Analysis

A few good weeks see Ramaphosa’s ever-tighter grip on power

By Stephen Grootes 2 September 2018
Caption
President Cyril Ramaphosa and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Theresa May witnessing the signing of a Joint Statement of UK, SACU and Mozambique on Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) by Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry of the Republic of Botswana, Ms Bogolo Joy Kenewendo and Minister of State for Trade Policy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Mr George Hollingberry. Tuynhuys,Cape Town. 28/08/2018. Jairus mmutle/GCIS

The fundamental question of politics in most places and times can usually be reduced to this query: Who is actually in charge? For much of the period from around 2009 until about halfway through 2017, the answer was pretty simple: it was Jacob Zuma. Now, our politics can appear, on the face of it, to be much more complicated. The result at Nasrec, which appeared to show a scrambled sort of leadership (the ANC prefers the term “Zebra”) made it difficult to know who was calling the shots. But, as time moves on, and the 2019 elections loom ever closer, there is more evidence to suggest that at long last, President Cyril Ramaphosa is beginning to consolidate his power in both society and the ANC.

Every now and then, our politics can be summed up in a series of questions that give clues to where real power lies. Around October and November 2017, as it appeared that voters were not keen on Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma leading the ANC and the #GuptaLeaks were having their effect, the question could have been summed up as this: Would most voters support a Dlamini-Zuma-led ANC that would push for radical economic transformation and land expropriation without compensation? If the answer was yes, then the ANC led Dlamini-Zuma would win in 2019, and thus her chances of winning at Nasrec were very high.

The answer, as we now know, was actually “no”.

Now our questions can possibly be reduced to two:

  • Would the electorate reward or punish Julius Malema if he gave control of a big metro to the ANC? And…

  • Is Ramaphosa beginning to consolidate his power or not?

The answer to the first question, after the chaos that was the past week, is probably still unknown; at the last minute Malema appeared to blink, allowing the DA to retain Tshwane after installing a United Democratic Movement mayor in Nelson Mandela Bay.

The answer to the second is that there is now growing evidence to suggest that Ramaphosa is beginning to cement his power within the ANC.

The first and more obvious example is in the latest events in connection with the troubled North West province. Four months ago Ramaphosa had to leave the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in the UK to deal with the situation in that province.

At the time, Supra Mahumapelo had the power to refuse to resign as premier. He was eventually forced to leave. But on the night of Thursday 30 August 2018, the ANC’s national executive committee decided to actually disband Mahumapelo’s entire provincial executive committee. It looks likely that the next step will actually be for Premier Job Mokgoro to reshuffle his cabinet. Professor Mokgoro himself is now the chair of the task team running the province for the ANC.

This is surely the result that Ramaphosa wanted all along. He wanted Mahumapelo’s political power to be reduced by as much as possible. And while it took a long time, this is what has now happened. Ramaphosa’s slow and careful approach turned what could have been a serious cause for an internal insurrection into a barely-a-whimper-inducing event.

Then there is the situation being continuously built up by the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. It has only had six days of testimony from witnesses who were spoken to by the Gupta brothers and by Zuma. In just that time we have heard how the Hawks were captured and defanged, how Zuma himself could be easily placed at the scene of wrongdoing, and essentially, how he had outsourced the presidency to foreign nationals.

On Sunday, the Sunday Times led with the report that the CIA was worried about the Gupta’s attempts to get a uranium mine back in 2009. It carried details about how the former heads of part of the intelligence services, Mo Shaik and Gibson Njenje, tried to investigate the Guptas. But, instead of their warnings being heeded, they were fired. Former Communications Minister General Siphiwe Nyanda also explained how he was removed because he tried to stop the Guptas from gaining access to the SABC.

It is the kind of thing that will lead the national conversation for several days, and shines yet more light on how bad things actually were during the Zuma era. But it also has a political impact.

Just three months ago, in June, it appeared that Zuma had the power to stop a unity deal in the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. But then, a few weeks later, the province had a conference and appeared to stick to the terms of the original deal, in which people from both sides of the division there were elected to leadership positions. Now, gathering support is surely only going to become harder for Zuma. It would surely seem possible that Shaik, Njenje and Nyanda will be “invited” to testify at the Zondo commission. This could lead to more and more people with information changing their minds and coming forward.

There could perhaps, eventually, be a tsunami of evidence against Zuma.

It is hard to say what long-term impact the Zondo commission will have on the NEC. At first glance, it would appear to weaken those who back Zuma and try to oppose Ramaphosa. But of course, ANC politics is never quite that simple. It is also possible that the factions in the party have actually crumbled into several different parts, and so things could be a little more scrambled than that.

Then there is the issue of land. Just a month ago, it appeared that Ramaphosa might actually have lost control of the debate on this issue within the ANC. He had to make a late-night announcement explaining that the ANC would amend the Constitution on expropriation without compensation. At the time he looked weak. But now it appears he may have managed to regain some control over this debate. Two weeks ago both he and Deputy President David Mabuza spoke to farming groups in different and separate contexts, telling them that the productive agricultural land would not be taken.

Since then there has no significant comment on land from anyone in the ANC (or even in the EFF, but Malema was slightly busy with NMB and Tshwane, so he may well return to the topic soon). This past week, both British Prime Minister Theresa May (who can command neither the House of Commons nor a dance floor) and the International Monetary Fund backed land reform. Both stressed the need for it be conducted by the law. But changing the Constitution is through the law, so clearly they would have no problem with a big land reform programme pushed by Ramaphosa.

Then there are other processes that also appear to be helping Ramaphosa. While he would clearly like Tom Moyane’s title to change from “suspended SARS Commissioner” to “former SARS Commissioner”, that process is gaining momentum.

The Nugent Commission investigating the situation at SARS has already heard how Moyane went to Russia for a trip whose purpose has not been properly explained. There has been plenty of other testimony about how SARS’s ability to investigate and properly deal with high-value individuals was essentially broken by the plan that was supposed to fix a problem that didn’t exist.

There is every chance that Moyane will not only be booted out of the job, but he will also be thoroughly discredited — and possibly criminally charged.

There is, of course, plenty more politics to come. Ramaphosa still has to appoint a new head of the National Prosecuting Authority (former head Shaun Abrahams left the NPA last week to, again, a whimper of interest, which is very good for Ramaphosa).

Already the head of the Hawks he appointed, Godfrey Lebeya, has now formally suspended Zinhle Mnonopi for her role in trying to kill the case initiated by Mcebisi Jonas going public with the Gupta’s offer of R600-million for the role of Finance Minister. And the 2019 election should not only provide Ramaphosa with a way of enhancing his power through a credible victory, (if it happens that way) but the campaign itself will also help to unify the ANC, as its various factions unite against common enemies (the DA and the EFF).

With all of this taken together then, and despite the complexity of our politics at the moment, it does appear that Ramaphosa is slowly consolidating his power.

If that is the case, it may well mean more and improved leadership on issues such as land, and on other questions facing us. Of course, it is also possible that something, or somebody, comes along to derail this process. But for the moment, the answer to one of the most important questions in our politics —is Ramaphosa gaining power — seems to be a qualified, and careful, “Yes”. DM

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