After almost 1,000 days as ANC president, President Cyril Ramaphosa finally took the political wheel of the party after a special ANC meeting to deal with corruption.
While it is usually Secretary-General Ace Magashule who communicates party decisions to the public, Ramaphosa took the unprecedented step of running the keenly watched media conference on 31 August.
Magashule was sidelined and literally muted (the televised media conference took place on Zoom) as Ramaphosa announced that all party office-bearers who faced charges would be made to step aside or resign. (Magashule can mangle and edit National Executive Committee decisions to suit his agenda as he did on the question of the mandate of the SA Reserve Bank.)
Ramaphosa reeled off an arsenal of measures to deal with the corruption besetting the party and the government it runs. The top-level items are:
A spring clean
The special NEC meeting at the weekend has allowed Ramaphosa to do a spring clean and the meeting also revealed that he had broad support to do so. The party’s national chairperson, Gwede Mantashe, revealed that NEC member Tony Yengeni, who was reported to have tabled a motion of no confidence in Ramaphosa at the weekend, had merely made a “comment”. Mantashe said the “comment” had no standing as nobody else on the party’s national working committee (a smaller part of the 80-member NEC) had supported it.
In addition, Ramaphosa made short shrift of former president Jacob Zuma’s 12-page letter to him in which the former leader said his successor’s strategy was fatally flawed and meant to cover up the corruption of his own administration.
“I’m not easily insulted. They say the highest tree catches the wind,” said Ramaphosa.
On Twitter, novelist Zakes Mda characterised the moment as “When it comes to the famous letter, I think President Ramaphosa is revising Michelle Obama’s playbook to ‘When they go low, we ignore them’ ”. Michelle Obama’s famous line about insults is “When they go low, we go high.”
Magashule’s claim that he is being targeted by security agents was met with a revelation by Ramaphosa that he too had faced similar targeting but that it would not happen in his administration. Both Justice Minister Ronald Lamola and Police Minister Bheki Cele have said that there is no truth in the secretary-general’s allegations, although he may have been referring to the Hawks.
Recently, the Sunday World reported that the Hawks had allegedly tried to get ANC MP Mosebenzi Zwane to implicate Magashule in the Estina dairy case. That case concerns the funding of a Gupta family agriculture project in the Free State which cost hundreds of millions of rand and which went horribly wrong. The net is closing on the perpetrators, as Rebecca Davis reported here.
Integrity Commission – the paper tiger to get real teeth?
While Magashule is in office, it will be difficult to get traction on the deeper anti-corruption steps that Ramaphosa outlined in his seven-page letter.
That explains why big parts of the campaign have been shifted to the Integrity Commission, a body which reports to the NEC and is comprised of veterans and elders.
The ANC constitution and the commission’s terms of reference give it ethical weight but not real power to sanction, since it can only make recommendations to the NEC, with whom final sanction rests. Ramaphosa said his view is that the commission’s findings should be made binding. At the same time, he referred himself (and the issue of how his ANC CR17 presidential campaign was funded) to the body. He revealed at the press conference that he had been asked to appear before the body before but had requested that it be done once the public protector’s probe into the funding was completed.
Magashule has also been summoned to appear before the Integrity Commission, shifting the action to the body headed by veteran George Mashamba.
The integrity commissioners are Mashamba (chair), Sophie de Bruyn (deputy chair), Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, Cyril Jantjies, Terrence Tryon, Sue Rabkin, Jenny Schreiner, Essop Jassat, Len Rasekgatla, James Nculu, Thandi Lujabe-Rankoe and Dikeledi Ntingane.
All are party veterans with long and storied histories in the ANC, but until their powers and functions are clarified, their reports and summons are largely ignored.
Ramaphosa’s stated preference for their findings to be made binding has now given it greater stature. The NEC will meet with the commission with a view to giving it better resources, too.
Is the fightback over?
The fightback by Magashule’s faction in the ANC has been downgraded from a hurricane to a spring shower. Speaking about himself in the third person, Ramaphosa said:
“The NEC said a choreographed campaign against the president will not succeed.”
For now, he might have added. The secretary-general has built a powerful office at Luthuli House where Nomvula Mokonyane (who was reportedly part of the weekend campaign with Yengeni and Zuma) and other wounded cadres also work. The charismatic campaigner has been wounded by evidence being led about her at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. Almost 1,000 days ago when he was elected ANC president in 2017, Ramaphosa said all he had won was a “beachhead”, which is defined in battle as a tiny position from which to stage an attack.
What this weekend’s special anti-corruption ANC meeting has shown is that he has now secured a larger perimeter to continue to fight from – but it does not mean the war is over. DM
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