South Africa

ANALYSIS

Inside the ANC: Many more acts to come in this power play

ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule, left, and President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photos: Deaan Vivier / Media 24 / Leila Dougan)

Battered and bruised, Ace Magashule, the face of the camp that is challenging President Cyril Ramaphosa’s dominance in the ruling party, has to go to the party’s grassroots to regenerate strength. Preparations for the ANC’s next big event — the National General Council in the second half of next year — are under way. This is where the party’s prickly topics will be under review.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and his backers were emboldened after they pushed back against ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule’s team at the party’s National Executive Committee at the weekend. But that was just one meeting.

The Ramaphosa camp is preoccupied with government issues. They risk losing control of the party’s branches, where people hostile to Ramaphosa can be signed up with ease, according to insiders. A number of policy matters could be raised at the National General Council in the second half of 2020 to criticise Ramaphosa. Because the event is not authorised to remove a president, it is easy for policy stances to become proxies for political muscle-flexing.

This week Eskom reported a record R21-billion loss. The power utility is handling a restructuring that will create more tensions in the political world. Two rating agencies have signalled that the latest bailout — R59-billion — could see us go down the junk spiral. Moody’s has been kind enough to keep South Africa above junk, but its watch is now negative. There will be serious consequences if Moody’s drops South Africa into junk. This will mean that South Africa falls off the World Global Bonds Index. South Africa will pay more when it raises money in the capital markets, with fewer buyers this time around. It will be a significant blow to Ramaphosa’s “new dawn”, as rating downgrades were made out to be about one man alone: Jacob Zuma.

Ramaphosa is not in a position to impose himself on grassroots structures. This is where Magashule and others could benefit, by “swelling the ranks” with armies ready to take the fight to Ramaphosa in a loud and domineering fashion that is often associated with ANC conferences.

Two key and popular policy matters stick out like a sore thumb: the “nationalisation” of the SA Reserve Bank and the “expropriation of land without compensation”. Ramaphosa has tactfully embraced these issues, knowing full well implementing them would be catastrophic. His opponents are ready to show that he is paying lip service when he utters anything that is vaguely revolutionary, or against the interests of the economic establishment.

Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane, the public protector, may have made losing cases in court fashionable, but she still has legs to run. Removing her will create a huge dent in the ANC caucus. Magashule got his way when he announced the chairs of portfolio committees in Parliament.

The Ramaphosa camp may be in office, but many question whether he is in authority. The man himself has shown over the years he can throw a punch or two, but consistency has never been his friend. He will soon recline to his usual, diplomatic, thoughtful and conciliatory self. Meanwhile, Rome can only burn, causing a great deal of confusion and policy uncertainty. DM

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