, instead, will be remembered for asking Ramaphosa to stand to prove he was, in fact, alive. 

Sisulu's foot-in-mouth moments

If it was meant to be a joke, it didn't land, instead it reignited the anger of Ramaphosa supporters over her foot-in-mouth moments during the ANC presidential race. They quickly remembered her questioning then ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe's struggle credentials, putting Ramaphosa on her slate for deputy president, and rambling about how he should go down on one knee and beg her to become her deputy. 

She also contradicted her boss's warmth towards the opposition during the SONA debate when she went off the cuff and berated DA leader Mmusi Maimane.

Sisulu failed to capitalise on Ramaphosa's superb debut that moved the nation so much that those who have never heard the legendary Bra Hugh Masekela's Thuma Mina downloaded it, and translations of the song were published.

The woman who stole the show at the SONA debate was Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, who was Ramaphosa's preferred deputy president during the ANC's leadership contest.

But it looks likely that Ramaphosa might not have a choice at the end, with Mabuza now eyeing the number two post.

It is not clear what swayed "the Cat" to consider leaving Mbombela for the Union Buildings before 2019. But those close to him say he wants to be Number 2. 

As deputy president, his unofficial campaign for the presidency begins. He will expect that the so-called ANC tradition that the deputy president becomes the next president kicks in. 

Whether Ramaphosa will serve a second term, will depend on Mabuza's ambition and whether he can cement his hold on the party.

Ramaphosa's first test will be the upcoming election, just over a year after increasing Value Added Tax, and the ANC's complicity in Zuma and the Guptas' looting spree that will most likely be exposed during the state capture inquiry. 

Mabuza wants job

Mabuza has already shown that he wanted the deputy president job very badly, running a calculated campaign that saw him outmanoeuvre his then comrades in the now weakened Premier League and the rest of the Zuma Defence Club. 

He betrayed them in the most callous way in politics: batting for the enemy in the dark, but singing "Phakama Nkosazana" during the day. 

Despite the unity front, talk is that ANC treasurer general Paul Mashatile wants the position in 2022. Mabuza and Mashatile's detractors say they are the third-way faction in the ANC top six, brought together by businessman Robert Gumede. 

By becoming deputy, Mabuza gets to reintroduce himself as a statesman, and to clean up his image as a "dirty and dangerous politician" who ran his province with an iron grip. He also gets a practice run before the election, and after he declared he would "protect" Ramaphosa, and be on the public's good side. 

But as much as he can ride the wave of Ramaphosa goodwill, being deputy also allows him to distance himself from his unpopular decisions – a lesson he would've learnt from Ramaphosa himself as Zuma's deputy. 

He will be in an even more powerful position, powerful enough for the weakened Zuma faction to forgive him and use him to relaunch. 

Ramaphosa will have to watch his back. A Cabinet reshuffle is expected after the ANC's national executive committee meeting to be held this weekend.

- Mahlase is politics editor of News24.

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.

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