There is no more consequential political relationship at the moment in South Africa than the one between President Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule. They symbolise near-polar factions within the ANC, to a point where is difficult to believe they officially belong to the same party. And yet, both men hardly ever speak publicly about this. Ramaphosa has not done any interviews for some time, while Magashule appears to have chosen to say to the media as little as possible.
So, when Magashule does speak, it is important to examine his words carefully, especially if he claims that Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address and his apparent defence of the Reserve Bank mandate is “100% in line with the Nasrec Resolutions”.
The occasion of President Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address must have posed a tricky question for Magashule. As the ANC secretary-general, it would have been extremely odd if he had not been present — it would have raised too many questions. At the same time, just by being there exposed him to scrutiny from the pack of journalists waiting outside. There was a third option of course, which was to be there for the speech and then use the same door Finance Minister Tito Mboweni uses to avoid questions.
And yet, for reasons of his own, Magashule opted instead to come out and speak. Perhaps he felt that it was important for him to be seen as supporting Ramaphosa — perhaps there has been some sort of agreement that everyone involved in this complicated set of factions would behave themselves for the night.
Either way, Ramaphosa’s attention to the mandate of the Reserve Bank and detailed explanation of the constitutional guarantee of its operational independence (and how it receives a mandate from the finance minister) set the scene for what was to follow.
Magashule gave a brief interview to SAfm, in which he was immediately asked about his view of Ramaphosa’s speech. He seemed to almost run out of words to describe his approval. (Though in the case of the current ANC SG that might not constitute a challenge too steep – Ed) It was, he said, “wonderful, agitating, activating, inspiring. Giving hope to the hopeless, making sure there is revitalisation of the economy, a realisable practical dream”.
This is strong stuff. To take the words at face value would be to believe that nowhere in the history of humanity has there been a better political speech. Of course, the recent history of the relationship between Magashule and Ramaphosa suggests a strong dose of cynicism is necessary.
Then came a question about whether this speech was in line with the ANC’s resolutions taken at Nasrec. Of course, it was Magashule himself who recently reminded us all, presumably the ANC president too, that changing the mandate of the Reserve Bank was included in those resolutions. That was disputed by the chair of the party’s committee on economic transformation Enoch Godongwana, who said that that was not what the resolution had actually said.
Magashule further said that Ramaphosa’s speech was “100%; the president was emphasising once more the Nasrec resolutions and policies. And that’s why the ANC and the nation must rally behind what the president has said so the nation moves forward…”
While it seems unlikely that Magashule’s interpretation of the Nasrec resolutions has suddenly been altered, these comments are still important. It has appeared in recent months that Ramaphosa’s opponents, which include Magashule, were planning to use his alleged non-compliance with those resolutions as a way of damaging him at the ANC’s National General Council 2020.
Now, it would appear that should the factions indeed make a move along these lines, Magashule’s words could be used against him. At the very least, it will be useful to Ramaphosa’s supporters to simply muddy the issue as much as possible; the more confusing the possible interpretations of the resolutions on the Reserve Bank, the easier it will be to stop them from being used against the president.
Magashule also suggested, not so unpredictably, that “it’s only the media which is actually trying to continue dividing the ANC, ourselves as the top six, as the National Working Committee, ourselves as the national leadership of the ANC, we believe we are united… it’s the imagination of the media that we are actually divided”.
Magashule appears to be following a long and slightly dishonourable tradition (Slightly??? Stephen, are you’re getting soft? – Ed) in the ANC of claiming that the party is not divided. It was Smuts Ngonyama, as head of the Presidency in Thabo Mbeki’s version of the ANC, who used to repeat, against the obvious reality, that “there are no divisions in the ANC”. He was followed by the former secretary-general Gwede Mantashe who, while being slightly more realistic, also blamed the media for reports of divisions from time to time. Now Magashule appears to be doing the same, denying the undeniable.
Those in the media who report on these issues (obviously including this writer, who can hardly claim to be a disinterested spectator here) would retort that there is nothing more important than reporting on what is happening in the governing party of this country. And that recent history bears out the fact that those have always denied sharp divisions have been shown to be lying.
Being just the latest in a long line, Magashule, especially given the context of his denial, is unlikely to be telling the truth.
In the meantime, there is the decision by the ANC, but blamed by many on Magashule, to nominate several people seen as guilty of wrongdoing to the position of chair on parliamentary committees.
One of them is Faith Muthambi. As Communications minister she ensured the appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng as Chief Operations Officer of the SABC, and the insanity that followed. She protected him at all times and once had an SABC journalist fired for asking her questions.
Amid all of this, there is strong evidence to show that she passed on confidential Cabinet information to the Guptas.
When Magashule was asked why she was selected for the post, what made her the right person for this important job, he first demurred, saying there was nothing stopping her nomination, that “in terms of the Electoral Act, the Constitution, the law of natural justice. It’s not about the noises we hear, it’s not about what people say, it’s about real things. So Faith Muthambi is a leader”.
But that’s not the point, asked the interviewer, who happened to be this reporter:
“But why is she a good person?”
The answer was, well, interesting:
“Very articulate, to the point, hardworking person, like many other ANC leaders. A good South African.”
And that is possibly a candidate for comment of the week. That the secretary-general of the ANC, Ace Magashule, believes the person who aided and abetted Hlaudi Motsoneng’s near-destruction of the SABC, and faces strong accusations of passing on Cabinet information, is a “good South African”.
It is now entirely obvious that the fight which started in the ANC over the list of candidates to Parliament has now entered the next phase, and that Magashule hopes to use the parliamentary committees to put spanners in the Ramaphosa government’s wheels.
But there are still significant obstacles to this plan. City Press quoted a member of the national executive committee, seen as close to Magashule, who said:
“If these committees want you fired, they can achieve that with just the right amount of pressure. They just need to summon you as a minister and expose your inefficiency in the eyes of the public”.
That might sound simple. However, there is no evidence of a parliamentary committee having this kind of impact in the past. Towards the end of the Zuma years, several committees started to put pressure on his appointees. Perhaps the climax of this was when current Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan was able to put then-Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown under pressure about decisions taken on Brian Molefe’s “pension” at Eskom. Zuma certainly did not feel the need to fire Brown, and he kept her in her position. It was only when Ramaphosa became president that she lost her job.
For this strategy to work, the people asking the questions need also to have legitimacy, to be seen as morally correct. Mosebenzi Zwane, Muthambi, Tina Joemat-Petterson, Supra Mahumapelo and some of the other committee chair nominees do not appear to be perceived as having any legitimacy, or respect, outside of their own support base.
Which means that they will be unable to put pressure on Ramaphosa’s ministers. The most they could achieve would be to become a source of major irritation, but not forces to be reckoned with by Ramaphosa and his ministers.
However, what this could do is start to bake in what appears to be a very likely scenario for the next year or so — the continuation of battles and skirmishes across all ANC fronts. Where five-minute truces are agreed to with both sides knowing that they will fight again 10 minutes later.
Which means until something happens to change this balance of power, overall governance in South Africa is likely to suffer. DM