In the twin environments of the ANC and the State, these days the question that matters is how much power President Cyril Ramaphosa really has. Can he appoint the Cabinet he wants, send state capturers to jail, clean up and reform government? Or is he in such political debt, so reliant on people like his deputy David Mabuza, that the ANC is likely to lumber on for much longer? Sunday afternoon’s announcement of the ANC sub-committee chairs suggests Ramaphosa has less political power than previously assumed and the struggle looks destined to continue. It might also demonstrate how little last year’s conference managed to settle. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
In technical terms, the chairs of the sub-committees of the NEC don’t necessarily have a huge amount of power. They can’t hire and fire, and certainly can’t try to overrule the majority of their subcommittee. But they are the public face of their respective groups, which gives them a certain power when reporting back at conferences and national general councils, and when the media is looking for a position/opinion on the issues under their supervision. Thus, Obed Bapela has been the face of the ANC’s decision to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC), while Enoch Godongwana has faced off the radical economic transformation crowd in the media.
This means that these chairs do have a certain political power, and that some, obviously, will have more than others. And thus their identities matter, not least because their selection illustrates the balance of power in the NEC itself.
Those who thought that Ramaphosa was in firm control of the NEC were destined to come away disappointed.
The first big appointment is the chair of the deployment committee. By convention, this is usually the deputy leader of the ANC, and so in this case, with the appointment of Mabuza. In some ways this matters, and in some ways it doesn’t. Ramaphosa himself was obviously chair of the deployment committee in the previous ANC regime, and evidence of his influence was hard to see. But it could be that in a different political situation, Mabuza will be able to exercise more influence than Ramaphosa did. Only time will tell here, but it is a committee to watch (albeit that that is almost impossible, its decisions and meetings are behind closed doors). Jessie Duarte is the convener of this committee, which will give reformists further reason for concern.
Gauteng Finance MEC Barbara Creecy is head of the drafting committee, the kind of position that suits a person who likes detail, and has served every position given to her with quiet competence.
The chair of the Constitutional and Legal Affairs committee is Zweli Mkhize, a man with the dignity that this kind of position will need. He has tried very hard to straddle the divides in the ANC, it will be interesting to see how he manages it from here.
It appears the previous Communication and Media subcommittee is being replaced by the new Information and Publicity. Its head is Nkenke Kekana, a man who has served as a spokesperson for the Gauteng ANC for many years. Kekana is quick and agile, and has masses of experience. He is also seen by many to be Paul Mashatile’s man, which means that he might assert his influence here. It is important to remember that Gauteng is going to be a key battleground in the next election, Kekane knows this area incredibly well, and is unlikely to make the kind of mistakes around communication that would be punished by urban voters.
However, the key issue that this subcommittee is likely to take over is that of digital terrestrial television. It has been an incredibly hot-button issue, pitting ANC resolutions against then President Jacob Zuma, and his executioners like Faith Muthambi, who actually went as far as publicly disagreeing with the party’s decisions. If this subcommittee backs encrypted television, and is able to force its policy onto the Communications Ministry, it would be an indication that it has broken completely with the Zuma-ANC.
The choice of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the chair of the Education, Health, Science & Technology grouping is interesting on several levels. Firstly, considering that the major problems South Africa faces are in health and education, it beggars belief that these two have not been split. How one group of people can spend enough time focusing on everything from free education to the Life Esidimeni Tragedy to SADTU is beyond most people’s understanding. One thing this will do is to force Dlamini-Zuma to host press conferences during big ANC gatherings. Considering she hardly took questions during her campaign for the ANC’s leadership, and has not faced the urban-based media since her defeat, she is unlikely to be comfortable in that position. Especially if certain members of her family find themselves caught up in lengthy court processes.
Godongwana is going to stay on at Economic Transformation. In some ways this is a triumph of ANC politics. Godongwana has managed to change almost nothing in his time in this position. His job has been to hold firm against the RET voices, and to provide a market-friendly face to investors. It is likely that he will be asked to simple keep performing exactly this role. It may well be that this position was the most contested, and that his retention is a victory for Ramaphosa. But it could also be that this is the result of a compromise, in that no one faction got their preferred candidate. And still further, it could also be that everyone in the ANC realises the contention around the economy in the party is so high, no one wanted to have a real fight over it.
International Relations will now be chaired by Lindiwe Zulu. This is always a slightly strange position, in that real foreign policy here, as in most countries, is made by the President, with a lesser role for the International Relations Minister. It seems unlikely that Zulu will be able to influence the foreign policy of Ramaphosa, except, perhaps, in terms of some ANC policy. Which will then up to him to implement. Or not.
The real trouble for Ramaphosa starts with the new heads of the disciplinary machinery. The fact that Derek Hanekom was Chair of the National Disciplinary Committee of the ANC during the last two years of Zuma’s rule was incredibly important. It allowed people to speak up against Zuma, knowing that he would be unlikely to charge them. People like Makhosi Khoza, Jackson Mthembu and Mathole Motshekga knew they could claim that the entire NEC should resign knowing that they would not be drummed out of the ANC. But now things have changed dramatically.
The new chair of the NDC is Edna Molewa. She has previously tried to defend Zuma against claims that his administration had achieved very little, and then defended Dlamini-Zuma during her campaign. Just to add to the fun, she appears to have what you could call a lively private life, after her ex-husband claimed to have been threatened by the political analyst and ANN7 regular Professor Sipho Seepe. Considering that you would like someone of unquestionable probity here, this may not quite hit the mark.
However, worse is to come. The new Chair of the National Disciplinary Committee of Appeal is Nomvula Mokonyane. Her reputation simply has not recovered from her claim that the “rand will pick itself up”. She has also strongly, yes, strongly, backed Zuma repeatedly. Unfortunately, her claim to probity is also badly damaged by her management of the Water Affairs Ministry. Cape Town’s water shortage has been severely exacerbated by neglect by her department. The fact that Gauteng may soon face the same problem through what looks like a mixture of corruption and incompetence is almost certainly her fault. And her private life is also not a picnic, amid claims that she has allowed someone not from her own department to call the shots.
The sub-committees’ appointments are incredibly important, both to Ramaphosa and to the ANC as a whole. He has tried to portray the party has having “self-corrected”; that from now on, things will be different. The disciplinary machinery is absolutely crucial to this. If someone doesn’t toe the line, the party should be able to throw them out. Under Mokonyane and Molewa, this is unlikely. In fact, they are likely to simply enable corruption, deliberately so.
Some of the other appointments are also slightly curious. Fikile Mbalula continues as head of the National Elections Committee. He is a very interesting case. He seems to delight in giving the public impression that he is uncontrollable, loves to use language to shock (his Twitter handle is “Mr Fearfokkol”), and he sometimes appears less than together. And yet he has a reputation as an organiser, which is key to elections. Mbalula is also someone who is incredibly politically inconsistent, backing Zuma, then Julius Malema, then Zuma, then Dlamini-Zuma, then claiming that Ace Magashule as secretary general would destroy the party, then backing Dlamini-Zuma again and then Ramaphosa. Yes, really. He can surely hardly be trusted – though that character line could be seen by some as a virtue.
The new chair of Political Education is Nathi Mthethwa, but he is unlikely to even be noticed. This is a subcommittee that will focus inwardly on the education of ANC members, and he will battle to make headlines. Along with Baleka Mbete as head of Archives, his press conferences will be good training grounds for junior reporters.
However, if ever someone is looking for proof that the ANC simply has not changed, if the DA is trying to prove its claim that “we have an ANC a problem, not a Jacob Zuma problem”, it is in the appointment of Tony Yengeni as chair of Peace and Stability. Only the ANC would appoint the one person convicted of wrong-doing in the arms deal, and then get all pious and pompous when member of the public criticise it. Just two days ago Yengeni retweeted a member of the Black First Land First (BLF) movement, featuring a picture of Johan Rupert as a sort of puppet master. That same day he retweeted a claim that “Hanekom is a serious problem”. Before that, he retweeted a claim from Andile Lungisa that the immigration raid on ANN7 was “creating the notion of a police state”, and before that Mzwanele Manyi got a retweet, for his claim that ANN7, like a phoenix, would rise again.
To give a person like this any kind of political power in any form is to invite people to vote against you.
The upshot of all of this is that it appears Ramaphosa actually has a much tougher job than it appeared just a week ago. It now looks as though parts of the ANC’s machinery are against him. It certainly looks like he cannot count on the NEC for much support. This is going to make his job as President of the country much tougher. It also suggests that in fact the entire party is going to struggle to rid itself of the image it gained during the Zuma years. But in the short term it may also indicate that those hoping for a wholesale sacking of the more corrupt members of Cabinet might be sorely disappointed. DM
Photo: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (C) walks with members of the public during an early morning walk to the Athlone Stadium in Cape Town, South Africa, 20 February 2018. EPA-EFE/STRINGER