South Africa

Analysis

Crunch NEC weekend: Zuma headlines an all-hands attack against Ramaphosa as meeting kicks off

Photo: Then ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa (R) and outgoing President Jacob Zuma (L) during the 54th ANC National Conference held at the NASREC Convention Centre

Former president Jacob Zuma has fired his salvo in the latest season of open letters in the governing ANC, accusing President Cyril Ramaphosa of implicating the entire ANC in corruption to divert attention from himself. 

If rumours were true that former president Jacob Zuma is still the hand behind ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule’s faction, then it is fitting that he would pen the ultimate missive right on the eve of an all-important special meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) in which the main topic of discussion will be what to do with members facing charges of corruption and wrongdoing. 

Perhaps it was not by chance that this letter was unleashed via Whatsapp on Friday afternoon, shortly after a decision was taken that former Ethekwini mayor and corruption-charged Zandile Gumede should take a leave of absence from her position as member of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, mere days after her swearing-in. Gumede is powerful in the ANC in the region and plays in Magashule/Zuma’s camp. 

But the letter, signed in his full names, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa (one who laughs while causing you harm) Mhlanganyelwa (someone who fights more than one man, or that people conspire against) Zuma, and copied to Magashule and chairperson Gwede Mantashe, is scathing. 

At the heart of its subtext it accuses President Cyril Ramaphosa of being an ANC outsider, a stranger to its codes and traditions, a kind of imposter – and even a traitor – who is using the party to prop up his business cronies and family, much like Zuma did in his state capture project.

Zuma casts himself, as always, as a champion of the “overwhelming majority”, the “rank and file members” of the ANC, who are “the poorest of the poor”, “ordinary working class members”, whom Ramaphosa implicates in favour of big business interests, or “White Monopoly Capital”, as Zuma prefers to phrase it.

Zuma’s 12-page letter – it’s not clear whether he did the actual writing, because the letter works better if read in his son Duduzane’s voice – comes five days after Ramaphosa penned a seven-page open letter to ANC members, saying the ANC wasn’t the only organisation guilty of corruption, but stood in the dock as “Accused No. 1”. 

Ramaphosa’s letter wasn’t only meant to rally support for his cause in the ANC ahead of this weekend’s all-important NEC meeting, but also to regain some trust from South African voters and the business community after it came to light that possibly billions of rands were passed under the table in corruption related to Covid-19 medical supplies.

Zuma makes it clear that his letter was only meant for “the entire leadership as well as the structures of our movement”, and that he would have preferred to engage “in a discussion within our structures, rather than writing a letter”. 

Ramaphosa’s use of “Accused No. 1” was always going to strike a raw nerve with the man who used to be nicknamed Number One before he was unceremoniously unseated by the incumbent on Valentine’s Day in 2018, and who has spent a fair share of time in the dock as an accused.  

“Mr President,” Zuma writes, “you are indeed the first President of the ANC to stand in public and accuse the ANC of criminality and that the ANC must be the accused Number 1 as accusations of corruption mount.”

He also said: “I view your letter as a diversion, a public relations exercise by which you accuse the entire ANC in order to save your own skin”, with reference to accusations that Ramaphosa admitted to raising funds to campaign for the presidency and to buy votes, something the ANC forbids. 

Zuma says Ramaphosa’s “Accused Number 1” statement is “devastating”, not because it reveals the extent of corruption within the party but, according to Zuma, because it was an attempt by Ramaphosa to destroy the ANC. 

Zuma takes it back to the founding principle of the ANC in 1912, “to free the African people from the bondage of colonial and white minority rule”. Ramaphosa’s accusing the entire ANC, “when it is us as individuals who undermine its legacy”, is a betrayal of its founding fathers and early leaders, Zuma writes. He goes further by implying Ramaphosa panders to white interests – something his detractors often accuse him of – and, more sinisterly, plays on the conspiracy theories that Ramaphosa managed to stay alive and out of prison during the apartheid years because he was a sell-out.

“You write, for your own desires, to plead for white validation and approval,” Zuma says. “With your pen, you desecrate the graves of young men and women who lived and died cruel deaths in the hands of apartheid security forces and mercenaries.”

Later in the letter Zuma cranks it up by referring to infiltration by enemy agents, or “izimpimpi”, but then implies that Ramaphosa has gone even lower than these because even they faced their charges alone rather than ask the ANC to stand in for their individual actions.

Zuma goes further by comparing what he views as the relatively gentle treatment Ramaphosa gets in the media against the scathing attacks against himself for his alleged corruption, implying that his wrongdoings aren’t worse than Ramaphosa’s, even though they’re portrayed as such. “Many, in white circles that are fond of you, and seek to minimize your errors, will fill their barrels of ink and sharpen their pens to condemn me for expressing my views,” Zuma writes.

He also hints at Ramaphosa’s paying of opinion-writers ahead of the ANC’s elective conference in 2017 at Nasrec by saying “some in the mainstream media hire opinion makers, to formulate negative stories, in order to divert attention from the issues I raise as it has happened in the past”. 

Ramaphosa has been media-savvy and has been treated with cautious optimism by the mainstream media, although Zuma fails to mention that an entire newspaper and television channel – The New Age and ANN7 – were founded and funded with government money to support him, as well the full control over the SABC that he enjoyed through Hlaudi Motsoeneng. 

At the heart of Zuma’s letter is the case Ramaphosa’s detractors have been building against him in especially the past week – the fact that he admitted to having raised millions and paid campaigners for his 2017 presidential campaign. “The ANC has repeatedly decried this phenomenon as foreign to its culture, policies and Constitution,” Zuma writes. “We all know that such donations amounted to sacrificing the historic mission of the ANC for 30 pieces of silver.”

Zuma also implies that the judiciary is stacked in Ramaphosa’s favour by saying it’s “unsurprising” that a judge in the North Gauteng High Court ordered that the file be sealed in which Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane submitted a list of Ramaphosa’s funders in a review application by Ramaphosa of her report into a R500,000 donation by late Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson. The EFF has recently filed an application in a bid to compel the court to open the file, which was sealed because it contains sensitive personal information.

Black First Land First leader Andile Mngxitama, who ran media campaigns against Zuma’s detractors in the past, brought corruption charges against Ramaphosa at the Hillbrow police station for this, while Nelson Mandela Bay councillor Andile Lungisa, who was forced to step aside after he was convicted for assaulting a fellow councillor with a glass jug, in an open letter this week also called for Ramaphosa to face the music in this regard. Magashule, in turn, has portrayed ANC resolutions about those facing corruption charges as including all those who face court action for wrong-doing. Should the resolution be interpreted in this way, Ramaphosa would be forced to step aside.

One thing Ramaphosa is, however, seriously lacking and which Zuma had in abundance, are supporters blindly willing to defend his person every time accusations mounted – even though Zuma in his letter claims that “I have faced [Arms Deal and State Capture corruption charges] alone, and have become the scapegoat as many of you continue to enjoy the riches that White Monopoly Capital continues to bless you with”.

Thus far, however, there has not been the same overt push-back from Ramaphosa’s supporters over the above accusations. Instead, many who are in his corner have complained that Ramaphosa’s actions so far haven’t matched the promises he made during his bid for the presidency to stamp out corruption once and for all. 

Zuma also writes that, not only are there people close to Ramaphosa also accused of corruption – such as the husband of his spokesperson, Khusela Diko – but that the ANC has failed to take steps against wrongdoing by Ramaphosa’s supporters, such as the party’s Eastern Cape conference that was rigged in Ramaphosa’s favour ahead of the Nasrec conference.

The final accusation – and a long-standing one – is that Ramaphosa has failed to implement the ANC’s resolutions on land expropriation, nationalisation of the South African Reserve Bank, radical economic transformation, free higher education (Zuma, in his capacity as president, made a public announcement on this on the eve of the Nasrec conference), job creation and poverty eradication. 

As soon as the Nasrec conference ended and the ink on the suitably vague resolutions was dry, there was talk that Ramaphosa, who won by a narrow margin and who ended up presiding over an NEC that was split almost down the middle, would be taken to task during the party’s national general council, midway between the five-yearly elective conferences, over the party’s resolutions. The national general council, which is a meeting of 4,000 to 5,000 ANC branch representatives and which is the highest decision-making body between conferences, couldn’t take place this winter as originally planned, due to Covid-19, and it’s not clear when and if it will happen. 

Ramaphosa’s fight against corruption, however, is proving to be the easier motivation for those who want to see him go before the end of his first term. The ANC’s previous failure to act even-handedly against wrongdoing in its ranks means this weekend’s meeting could end up in a logjam, again. DM

 

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