South Africa


Cyril Ramaphosa loses third power play to Ace Magashule in under two weeks

Secretary general Ace Magashule at the ANC special Natioinal Executive Committee meeting at Nelson Mandela Boulevard Garden Court in Cape Town. Date: 20 May 2019, Photo: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES

An assault on the independence of the SA Reserve Bank; Pulling the teeth of the Integrity Commission; A status quo Cabinet: How Ace Magashule is pulling the rug out from the reform agenda of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Throughout the ANC’s national executive committee at the weekend, President Cyril Ramaphosa sat and chaired the meeting which, in the public mind, decided to change the mandate of the SA Reserve Bank, to instruct the bank to print money and to introduce the policy of quantitative easing – although the final memorandum clumsily referred to it as “quantity easing”.

From his previous statements, it is clear that Ramaphosa does not believe in nor does he trust any of these economic policy stimulus measures, but he presided over the discussions and there is nothing in the ANC’s final communiqué on the matter which suggests he spoke up against them or successfully persuaded the governing party he presides over to take another path.

As that meeting was happening, the final GDP figures for the first quarter were being collated and on Tuesday night they came in: the economy contracted at an unexpected 3.2%, pushing into what may already be a recession.

This brings to three the numbers of power plays that Ramaphosa has lost to the ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule in under two weeks since he became President. It raises the question of who between the two men is running the country and the answer seems to be that not even Rampahosa knows or he is not speaking up.

Sources at the meeting say that the final resolutions on the Reserve Bank were much milder than has been communicated and that Magashule has used his control of the party’s powerful propaganda machinery to put a spin on things, but this then still raises the question of whether the tail is wagging the dog in the ANC.

In January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ramaphosa confirmed his support for the independence of the SA Reserve Bank but said that the bank would buy out its private shareholders to make it publicly owned.

Even if Magashule has distorted the resolutions from the weekend meeting as Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and the party’s head of economics and transformation Enoch Godongwana has said, the official line from the party contained in its statement stands as the blueprint, so a score out of the weekend meeting is Magashule 1 – Ramaphosa 0.

In just under two weeks, Magashule has outflanked the President on two equally important interventions. He has subverted the purpose of the Integrity Commission of the ANC and ensured that his position on the ethics body reigns. Magashule supports a light-touch integrity commission which gives cover of ethical adherence but does little to enforce it; Ramaphosa supported more power and authority for the integrity body to determine the party’s public representatives.

The Integrity Commission named 22 people who should not have made it on to the party’s lists for public appointment but it largely failed in its mission as Magashule also told the public on Tuesday that those people would be given appropriate and leading roles in society and in the party. In this mission, he was supported by the deputy president David Mabuza who threw down the gauntlet to the commission when he refused to be sworn in until he had been cleared. The integrity body is now largely regarded as toothless and open to attack.

The third way in which Magashule outflanked Ramaphosa is in the choice of the Cabinet. It was clear that Ramaphosa wanted a scaled down and technocratic Cabinet and that he, particularly, wanted to slash the numbers of deputy ministers in the expanded executive.

In the end, Ramaphosa barely skimmed down his Cabinet while he held the large number of deputy minister positions to eventually put in a place a patronage Cabinet and an expanded executive which did not come close to the expectations of a New Dawn team to drive a reform agenda. In this too, Magashule has been the victor. This is because the President has to choose his Cabinet in close consultation with the party’s secretary-general and the party man won out over the reformist head of state.

Former president Jacob Zuma ran the country from the ANC headquarters of Luthuli House and Ramaphosa wants to return the centre of power to the Union Buildings – government over party. But Magashule’s bombshell statement on Tuesday sets a stake in the ground. “Lekgotla (the NEC meeting) reaffirmed the ANC as a strategic centre of power,” it reads.

Magashule went even further to show that as party boss, he is the capo – boss of bosses. “It was agreed,” reads his statement “that all deployees (of the ANC) will ensure that all resolutions of the ANC will be fully implemented (including) to expand the mandate of the South African Reserve Bank beyond price stability to include growth and employment. It also directed the ANC government to consider consider constituting a task team to explore quantity (sic) easing measures to address intergovernmental debts to make funds available for developmental purposes (this means to print money)…”

In under two weeks, Magashule has outplayed Ramaphosa and made it clear that he intends to show who is boss in a power game he has fired the starter gun on. DM