The KZN threat to Ramaphosa's presidency

People in support of former president Jacob Zuma protest in Durban. (Themba Hadebe, AP)
People in support of former president Jacob Zuma protest in Durban. (Themba Hadebe, AP)

President Cyril Ramaphosa would significantly increase his chances of surviving politically and serving out his term (or two) if he could show real results on economic transformation and land redistribution in the near future.

But first he will have to disrupt the unholiness at the State Security Agency (SSA), get it to spend its energies on the security of the state rather than intra-ANC conspiracies and to get rid of its director-general and Zuma pawn, Arthur Fraser.

Ramaphosa should also pray that judge Raymond Zondo’s inquiry into state capture starts exposing the criminal actions of the Zuma/Gupta axis real soon and that the Hawks and the NPA escalate their investigations into the shady affairs of some of his fiercest opponents in the party.

If none of this happens, the resistance against his leadership brewing in KwaZulu-Natal and along a broader alliance of aggrieved people could grow sufficiently to make an attempt at a palace revolution possible.

There can be no doubt that Jacob Zuma is at the heart of the plot against Ramaphosa. Unlike his predecessors, who withdrew from active politics after their presidential term ended, he has been very active in the ANC since he was forced to resign.

He travels all over the country, he addresses rallies and congregations, he attends the ANC’s NEC meetings as an ex officio member and regularly pops up in places where Ramaphosa had been shortly before.

Zuma poses as the victim of non-Zulu speakers in the ANC and sometimes even blames white monopoly capital just to confuse people.

He knows that there is a badly bruised Zulu ego in his home province after Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma lost to Ramaphosa in the ANC elections and he’s capitalising on it.

Officially, though, his camp’s siren song is that he is the real champion of the eventual full economic emancipation of black people and the one who was going to give them their land back, while Ramaphosa was in bed with white capital and the West.

It doesn’t seem to matter that it can be factually proved that inequality, poverty and unemployment had increased during his term in office or that billions that should have been used to eradicate these were stolen by people in his camp and their business associates.

It really is about ethnic chauvinism, power and money, but the stick with which Ramaphosa is beaten now was carefully crafted through radical resolutions at the December conference.

As things stand now, though, the Zuma grouping seems to overestimate its power and potential popular support.

Ramaphosa got a lot more support in KZN than this group wanted him to, and he also has the support of most of the SACP and Cosatu structures in the province. Ramaphosa’s support has even grown in the Free State and Northwest while his popularity in the rest of the country is probably on a higher level than on the day he got elected ANC president.

Last Friday we witnessed how the utterly discredited Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Carl Niehaus and Andile Mngxitama, joined by a few dodgy pastors, led Zuma’s hallelujah choir at his court appearance.

Even worse: Zuma’s fountain of money has dried up, with the Gupta empire crumbling and other benefactors realising there’s no reason any longer to throw bags of money his way. They also know that SARS, under its new leadership, is back on their case.

Zuma is likely to be faced with a multi-million rand legal bill, and all he has is his pension money – unless his son, Duduzane, can send him a few million from wherever he’s hiding. That was always the understanding, wasn’t it, that Duduzane was his proxy in the Gupta business and so a chunk of Duduzane’s fortune must be his. But how to get it into the country?

So, the talk of a new political party under Zuma is just silly, and the talk of a secession of KZN even sillier.

It doesn’t mean Ramaphosa has nothing to worry about. He should, I think, especially worry about Sihle Zikalala, MEC in KZN and ANC chair until his election was declared invalid by a court.

The 45-year-old Zikalala is an energetic and popular politician and was one of the driving forces behind the Dlamini-Zuma campaign. He was seen sitting in the back of the court at Zuma’s appearance last Friday.

There is real potential that the Zuma grouping could persuade many KZN voters to vote ANC on the provincial ticket at next year’s general election, but to abstain or to vote for another party on the national ticket.

That could weaken Ramaphosa’s position, and if this group is very successful, it could even force the ANC into forming a coalition to run the national government. One of the Ramaphosa camp’s strongest arguments why he is the right man for the job was that he is the ANC’s best chance to do well in the 2019 elections.

His enemies can’t publicly use ethnic mobilisation to counter Ramaphosa, nor can they accuse him of being soft on corruption.

They will use the argument that he is too close to white capital, that his heart isn’t really in radical economic transformation and that he has no plans to return the land to black people without paying compensation.

He needs an early win or two. Explaining that he is good for confidence in the economy or stating that he was the reason why the currency has strengthened and the country has avoided a further credit downgrade is too vague in our present populist climate.

I think his best bet would be an ambitious move in the next few months to hand over land in and around the cities and towns to large numbers of landless people and people now living in over-populated townships and squatter camps.

It is something that needs to happen anyway.

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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