The Cyril Ramaphosa who kowtows to Jacob Zuma is no more. The Deputy President who praises the President – calls him “Action-Man Zuma” – has gone. Instead, there is a man fighting, pushing and shoving his way to the Number One spot. Ramaphosa’s address to the SACP National Conference on Wednesday marks the start of a muscular campaign season. He’s using every trick in the book, every nudge and wink. And he appears to have a head of steam behind him. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
If there is one question that has followed Cyril Ramaphosa around like an unwanted email trail over the last few years it is this: is he really a leader, and does he really have the stomach for the fight?
He will no longer be asked that question.
He now appears ready to take the fight to Zuma directly. Standing in front of the suitably – actually, incredibly – friendly audience that the SACP provided, in full view of ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, he said “we must recover money that has been stolen” that “we won’t allow state institutions to be used to benefit a few”, and crucially, that “we won’t protect those involved in state capture”. And yes, he means the Guptas, as he made clear: “We know we paid for a lavish wedding that took place in Sun City. These resources could have been used to fund education.”
Ajay, Atul, Tony, Guptas, naturalised and not, he’s talking about you.
One of the first questions one has to ask is whether Ramaphosa would have been this brave before the ANC’s Policy Conference. It appears that he won that week. Or at least, that Zuma lost. The fact that delegates at the conference hardly reacted to Zuma, that nine out of the 11 commissions rejected the “white monopoly capital” characterisation of our economy, and crucially, that Zuma himself used the conference to push the proposal to make the leadership contest loser the deputy, all of this must surely have emboldened Ramaphosa.
The timing of this is also important. To stop the buying of branches by Zuma, or at least to contain this as much as possible, Ramaphosa’s camp may need to make his victory appear virtually certain. In other words, they need to build up so much momentum by the end of October that a loss is unthinkable. Or it would reveal that the other side has won through the dark arts of what the ANC calls “gate-keeping”. This means he needs to hit the accelerator now. And keep it pressed. And the Policy Conference outcome is the best possible launching pad.
And then we have what Ramaphosa actually said.
It would appear that this was a stated intention to put all of those involved in the state capture project in jail. Surely, this means Zuma himself too. There is no better way to get those already converted to his cause fired up. Feelings in society against Zuma are running high (at least, from what we can see, and almost certainly in urban areas). That feeling must reflect what is happening in many ANC branches. Many people have given up on the idea that Zuma could face justice; the prospect that it could actually one day happen must surely be a huge incentive to work harder, to lobby and keep lobbying all over the country.
But it would be naive to forget that this also raises the stakes for Zuma and those around him. They too must surely hear what he is saying and be reminded that to stay out of jail, they need to win. Which raises the chances of some massive push-back.
Politically, the options of Ramaphosa’s opponents are limited. The continued revelations of the #GuptaLeaks have meant that their hands are tied, that they are fighting fires just to stay afloat. It may be that while those who thought there would be an immediate reaction to the release of the emails and other data have been disappointed, something much more fundamental is taking place. That over time, the narrative is being changed completely, and utterly. In other words, the final impact of the #GuptaLeaks may not be that Zuma goes early, but that it becomes impossible for him (sorry, her… Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma) to win in December. Which is a much more fundamental and important long-term outcome.
But not all of their options are above-the-line political. There is also the prospect of things getting much rougher, of “accidents” and dirty tricks. Presumably Ramaphosa is aware of this prospect. It would be interesting to know what he is afraid of, and what he is planning for.
One of the key messages to the SACP from Ramaphosa was that we must “make every effort to resist attempts to destroy this alliance”. This is clearly a plea to the party not to leave the ANC and tripartite alliance at this moment. But it must also be a coded message that says he is the only person who can keep the SACP in the alliance. Imagine for a moment what would have happened if Zuma had disregarded the fact that he was not invited to this conference and had pitched up. There would have been a riot.
Earlier in the day it had been announced that the SACP will now have a special conference in early 2018 to reflect on the outcomes of the ANC’s December conference. In other words, it won’t leave the alliance this week, it will wait to see who wins. Ramaphosa’s not so deeply coded message is that a vote for him is a vote to keep the entire alliance together.
It is the converse of this that is so interesting. That if Ramaphosa loses, then the SACP will automatically leave the alliance, and the ANC. More and more it seems that if Zuma (sorry, Dlamini-Zuma) wins in December, the ANC will split automatically. Certainly, the SACP contesting elections on its own will make it even harder for the ANC to win urban votes in 2019.
Before going into the conference, Ramaphosa made time to greet three rather interesting and significant people. The first was an ordinary member of Parliament for the ANC called Pravin Gordhan. In a way, his sacking is the ultimate symbol of Zuma’s misrule. At the same time he spoke to Mcebisi Jonas, the man who said no to a bribe of $600-million and the ultimate symbol of the Guptas’ corrupt ways. And then there was the symbol of the push-back to Zuma from within the ANC, Jackson Mthembu, the party’s chief whip who has said publicly that Zuma and the entire top leadership of the ANC should resign.
All of these are very interesting for Ramaphosa to “bump into”. And these photographed interactions are powerful symbolic reminders of what Ramaphosa believes he is fighting for.
We are now entering a new phase of this battle. Ramaphosa has made it clear: it’s game on, and he’s ready for the fight. The facts may be on his side, and the #GuptaLeaks certainly point in that direction, but Zuma has always been a fighter. Even if Dlamini-Zuma currently gives the impression of not caring at all what people think, Zuma himself will not be going handcuffed into the sunset without a serious push-back. How much of this fight will be dirty and downright illegal? One has to suspect, a big chunk, possibly most of it. DM
Photo: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa during the 20th Anniversary Celebrations of the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders at Bhisho Stadium in Bisho Eastern Cape. South Africa. 07/07/2017. Siyabulela Duda