ANALYSIS

The long game: Ramaphosa could be slowly gaining ground

By Stephen Grootes 1 August 2019
Caption
President Cyril Ramaphosa, left, and ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Antoio Muchave)

In the battle for the heart and soul of the ANC, there appear to be signs of a slow shift in the balance of power away from Ace Magashule and towards President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The ANC can sometimes appear so divided that its National Executive Committee (NEC) runs out of words trying to express something important while creating no internal waves. The statement released after the NEC meeting that ended on Monday July 29 demonstrates this.

The party now wants an “expedited solution” to the e-tolls problems and, at the same time, to “reaffirm the user-pay principle”. It wants to create the impression that action is being taken against an official who worked with an opposition party and yet that person is not going before a disciplinary hearing. It wants to make some comment about the public protector when it is obvious that it is divided on the issue and so offers “principled support to the Office of the Public Protector” that is pursuing its leader, and to “the judiciary” that could well overrule that office.

Despite this continuous balancing act, there are indications of a slow shift in the balance of power away from ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule and towards President Cyril Ramaphosa.

This NEC meeting that started on Friday was foregrounded by an incendiary statement in which Magashule claimed that NEC member (and former tourism minister) Derek Hanekom was a “charlatan” and a “wedge-driver”. The timing of the statement (Thursday, 11.28pm) led to suspicions that Magashule had not consulted with any of the top officials before releasing it, and had only spoken to people in his own office (which would include Carl Niehaus).

That Magashule released this statement without consulting other officials would appear to have been proved by the NEC saying:

The issue of allegations against Cde Derek Hanekom was also raised in the meeting. The NEC referred the matter to officials for processing.”

A man described by Magashule as a “charlatan” for allegedly working with the EFF to remove then-president Jacob Zuma in 2017 is not being summoned to a disciplinary hearing. And such is the balance of power in the top six national officials that it seems unlikely Hanekom will face any sanction at all (it should not be forgotten that were charges to be moved against Hanekom, Zuma could also face charges for his meeting with Black First Land First during the election period).

From this, it appears Magashule’s authority has been dimmed somewhat. At the very least, it demonstrates that he does not have the power to follow through with what he appeared to be promising in his statement of last week.

If there is one thing the ANC’s communication machinery has become good at, it’s confirming what every voter knows, without actually naming names. This time is no different. The NEC refers to its intention to restore the unity of the party before saying that it “recognised that there is certain persistent behaviour, particularly at leadership levels, which undermines this programme. These include factionalism, untested and wild accusations, use of social media to attack each other and policy positions of the ANC, leaks to media and taking the organisation to court without first exhausting internal processes.”

As anyone on Twitter knows, NEC members like to spend time fighting with each other. If it’s not Tony Yengeni tweeting pictures of the ANC constitution and claiming it will be “thrown in someone’s face” before an NEC meeting, it’s Finance Minister Tito Mboweni lambasting those who want to change the Reserve Bank’s mandate (or just learn how to cook). Soon before the NEC meeting, Zuma tweeted that he believed Hanekom was a spy, with no evidence to back up his claim (this brings to three the number of people that Zuma “believes” are or were spies that he appointed to his Cabinets).

Despite this context, despite it being obvious who is being discussed, the NEC – because of the politics of the situation – cannot bring itself to name names. While it is not the only political formation in the world that has had this problem, it gives the impression it is too weak to grasp an important nettle.

The balance of power also appears to be shifting slightly even when it comes to the situation around the SA Reserve Bank (SARB). Magashule had put intense pressure on Ramaphosa’s faction by saying the mandate of the bank should change and that there should be “quantity easing” as part of our monetary policy.

In the end, the NEC simply appeared to copy the text of the Nasrec Conference’s resolution, “to return the sovereignty of this important national institution to the people of South Africa as a whole”. But it then went on to balance out the political factions by quoting the Constitution and the fact that the SARB has operational independence.

In other words, the situation appears to have not changed in this regard. Which again suggests that Magashule has not been able to have his way – at least for the moment.

Such is the situation in the ANC that it appears a movement that was able to win the liberation of this country is unable to solve the governance problem that is e-tolls.

The debt that was incurred by the government for Gauteng’s highways continues to rise, and the percentage of people who pay to use the highways appears only to fall. This situation is not going to improve. The Gauteng ANC has pushed consistently against e-tolls, to the point where it has held protests against its own national leaders. Mboweni has said that the user-pay principle must apply, and people who use infrastructure must pay for it. Talks to find a solution to this problem are supposed to be underway.

Mboweni may have more political power than previously thought. While he was derided by some leaders for his statements (again, this ended up on Twitter), the NEC itself called for both “an expedited solution” and affirmed the “user-pay principle”.

None of this makes sense. A cake cannot be both had and eaten, yet the party appears to be trying to do just this. The situation will not improve, a solution will not appear out of thin air. The scale of Eskom’s losses and the problems in other SOEs means there is no money to repay the e-tolls debt. And the users will not pay. Wishing it will not make it so. Which means that the situation is likely to get worse before any solution can be found.

The main issue facing South Africa, the huge and increasing unemployment rate – it hit an 11-year high this week of 29%, with youth unemployment at 56% – is another example of a problem it appears the ANC cannot resolve.

While the party does talk about this problem and calls on all South Africans to be “part of this national effort to accelerate inclusive growth and transformation”, no solutions are offered by the NEC. Again, jobs and the economy appear to be a victim of the party’s inability to make economic policy.

While there are many reasons for this most important of problems (and a problem that entrenches racialised inequality), it is up to the ANC as the party that won the elections to find solutions. So far, it has failed to do so.

Worse, no solutions are on the horizon.

Unless there is some unforeseen (and unforeseeable) wave that bolsters the global economy and picks us up with it, the number of young people sitting without a job, with hope turning to despair, is only going to rise.

However, some form of economic policy could be implemented once the internal power battles in the ANC come to an end, or if one side gains ascendance. While the past performance of this NEC is not necessarily an indicator of future economic results, Ramaphosa making some progress would be great news to many.

Magashule’s repeated missteps around media statements, his apparent inability to make good on his own promises, and Ramaphosa’s ability to stop any major policy changes (even if they are included in Nasrec resolutions) indicate that Ramaphosa is gaining ground.

If it continues, this process could lead to improvements in governance. Ramaphosa has said he wants to create two million jobs in the next 10 years and to eradicate poverty within a generation. He will be aware that it is on these issues he will be judged.

The situation in the ANC is such that making any hard and fast predictions is foolish. At the moment our politics give the impression of chaos. Creating order from this chaos is difficult. There now seem to be small glimmers of order. They are vulnerable and can be dashed at any moment. Stay tuned, stay very, very tuned. DM

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