Fresh from raising $20bn (R265bn) in investments, President Cyril Ramaphosa has challenged critics who claim that he is weak, insisting instead that he is effective and is driven by a desire to unite the ANC.
Ramaphosa was speaking during a wide-ranging interview following visits to Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates this week.
Speaking at the end of the trip, Ramaphosa:
- Denied that he had knelt before Goodwill Zwelithini when he met the Zulu king last week to address the Ingonyama Trust controversy;
- Said he refused to be a "dictator" and would always follow former president Nelson Mandela's leadership style;
- Pledged to continue with his mission to clean up state-owned enterprises; and
- Said he would act on international investment projects that were signed by his predecessor Jacob Zuma but that had not taken off.
Ramaphosa conceded that he was seen as weak when he delayed recalling Zuma after he was elected as the president of the ANC in December, and when he delayed removing former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, who faced a violent mass revolt in his province.
"I will give you a good example. Before president Zuma resigned, there were those who said: 'You are a weak president. Why haven't you kicked Zuma out, why haven't you dealt with him?'
"I said I would rather be seen as a weak president than split the ANC because that is not my mission. My mission is to keep the ANC united and I intend to succeed in having the ANC united."
The sentiment that he is weak has largely come from those who campaigned for him to ascend to the presidency as they are frustrated that he is taking too long to dismantle the Zuma faction that still controls some provinces.
'I am not the dictator of the ANC'
Ramaphosa chuckled when asked if he was in charge of the still-divided party.
"I am the president of the ANC, I am not a dictator of the ANC. The ANC has a national executive committee that is given the responsibility of leading the ANC in between conferences," he said.
"The ANC's ethos and culture has always been collective leadership, and we are not going to depart from that because some people want to see a dictatorial leader who will tell people this is what you are going to do or else …
"We don't work like that in the ANC. We build consensus, you take everyone along with you and that is the style of leadership that has always been used."
Despite the unity rhetoric in the party, there is an anti-Ramaphosa faction that wants an early national general council (NGC) to be held so that Ramaphosa can be recalled.
This campaign is said to be run from Zuma supporter strongholds, including KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and North West.
"NGC or no NGC, I am on a mandate to unite the ANC," the president said.
The anti-Ramaphosa group is using provincial elective conferences to gain a strong foothold in the governing party, while his supporters have suffered major blows in provinces including the Free State.
Despite the hostility, Ramaphosa said he was committed to Mandela's leadership style of finding consensus on contentious issues in the party.
He said the risk of a split following a heavily contested presidential contest was real.
"After the Polokwane conference, there was contestation that finally led to the splitting of one group that left the ANC and, yes, that did weaken the ANC. Once they had left, it seemed like everything was okay, but it did have an impact on the ANC," he said.
"This time around, what we have successfully managed to do – and what the ANC and its leadership must be credited for – is that we have not split."
Uphill battle in KZN
Ramaphosa is fighting an uphill battle to win over KwaZulu-Natal after the province failed to win a top-six position and Zuma was recalled.
He is also now facing criticism over his handling of Zwelithini's thinly veiled threats of violence and secession.
The province is key to the ANC because it provides the party with a sizeable number of voters ahead of next year's elections.
Ramaphosa has dismissed as "laughable" and "untrue" reports that he knelt before the king. His office clarified a social media post that showed Ramaphosa kneeling next to Zwelithini. The picture was taken last year, the presidency said.
"I find it laughable that people see how I was showing the king my book [on Ankole cattle] – it was just a posture – and people are suggesting I was kneeling before the king, which is a complete untruth because, if anything, they should say: 'Look at the president showing the king his cattle,'" he said.
Ramaphosa said he visited Zwelithini to quell the perception that the ANC was "attacking" the Zulu people and the Ingonyama Trust.
However, the ANC has been seen to be contradicting itself on the expropriation of land without compensation issue, as it wants people to own land, but has promised Zwelithini that the vast amount of land that he controls won't be touched.
This could essentially result in a two-tier land policy system, which could be challenged.
"On communal land, we need to be clear. We are firm in saying there should be no two-tier system. Our people are entitled to land and section 25 of the Constitution speaks about ownership for all our people. They are entitled to security of tenure," Ramaphosa said.
Progress on cleaning up state-owned enterprises
On cleaning up state-owned enterprises, Ramaphosa said he was happy with the progress so far.
"Boards are being recalibrated and we are now putting people who are fit for purpose to deliver on the developmental agenda.
"We will soon announce a state-owned enterprise presidential council to have structure to coordinate everything we do in them. Particularly those with a bigger impact on the economy of the country," he added.
Ramaphosa rounded off his trip with a $10 billion investment pledge from Saudi Arabia and a similar amount from the United Arab Emirates. Both countries are looking to access the South African markets to diversify their largely oil-dependent economies.
The $20bn investments give Ramaphosa's ambitious plan to attract $100bn in investment over five years a boost. The investments are part of his drive to kick-start the struggling economy, which saw record unemployment rates and deepening poverty under Zuma.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates want to invest largely in the energy and tourism sectors, respectively, with Riyadh showing interest in building a refinery in South Africa.
"We are in this and not playing around. We are serious. This is about the growth of our economy and we are extremely serious about being businesslike," he said.
However, the three-day, three-country trip began in Nigeria, where Ramaphosa faced an anti-South African sentiment as investors and journalists demanded an action plan to end the "attacks on and killings of" Nigerian citizens living in South Africa.
The attacks formed part of his talks with President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday.
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