A new beginning?
Ramaphosa must right as many wrongs as he can as soon as possible to ensure the ANC remains the majority party after next year’s elections.
Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign was not just about winning the presidency of the ANC, it also revolved around electability. He ran as a public leader, not as an organisational person, and his rallies were not confined to the structures of the organisation, but also targeted the broader public.
As a consequence, the ANC has an organisational and a public leader in Ramaphosa. He not only leads the liberation movement, but also stands a chance of enabling the ANC to reclaim its role as a “leader of society”.
But he must first ensure that his party remains in the majority after the 2019 elections, which are roughly 16 months away. How does he do that?
It is critical to understand that a successful campaign has to start now. Consider this a preparatory period for the door-to-door campaign next January. In their visits to potential voters at their homes, ANC volunteers are often asked why people should vote for the ANC, and that was the toughest question for volunteers to answer ahead of the past two elections. They were often told that Jacob Zuma, Nkandla and the Guptas – and the accompanying scandals – made it difficult to vote for the ANC. And it showed in the results.
Therefore, Ramaphosa must use this year to generate information that will enable ANC volunteers to answer that question. The fact that the question is even being asked shows that voters are no longer excited by landlines, taps and tarred roads – these are taken as a given. Now they want answers to the pressing challenges of the day. Corruption, the wastage of public resources, the lack of censure of errant public officials and the high rate of unemployment are priority concerns. These are the questions that ANC volunteers are likely to face on the campaign trail next year.
Clearly, the answers to such questions should be informed by what the ANC is already doing about these issues, not what it intends to do. Without a track record, answers will lack credibility – especially in the face of the pervasive lack of trust in politicians. It then goes without saying that, to mount a competitive campaign, corrective measures must be introduced immediately. Such measures should involve, for instance, immediate prosecution of those involved in state capture. Ramaphosa doesn’t even need to wait for the commission of inquiry to conclude before he takes action. The commission’s proceedings will only yield prosecutable results in the second half of the year, which may be too late to form a persuasive impression of change.
Email leaks, the parliamentary inquiry and journalist Jacques Pauw’s book The President’s Keepers have all yielded sufficient information to initiate prosecutions now. Doing so will demonstrate seriousness on the part of government and will deliver early results. This will enable the ANC to claim that it wasn’t forced into taking punitive action, but took the initiative of its own accord. The claim won’t be entirely true, of course, but it is nevertheless persuasive. When the commission does eventually get under way, it will be useful to affirm transparency and inform the public. This is one way for government to take the people into its confidence and, in the process, restore public confidence in our leaders.
Successful prosecutions, however, depend on the removal of National Prosecuting Authority head Shaun Abrahams as he is clearly disinterested in pursuing those involved in state capture. In any case, the court has already ruled that he shouldn’t have been appointed in the first place, and that Ramaphosa – not Zuma – should appoint the new national prosecutor.
Needless to say, those facing prosecution will have to resign from their public posts. Such resignations, however, shouldn’t just be limited to those accused of state capture – Ramaphosa’s ANC should rather fire all those who have disgraced his party and government. These involve shady and incompetent characters such as Bathabile Dlamini, Bongani Bongo, Nomvula Mokonyane, Lynne Brown, Mosebenzi Zwane, Malusi Gigaba, Faith Muthambi and David Mahlobo. They simply do not measure up to the calibre and decency required of ministers of state.
It wouldn’t make sense, of course, to rid government of them and leave Zuma behind. He is of the same ilk. If Zuma isn’t sent packing, Ramaphosa will be unable to clean up Cabinet. Zuma won’t willingly fire the malfeasants – this will require the support of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC).
It is estimated that Ramaphosa enjoys the support of 42 individuals in the 80-member body. In reality, though, Ramaphosa has far more support than that. There are 25 Cabinet ministers in the NEC who will most likely vote with Ramaphosa as they want to keep their jobs. That’s what we learnt from Zuma’s years as the president. Most refused to vote him out for fear of losing their jobs, even though they privately considered him a misfit. Now that Ramaphosa will soon be in charge of hiring and firing, most will redirect their deference away from Zuma. Forget how disparaging some would have been towards Ramaphosa during the campaign – this is simply how it works in politics.
Aside from material considerations, others will simply want what is best for the ANC, even though they have supported Zuma. Take Lindiwe Zulu as an example – she was vocal in her support for Zuma, but was part of the NEC that refused to annul the controversial Eastern Cape conference that elected Oscar Mabuyane. Together with other deployees, Zulu was under enormous pressure to side with Andile Lungisa’s group to nullify that conference. She stood her ground, even though doing so hurt Zuma’s interests.
Others, such as Fikile Mbalula, also have good intentions, but simply need encouragement through exemplary leadership. Mbalula initially disapproved of Ace Magashule for the position of secretary-general, saying he “would kill the ANC”. Magashule holds the dishonourable record of being the only provincial secretary to have had his executive disbanded twice by the courts for being constituted fraudulently. However, Mbalula later retracted his condemnation of Magashule. This was not a change of mind, but simply a convenient statement to save his job, as he thought Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would win.
Don’t be surprised if Mbalula reiterates his disapproval of Magashule as secretary-general – it’s safe now to be honest.
In fact, it is unlikely that Magashule will still be the party’s secretary-general by December. The controversy around his election over Senzo Mchunu remains unresolved – 67 votes simply disappeared, which afforded him a slim victory. The acceptance of compromised results does not signal endorsement, but was necessary to ensure last month’s conference did not collapse. If the missing 67 votes were counted in, Magashule’s supporters said, a recount of all the votes would be necessary. This would have prolonged the conference – it was blackmail. The eventual explanation – that most of the 67 votes turned out not to be eligible – simply doesn’t hold water. How can 67 delegates be disqualified when their credentials were already approved? There’s no convincing answer to this question.
And so the customary birthday statement, scheduled for Saturday, will be unlike any other. It has generated a huge amount of public interest as people are eager to see if Ramaphosa will herald the new beginning he promised. The speech will set the tone for the rest of the year and for Ramaphosa’s presidency.
This is a defining moment, Chief – seize it!
Ndletyana is associate professor of politics at the University of Johannesburg
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