South Africa, Politics

Ramaphosa for President, says NUM, because it’s the right thing to do

By Stephen Grootes 27 September 2016

The “campaign” to elect Cyril Ramaphosa as the next leader of the ANC, and, perhaps, the next president of the country, has taken some time to start. You could ask, “what campaign?”. But on Monday, the National Union of Mineworkers finally said it – they want Ramaphosa to be the ANC’s next leader. They’re going to try to convince Cosatu to join them in their view. But the odds are stacked against them – their own general secretary seems to battle to articulate why they think he would be such a good leader. And says that Ramaphosa’s conduct during Marikana was simply him “protecting his business interests”. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

Finally. Someone who matters, who will come out and say it. They want Ramaphosa to be leader. It’s about time we had a counterpoint to all of those calls for a “woman president”. It means that the leadership contest is now really under way. No matter what the ANC’s own outdated rules may say about when you can discuss leadership and when you cannot. It means that the ANC Women’s League and the NUM are likely to throw shade at each other in a wonderfully personal way. And it means that as this particular genie is now out of its particular bottle, it’s going to be very difficult to put it back in again.

The first point to make, obviously, is that the NUM really has no choice. It has to back Ramaphosa. He was their first general secretary, the man who played perhaps the biggest role in forming the union in the first place. If the union decided it was not going to back him, it would be perhaps the biggest ever snub in our politics since 1994. So, in a way, the NUM is duty-bound here. That said, it doesn’t have to go this far this early, and it could easily have waited until Cosatu took a decision and then hid behind that decision. So, the fact that the NUM has gone this far this early shows us that its members really really believe what they are saying.

All of which brings us to the question, as it was put to the NUM’s general secretary David Sipunzi on the Midday Report on Monday, why does the NUM want Ramaphosa? The answer was less than inspiring:

We believe that when Cyril was elected as deputy president it was a way of grooming him when the term of the current incumbent was coming to an end, he was the understudy.”

It’s an answer. It is a valid and legitimate answer. But in terms of getting the blood going and firing up the base it’s about as effective as the ANC’s anti-corruption programme.

Essentially, Sipunzi’s claim is that there is a tradition in the ANC of the deputy leader taking over. Much nonsense is spoken about this. This has actually only happened a grand total of…. trice. First, when Nelson Mandela took over from Oliver Tambo, then Thabo Mbeki took over from Nelson Mandela, and then when Jacob Zuma took over from Mbeki. Before that, Oliver Reginald Tambo was leader of the ANC for 24 years. If it were true that this was a hallowed tradition, then surely there would be much more attention placed on this position at conferences.

When pushed on his reasons for backing Ramaphosa, about why he’s the best possible person considering all the human talent available in the country and the ANC, Sipunzi starts to talk about Ramaphosa’s history. God man, what took you so long?

Ramaphosa history is indeed, depending on where you stand on these things, glorious. Starting the NUM, helping to start Cosatu, negotiating the Constitution, his role in the National Assembly, ANC Secretary-General. No one else can lay claim to that kind of role in our history. And then of course, things stall slightly. The business of plutocratic capitalism is a harder sell.

And then, Marikana. The fact that he was a board member of Lonmin, that he called on the police to take, in Dali Mpofu’s phrase, “concomitant action” to stop the violence being meted out by the striking workers. Who were then gunned down in what really does look like cold blood. It is a question that surely, surely, Sipunzi would expect. Instead, it’s a disaster. “I didn’t come across anything that says Cyril killed people at Marikana.” Okay, so far so good, and then, this: “Whatever he might have done there he was protecting his business interests.”

Wow. “Protecting his business interests”. So, Marikana can be explained away by the simple fact that someone was protecting their business interests.

It is amazing really. Someone is campaigning for a person to become President, and yet can’t tell us why. And doesn’t even bother to prepare for the most obvious criticism that would be levelled against them. Sipunzi was speaking on live radio, and he is not someone who has necessarily had much practice. But, he had just come from a press conference – surely then, just the demands of simple politics means you prepare something. And if not, well then, that’s not the mark of an effective politician.

The NUM now has an interesting problem. It is making this public announcement just days after Cosatu failed to make the same announcement last week. Then, and now, it looked as though Cosatu had ducked the issue, that Cosatu President Sdumo Dlamini, who appears to back Zuma, had managed to delay things. It could look as if the NUM is annoyed at Cosatu’s non-stance, that it is trying to bully the federation into taking the same view. But, Sipunzi says,”We’re not going to force anybody. We are going to try and persuade, if they don’t agree, we’re not going to swear at them.”

That’s all nice and reasonable. But there may well have been a little grump cloud over a certain office at Cosatu House on Monday morning.

The NUM has also said it wants Zuma to stay on as president until 2019, that he must finish his term. This is interesting, because in the same breath the union has attacked his Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane. And while being nasty to Zwane is a game almost everybody likes to play, surely the union is going to battle to claim consistency in saying Zuma should stay on, while he appoints someone they can’t stand as the minister of their own industry. The answer to this possibly lies in their realisation that Ramaphosa’s faction, should it exist, is not ready for the battle just yet.

There is an interesting caveat though. Generally speaking, there is a line in our politics that can reveal where people stand. If you support the Gupta family (as the ANC Youth League, Zwane, and the MK Military Veterans Association do), there is a strong chance you will also support Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Dudu Myeni and the Hawks, and oppose Pravin Gordhan. The NUM has broken with this little convention. It makes no comment on the Guptas’, backs Motsoeneng, but says they don’t know enough about what Myeni is doing or what she is not doing. Perhaps, just perhaps, cracks are beginning to appear. Or perhaps, our politics is about to get even more complicated.

One thing the NUM very much agrees with is that our government is in conflict with itself. Last week Zuma said in Parliament that his government was not at war with itself, referring the DA to Ramaphosa, who first made the claim. When asked, does the NUM agree that “government looks like it is at war with itself over Pravin Gordhan and the Hawks”, Sipunzi gives a simple and effective response, “Everybody who is good upstairs cannot disagree with that.”

Oh dear. So not really behind Zuma, then. DM

Photo: A woman sits beneath a recruitment poster for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) near Rustenburg in the North West province October 13, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings.


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