OPINION: Why Ramaphosa could be reluctant to chop the head off the snake

Our politics seem stuck in a twilight zone. As we make every effort to push back Day Zero in the Cape, there's another D-Day that cannot seem to arrive quickly enough.

Journalists have been eagerly awaiting news of talks within the ANC, hungry to be the first to break any news of the latest developments around the so-called Zexit. The impatience is rapidly transforming into disdain, as they and the rest of South Africa grow tired of waiting.

The man behind it all, newly elected ANC president, deputy president of the Republic and negotiator of note, Cyril Ramaphosa, seems to be in no rush as he takes his time to do things 'right'.

It's not for lack of trying but our politics are by nature quite 'unsexy'. It is evolutionary and not revolutionary. Ramaphosa, being one of the founding figures of our regime, fits this mould perfectly, so if we were expecting a gung-ho approach, I'm afraid we've got the wrong guy.

Not only is Ramaphosa inclined to take this route based on his extensive bargaining background, he is obliged to tread lightly and take the negotiatory approach.

Here's why:

Whenever a shift happens in which a dominating faction loses power to another faction as we saw at the ANC's December 2017 conference, the following things are important to keep in mind:

- Support for 'the new guy' is likely to be conditional or dependent on their delivering on certain promises made in exchange for support from unlikely quarters.

- Support for the establishment, although it would decline somewhat, is likely to remain a notable force for some time.

Should the new guy prove their worth and deliver on whatever promises were made, then it's likely that they will return with a more convincing majority by the next elective meeting. This would arguably bring stability. However, it will require some skilful political manoeuvring, much like what we see playing out currently.

The establishment in the ANC, Zuma's faction, is still a force to be reckoned with and so, it is not only Ramaphosa's inclination to negotiate that is taking this much time but also the reality that he does not hold all the cards. 

When Emmerson Mnangagwa took office in Zimbabwe, joy overtook Zimbabwe as people celebrated change. Despite the fact that Mnangagwa defeated Robert Mugabe by unseating him after decades in power, he seems to have let the despot off the hook. It stands to reason that this decision was taken so as not to awaken resistance from those who may still be loyal to Mugabe. And when I say 'loyal' I'm referring more to the two-way street of patronage than loyalty to the man himself.

Similarly, Ramaphosa may be reluctant to 'chop the head of impunity off its stiffened neck', as the upset it may cause to the established Zuma faction may rouse too much push back.

Ramaphosa won the seat of ANC president, however, his rule must first be ingrained and it must take the shape of convincing leadership. Resistance from Zuma loyalists can prove too much, too soon for Ramaphosa and he must avoid it. To do that, he is now forced to perform his age-old trick: walking the tightrope to balance the forces to reach an agreed upon outcome.

All the while you and I wait patiently to hear what will happen next.

- Anneke Scheepers is a former Politics and Cultural Studies lecturer and is currently the DA's Gauteng Communications Manager. She writes in her personal capacity.

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