The ANC list could hold real danger for Ramaphosa post elections

Environmental Affairs minister Nomvula Mokonyane shares a Valentine's moment during President Cyril Ramaphosa's State of the Nation Address (SONA) 2019 debate reply at the National Assembly on February 14, 2019. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Esa Alexander)
Environmental Affairs minister Nomvula Mokonyane shares a Valentine's moment during President Cyril Ramaphosa's State of the Nation Address (SONA) 2019 debate reply at the National Assembly on February 14, 2019. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Esa Alexander)

As the ANC list stands at the moment, Ramaphosa will face a hostile caucus when Parliament returns after the elections with about 53% of the top 120 being former Zuma-ites, writes Melanie Verwoerd.

A lot has been written about the ANC's list for Parliament. Justifiably, there has been a great deal of moral outrage about the inclusion of many of the dodgy characters from the Zuma years on the list.

The ANC NEC yesterday issued a statement in which they said, amongst other things, that the list in its totality has been referred to the Integrity Commission for review. According to the statement, this was decided on because the ANC "has listened to the people, when they said our public representative candidates must reflect this spirit of renewal and integrity".

(At this point you are welcome to join me in a long sigh of exasperation.)

In case you were wondering, that statement is political speak for, "We didn't think people would care, now they are making a fuss so we better look like we are doing something… otherwise they might not vote for us."

READ: Ramaphosa has to choose between South Africa and the ANC

Clearly the ANC is feeling the pressure – confirmed by the vicious, Trump-like verbal attack by Jessie Duarte against Samkele Maseko of eNCA during an interview shortly after the statement was released.

Of course, there is very little the ANC or the Integrity Commission can do at this stage. The list has been registered at the IEC and the candidates have accepted their nominations. So unless the candidates don't meet the constitutional criteria, which presumably they all do, the ANC can not change the list.

The only recourse now is for the NEC (on the recommendation of the Integrity Commission) to ask or instruct certain candidates to withdraw. If these candidates agree to do so (and of course there is no legal obligation for them to do so), the list will move up.

Apart from the moral question around the candidates, there is a very serious challenge looming for President Ramaphosa after the election.

The support of the parliamentary caucus of the majority party is crucial for any president. It is well-known that Thabo Mbeki's demise in the party started when he lost the support of the parliamentary caucus. In the case of Jacob Zuma, it was the parliamentary caucus' ultimatum ("resign or we will support the EFF's motion of no-confidence") which led to his resignation. It is quite simple: Once a president loses the support of his party's MPs, his days are numbered.

As the ANC list stands at the moment, Ramaphosa will face a hostile caucus when Parliament returns after the elections. Those in the know tell me that about 53% of the top 120 are former Zuma-ites or against Ramaphosa.

If this is indeed the case, it creates a situation where a vote of no-confidence could be a constant threat hanging over Ramaphosa's head. Although the anti-Ramaphosa MPs would not easily go down this route, they might hold it as the ultimate trump card – should they not succeed through other internal party processes to get rid of Ramaphosa.

They would of course need the support of the EFF in this matter. Hopefully the DA would have the sense to vote for Ramaphosa if this occurred, but with the precedent of a secret ballot having been set during the Zuma years, such a motion could still pass.

The question is, what would the trade-off for the EFF be? Who would they agree to as president and what would they want in return? Would they agree on DD Mabuza as president and would they perhaps insist on a deputy president position for Malema?

These are only a few of the scary questions being asked by some ANC MPs at the moment.

However, long before we get to that point there are other challenges for Ramaphosa in the post-May 8 Parliament.

The chief whip and whips are extremely powerful – as are the committee chairs. If they do not cooperate, it becomes very difficult to process and pass legislation and thus implement government policy. It also means, as we have seen in the Zuma years, that there is little oversight of departments and Cabinet.

The problem is that the positions of the whips, including the chief whip, as well as committee chairs are decided by Luthuli House. Although it will be done through consultation, these decisions fall largely under ambit of the office of the secretary general of the ANC, Ace Magashule.

So, if the president wants to survive the next five years, it is absolutely crucial that he (and his supporters) are not caught napping on the job again – as it seems they were doing during the creation of the list. They must ensure that they have a, or preferably the, say when it comes to the filling of these key positions.

Ramaphosa would also be wise to appoint parliamentary advisors or liaison officers for every committee (from outside Parliament; possibly former MPs) who are loyal and reliable. This would provide strong links between the Cabinet ministers (who would hopefully be more representative of the Ramaphosa faction) and Parliament. 

This would not only ensure that Parliament runs more efficiently, but it would also make it harder for the anti-Ramaphosa faction to grow their support base amongst MPs.

Despite all the ANC's indignant (and Jessie's totally unacceptable) responses to the criticism of the lists, it is clear that even they are starting to recognise that it is one big mess. Like so often, one has to wonder what took them so long.  

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

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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