South Africa

In the Guptas’ shadow: ANC lekgotla will talk economy, but mean electoral business

By Carien Du Plessis 28 July 2017

It is not entirely impossible that the Gupta family will once again be central to the political discussion at this weekend’s ANC lekgotla. It seems that just about everybody in the ANC, with the exception of perhaps presidential son Edward Zuma, now agrees that the family is no good for the party’s image. With this little bump in the road taken care of, what was it that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was on about again? By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

There was a time when reporters actually went to the ANC’s makgotla (started in the spirit of robust debates and the free-for-all that followed the Mbeki years) anticipating talk about, say, overcoming neoliberal economic policies, or discussions on how to catch criminals.

Not so much in this year of a leadership contest, though. Government policy has been put on autopilot while ANC leaders scramble for power and positions.

ANC national executive committee members, premiers, mayors and deployees in departments like directors-general and state-owned entities will assemble this weekend in the first large ANC meeting following the party’s policy conference earlier this month.

In attendance are mostly deployees who would have been touched by the patronage network of the incumbent, which means their sympathies might lean slightly towards Zuma.

While ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe tried his best to convince reporters on Wednesday that the lekgotla was about the flailing economy, pre-empting another revolt over university fees, the National Health Insurance scheme and state-owned entities, the camps in the parties will also use it to consolidate their positions.

Things have been a little up in the air since the Ramaphosa camp flexed its muscles at the policy conference.

City Press on Sunday reported there will be a push by the pro-Zuma group to dissolve the Northern Cape and the Western Cape, aligned to Ramaphosa, with an expected counter-push by the Ramaphosa group to unsettle the mighty KwaZulu-Natal.

Judging from the talk emanating from the ANC ahead of this weekend’s lekgotla, the Guptas – with whom President Jacob Zuma said he was cosy – will be central to this mix.

ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa this week told News24 that law enforcement agencies should act against those involved in state capture and undue business with the Gupta family.

Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan said at a lecture in Johannesburg on Wednesday that if state capture continued the country could experience a disastrous 10-year slump. He must have hit a nerve because he was heckled by both ANC and EFF supporters, and also inspired Zuma’s most fervent defender and son, Edward, to write a venomous letter labelling Gordhan a sell-out, or more accurately, a “white monopoly capital stooge”.

Most surprising, however, was a joint statement on Monday by KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga rejecting “any association and/or proximity of any kind to any business interests or groupings, including the Guptas”. Leaders from the two provinces met after Mpumalanga Premier and ANC chairperson David “DD” Mabuza drifted from the script during the party’s recent policy conference and tended towards the camp supporting Ramaphosa.

Except, nobody really is sure if he is actually supporting Ramaphosa or just pretending to. Word is that he wants to be the deputy president on the winning slate, whichever one that will be, or even that he is angling for the very top spot.

The fight right now really is for Mpumalanga, the ANC’s third biggest province. With the largest two – KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape – supporting Zuma and Ramaphosa respectively, Mabuza finds himself in the position of kingmaker. A story last week that he was threatened with arrest should he not support the Zuma camp’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has made him untouchable. In the case of any such arrest he can simply cry politics.

The meeting of the ANC leadership in KwaZulu-Natal with Mpumalanga was seen as an attempt to woo Mabuza back into the warm fold of the incumbent, with Mabuza using the opportunity to get KwaZulu-Natal to agree to a statement distancing the two provinces from the Gupta brothers. After the damage done by the #GuptaLeaks, it’s the best damage control the party can do ahead of the 2019 elections, but it also gives Mabuza an opportunity to leave everyone guessing for a little longer.

According to the joint statement by KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga on Monday: “The conduct of business in general and [the] Guptas in particular has been driven by a desire for profit maximisation at all cost. As revolutionaries we must remain vigilant not and never to fall prey to their trick and influence at all material times.”

Getting KwaZulu-Natal to concede this is significant, because it comes only a few weeks after a revolt from the Zuma camp at the policy conference over a diagnostic report by party Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe which identified the Gupta family and state capture as part of the rot in the party.

But the provinces are in a way still on-side, i.e. in the Zuma camp, because the statement slammed white monopoly capital in the same breath.

The structure and the ownership of the economy remains predominantly untransformed and largely at the hands of and dominated by white monopoly capital,” it read.

The provinces expressed concern about the “ongoing onslaught and vicious attack” (coming from white monopoly capital, perhaps?) directed at Zuma, “an agenda intended to dislodge the African National Congress”.

So, how could this weaken Ramaphosa’s campaign? Stephen Grootes remarked in his piece on Wednesday that Ramaphosa has fashioned his campaign against Zuma by attacking the president’s political proxies or handlers, the Guptas.

Naming Number One himself would have been a political death sentence for Ramaphosa – see, for instance, what’s happening to ANC MP Makhosi Khoza for doing so.

Other than attacks against state capture and the Guptas, what else has Ramaphosa’s campaign been about? Anti-corruption, a better economy, and being more friendly towards businesses, maybe, but nothing as rousing as, say, radical economic transformation or a revolutionary fight against white monopoly capital.

Ramaphosa is also well-versed in the Constitution, but nobody’s really inspired to kill for this cause.

His fight against Zuma, via the proxies of the Guptas and state capture, is really why many love him.

Zuma’s guys can be outspoken against the Guptas to take the sting out of Ramaphosa’s campaign, and he doesn’t even have to take real action (although the tide seems to be going against the Guptas at the moment). Zuma has been “fighting” in words against corruption and nepotism for many years, with nothing to show, and yet people still believe him. And remember his moral regeneration campaign years ago? Thought so. DM

Photo: ANC leadership at the policy conference, 5 July 2017, Nasrec. (Ihsaan Haffejee)

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