In a recent, telling media interview, Gauteng Premier David Makhura referred to President Cyril Ramaphosa as a great asset for the ANC. He seemed to imply that the ANC would be silly not to ready itself to win the next elections with Ramaphosa at its helm.
He was probably correct.
The question for the rest of South Africa, however, is this. Given a) the increasingly clear implications for South Africa of Ramaphosa’s narrow victory at the last ANC elective conference; b) Jacob Zuma’s reported ‘my eyes are on you’ flavour of silent intimidation of ANC delegates at its meetings since he was ousted; c) Zuma’s seeming blackmailing and arm-twisting of the new party leadership; and d) the political compromises many believe Ramaphosa had to make in order to keep the ANC together – including the recent turnaround announcement that government (i.e. long-suffering taxpayers) will continue footing Zuma’s exorbitant legal fees) – is Cyril Ramaphosa a safe asset for South Africa?
Can we go home to sleep at night assured that with him at the helm, surrounded by the crooks we know, we shall always wake up the next morning with the house in relative order?
The nightmare isn’t over
Let me contrast what Makhura said with an answer I received from Pravin Gordhan during a Q&A at a business breakfast in Cape Town, just before he received his recent ‘Thuma Mina’ call to be Public Enterprises Minister. I asked him what he would do if he were to wake up in a Ramaphosa Cabinet wherein there would also sit some of the unethical individuals he had been fighting against – those heavily implicated in aiding, abetting and benefiting from state capture.
I hurriedly reminded him that many attending the business breakfast had braved early morning traffic to listen to him, because they considered him something of a national hero after he risked his high-paying ministerial position in a remarkable and steadfast pushback against the dark forces that had Zuma at their helm. Some had even begun imagining a president Pravin Gordhan.
Gordhan gave me a politician’s answer. In summary, it neither said he would accept nor that he wouldn’t accept being in the same Cabinet as those of questionable character. But he was clear on this: South Africans shouldn’t fool themselves into believing the nightmare was over. Independent media, he told us, investigative journalists and civil society in its many forms, must remain vigilant and insist on transparency, the rule of law, and on action being taken against the state capture brigade.
Many seemed satisfied with his answer.
The waiting game
A few days after that business breakfast, a mixed-bag Cabinet was announced, comprising the good, the bad and the ugly. When many of us cried foul, we were slapped on the wrist and asked to be patient; to give Ramaphosa the space to play his cards carefully without toppling the political cart.
When we placed spotlights on the obvious suspects – Nomvula Mokonyane, Bathabile Dlamini, Malusi Gigaba, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and others – we were reminded that Rome was not built in a day.
Ramaphosa is a man of great stealth, we were told. He’s like a chess player who waits quietly, patiently, for the right time to strike, when he’s sure there won’t be an embarrassing comeback.
This should also explain his apparent silence of many years, while things were being done by his political boss and comrades against the country we know he loves.
Some even said Ramaphosa would need those problematic individuals on his side in order to gather the necessary intelligence from them about what really went down during state capture. Many forget that when Zuma conducted his Cabinet reshuffle in March 2017, it was was followed by another just seven months later, and ANC leadership simply expected us to wait for the elective conference in December.
This was despite a short, yet clear public outcry by then-secretary general Gwede Mantashe, Ramaphosa, then deputy president; and Zweli Mkhize, then ANC treasurer-general; and Mantashe stating clearly that the top leaders in the party had been ‘informed’ rather than consulted over the new Cabinet list.
So, a Cabinet compiled and approved by a third force was presented to us, but the ANC expected us to allow yet more time for it to carry out nefarious acts against the people of South Africa while the party prepared for its elective conference. Left with little choice, the people of South Africa waited.
Despite the clear internal battles led by various ideologically polarised factions, the ANC is still formally one party. But unsavoury deals will have to be made for it to remain more or less united in order to fight the 2019 general elections. Such deals are most likely to result in several more compromised individuals sympathetic to Zuma being given prominent positions in government and state institutions, and South Africans will, again, be asked to be patient and wait. We have become the waiting people. Don’t be surprised when people like Colin Maine, Fikile Mbalula and others end up in our foreign missions or in other powerful positions.
Why else would the same Pravin Gordhan see it fit to politically interfere in the decision-making processes of the new Eskom board after it refused, mindful of Eskom’s precarious financial position, to give in to demands by trade unions for salaries of its members to be increased by 15%? Could it be the fear of heading towards the next elections with unhappy trade unions who might punish the ANC at the polls?
Weren’t we assured that the new SOE boards are made up of independent (read uncaptured), professional, and experienced men and women who would act in the interest the country guided only by the rules of good corporate governance?
Where else are we going to see political interference in the governance of state institutions?