Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s (non)campaign to succeed President Jacob Zuma as ANC leader next year is in further trouble. Trade union federation Cosatu was meant to be the first structure in the alliance to back Ramaphosa officially by arguing that the ANC should keep the tradition of deputy leaders ascending to the top job. But Cosatu continues to flounder due to internal divisions and some of its leaders wanting to toe the line of the Zuma-aligned “premier league” faction. Without a constituency, platform, a voice or even a campaign song, Ramaphosa is in serious trouble. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
Cyril Ramaphosa has yet to say whether he still maintains that the government is at war with itself. The deputy president sat quietly on his bench in the National Assembly last week when President Jacob Zuma denied that there was infighting in government and directed Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane to “Ask Ramaphosa” what he meant by saying the government was at war with itself. Ramaphosa said this first at the funeral of former minister Makhenkesi Stofile last month, in reference to the Hawks’ pursuit of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, and then earlier this month at the Nedlac annual summit.
Speaking after public mudslinging between the state-owned enterprises, Eskom and Denel, and the National Treasury, Ramaphosa told the Nedlac summit that government leaders should “act with decorum” to ensure that stability in the economy is maintained.
“We call upon the state machinery, if not to have a ceasefire, at least to act in a way that will not disturb the stability that our people call for… It is unfair to expect our social partners to achieve what we’ve been asked to do – stability in the labour environment – when we appear unable to maintain a stable state ourselves,” Ramaphosa said.
And, repeating what he said at Stofile’s funeral, Ramaphosa said:
“A well-functioning government is a government that is not at war with itself.”
Ramaphosa’s views about the turmoil in government seemed quite deliberate but clearly annoyed Zuma. This could be because the chaos is undoubtedly as a result of bad leadership. But this is also a platform from which Ramaphosa can build his campaign, if and when he decides to start it. Ramaphosa will have to position himself as a leader who can undo the wrongs and disasters of the Zuma presidency and put the ANC and the country on a new course. But people cannot guess that this is his agenda. He needs platforms to speak from and his constituencies to rally behind him.
The difficulty for Ramaphosa is that he does not have a clear support base and that those who do back him to succeed Zuma are not doing so officially. The outcome of the local government elections was a clear signal that people are fed up with Zuma, and opened discussion about the ANC’s future leadership. Now that there is public dialogue about next year’s ANC national elective conference, Ramaphosa’s campaign should start to take shape.
It is clear who does not want Ramaphosa to be ANC president: the “premier league” faction led by the premiers of the Free State, North West and Mpumalanga, as well as the ANC Youth League (ANYL), ANC Women’s League and Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Associations (MKMVA).
But it is not so clear who does want him to be ANC president.
Those who have spoken previously about the ANC following the “tradition” of its deputy presidents ascending to the top post are Gauteng ANC chairman Paul Mashatile and some Cosatu unions. This “tradition” came about through Nelson Mandela succeeding Oliver Tambo as ANC president in 1991, Thabo Mbeki succeeding Mandela in 1997 and then Zuma succeeding Mbeki in 2007. It did not really work in 2012 when Kgalema Motlanthe, then ANC deputy president, challenged Zuma for the ANC leadership. Now Ramaphosa has to line up to test whether the tradition really is a tradition.
At Cosatu’s national congress in November last year, the issue of ANC succession was raised by the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu). Sadtu deputy general secretary Nkosana Dolopi motivated that Cosatu should take the same stance in took in 2007 when it backed the then ANC deputy president, Zuma, to succeed Mbeki. Sadtu’s proposal received support at the congress from nursing union Denosa, the clothing and textiles workers’ union Sactwu, transport union Satawu and the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu). But it was decided that Cosatu needed further discussion on this matter.
Sadtu and Nehawu, together with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), have recently been pushing for Cosatu to declare its position on the ANC succession issue – supporting the tradition and, by implication, Ramaphosa. Cosatu held a special central executive committee (CEC) meeting on Monday to discuss the matter and was expected to announce support for Ramaphosa on Tuesday. But at a media briefing on Tuesday, the Cosatu national office-bearers said “more space” and consultation on the issue were needed and the federation would declare its position “at the appropriate time”.
The CEC statement said Cosatu had to be “forthright about its position regarding the succession debate” and should also be “more aggressive” about the demands of the workers – presumably so that the next candidate they back will take the federation more seriously than the current one.
“The workers should not only be looking at the position of the president but at a leadership collective that will act as the centre and also be guided by the resolutions of the ANC,” Cosatu said.
While Cosatu looks as though it might be putting its cards on the table, it really isn’t. The CEC could not state the principle of supporting the ANC “tradition” because it would have been seen as backing for Ramaphosa. This is because there are deep divisions and disagreements about the issue, and some people within the Cosatu leadership want to hang back until Zuma and the premier league make their preferences clear. By Cosatu coming out in support of Ramaphosa now, people like the federation’s president Sdumo Dlamini would be forced to back him publicly. Dlamini, who is known to be firmly in Zuma’s corner, would not want to be pitted against the president or the premier league faction.
But by chickening out from taking a stand, Cosatu continues to lose relevance in the national dialogue. In the run-up to the ANC’s 2007 national conference, Cosatu was one of the most influential voices in the public space and had a massive influence on the discourse within the alliance. With Zwelinzima Vavi as general secretary and most of the federation firmly behind Zuma, Cosatu rallied support during his corruption and rape trials, and later for his campaign to be ANC president. Cosatu and its affiliates also provided Zuma with platforms to speak on and devised songs praising him, which became popular on his campaign trail.
By comparison, Cosatu is completely flatfooted now – probably deliberately so. Some Cosatu leaders want to deliberately restrain the federation from pronouncing on the succession issue so that it cannot help Ramaphosa’s campaign. They would rather see the ANCYL and MKMVA lead the dialogue and push ahead with their campaign to have a Zuma-aligned leader take the top job than stick their necks out for Ramaphosa.
If the deputy president wants a crack at the presidency, he needs to start showing his hand. Judging by how Zuma shot him down in Parliament last week, it is clear that he will not be given much space to manoeuvre. He can either play the coy game that saw Motlanthe’s campaign crash and burn in 2012 or he can be bold and start speaking up. Considering how Cosatu wimped out on backing him, he is not going to be gifted with speaking platforms and praise songs in the way Zuma was.
The 2017 ANC leadership race might have to be an unorthodox one if a shake-up is to occur. And if Ramaphosa wants to be president, he had better start acting like one. DM
Photo: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa speaking about the SoNA at the New Age Business Briefing breakfast at Grandwest in Cape Town. 18/06/2014 Kopano Tlape GCIS
"Man is by nature a political animal" ~ Aristotle