South Africa


Ramaphosa’s potential game changer? Only if there’s a strong follow-up

President Cyril Ramaphosa, left, and ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule. (Photos: Leila Dougan)

Despite what appears to have been breakthroughs at the ANC’s NEC meeting, it must be remembered that the recent history of the party is littered with examples of where decisions have been made, but there has been no follow-through.

The decision by the ANC NEC that anyone facing formal criminal charges must step down from both their government and party positions has the potential to be a game changer in the ANC. Coming after such a long and difficult process for the party, it could mark the beginning of real change.

The road to such a moment is still long and very winding, and it will possibly be blocked by the political rockfall of implementation. It should never be forgotten how long it took the ANC to get to this point, to understand what potential dangers could still lie ahead.

The first announcement that Monday night’s briefing would be critical was the statement, on ANC media WhatsApp groups, that it would be addressed by all six national officials. While this has happened in the past, it is very rare, and an indication of the need by the party’s leaders to show unity.

Then there was the confirmation that Bongani Bongo was stepping down from his position as a member of Parliament, and as chair of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs. Considering that in March this year he had strongly denied a suggestion that he lacked the moral legitimacy to occupy those positions because he’s charged with corruption, this is a major change of wind direction.

However, it was also in the nature of these times that this briefing was by Zoom. And so we were treated to the sight of President Cyril Ramaphosa rushing to unmute himself, and the spokesperson, Pule Mabe, disappearing almost completely for a period of time.

Then there was the person who did most of the talking. Cyril Ramaphosa himself, Mr President.

This is also rare.

Generally speaking, since the ANC’s Polokwane conference, communication in the ANC has been under the office of the secretary-general. As the legal accounting officer, this is the person who speaks on behalf of the organisation. Thus, we have had Ace Magashule speaking for the NEC, and before him, Gwede Mantashe. Before Polokwane, communication came from the Presidency of the ANC (famously, the head of the ANC Presidency at the time, Smuts Ngonyama, declared that there were no divisions in the ANC… things are still peachy, apparently).

Ramaphosa speaking on Monday may have marked a return to that time. And it certainly marked the return of his political authority.

He outlined the measures the NEC has decided upon, which are critical to his stated intent to clean up the ANC.

The most important measures, as he read them out, are these:

  • Cadres of the ANC who are formally charged with corruption or other serious crimes must immediately step aside from all leadership positions in the ANC, legislatures or other government structures pending the finalisation of their cases. The officials, as mandated, will develop guidelines and procedures on implementation, and the next National Working Committee (NWC) meeting will review progress. In cases where this has not happened, such individuals will be instructed to step aside.
  • Cadres of the ANC who are reported to be involved in corrupt and other serious criminal practices must go to the Integrity Commission to explain themselves. Those who do not give an acceptable explanation may be suspended.

This would appear to be an important victory just on this issue alone for Ramaphosa. It would mean an end to the practice where people facing criminal charges in court represent the ANC in public positions, and in the party. It would also allow the party to avoid situations where people like John Block go through an entire trial while holding on to their position, and then only resign when they are finally convicted without a chance of successful appeal.

It would also end the practice of people like Andile Lungisa being able to hold on to their positions even after being convicted.

But the statement appears to go further, when it says that:

“Cadres of the ANC who are convicted of corruption or other serious crimes must resign from leadership positions and face disciplinary action in line with the ANC constitution.”

There is no date or discussion of when this takes effect. But if it does have a retrospective impact, that could make life a little difficult for Tony Yengeni, who was sentenced to four years in jail for his role in the Arms Deal (and carried to prison on the shoulders of Baleka Mbete… he served only four months of his jail sentence).

The NEC also says that:

“Guidelines on the ANC’s approach to internal leadership contests in elective meetings and conferences of the organisation will be developed, especially rules for lobbying and campaigning. This will take into account the organisation’s experiences over many years and will be guided by the overriding imperative to ensure that internal democratic processes protect the movement’s integrity and do indeed produce the best cadres to lead transformation.”

And this gets to the real heart of the contradiction in the ANC. Which, as has been previously stated elsewhere, is that ANC delegates at conferences will pass resolutions against corruption, but at the same conference elect someone who is corrupt to high office. Until this contradiction is resolved, it would appear impossible to fix this problem.

Then there are the other measures that are to be introduced:

  • The ANC will put in place a system for leaders to make regular declarations of financial interests to the organisation. Drawing on existing practices in Parliament and government, the system will need to ensure a proper balance between privacy and accountability.
  • Guidelines will be developed on ANC leaders and their families doing business with government and public entities. The guidelines will give due regard to the right of every person to engage in legitimate business activity while removing the potential for any ANC leader or member of their family to derive undue benefit from political access.

The idea of having some kind of financial declaration system is fascinating. Firstly, it would seem almost impossible for the ANC to do this, to hold details of its leaders’ financial holdings, without that information leaking. Would Ramaphosa be happy to give over all of his financial information to Magashule? And it would surely be Magashule who would have to deal with this same problem.

However, the guidelines that will now be developed around the dealings of family members of leaders look like a big setback for Magashule. He has said, “Tell me one leader of the ANC who has not done business with government”, and stated that there is no law prohibiting their families from doing the same. (Magashule was proven wrong by Daily Maverick’s Marianne Merten in this deep analysis.)

Ace Magashule claims nothing in law stops politicians’ families from doing business with government: Not so fast, SG

Now, he has been contradicted, in public, even by his own NEC. This is surely a difficult moment for him.

While it is almost impossible to judge the true feelings of a person from watching them on a Zoom call, Magashule’s body language did not contradict the impression that all of this was a massive defeat for him, and his faction. He has been publicly contradicted, and his claim that ANC leaders are “innocent until proven guilty” has been thrown aside by the NEC. They have resolved something completely different, that people must stand aside when criminally charged.

Certainly, in Ramaphosa’s view, this was a “fantastic meeting”.

However, the recent history of the ANC is littered with examples of where decisions have been made, but there has been no follow-through.

This goes back to the strategic position that Magashule holds. As secretary-general he can stymie, delay and frustrate implementation of most decisions. And it would be rational to presume that someone who believes people are “innocent until proven guilty” and that “show me an ANC leader who has not done business with the state” is not going to rush to implement something that could put him personally in great peril.

Remember, Magashule can only be removed by a conference, or through his own resignation. And he will be very aware of the precedents that are being set, should he be charged with corruption.

It may be for this reason that he has already stated that he believes that some law-enforcement agencies are acting in a biased manner. Ramaphosa was quick to answer a question about this in the briefing, stating that he would not accept bias in law enforcement. But the meaning of Magashule’s claims appears clear: he is worried that he is likely to be charged next.

However, those who believe that this is the time for rejoicing, like those who believe in saying Hallelujah, should be cautious.

A year and two weeks ago, in August 2019, the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal made what at the time appeared to be a truly significant decision: it removed Zandile Gumede from her position as mayor of eThekwini. It appeared, at the time, as proof that the notion that those who are formally charged with corruption must vacate their positions was finally taking hold in the ANC.

With Zandile Gumede’s removal, tremors of change reverberate from the KZN ANC

Now, 54 weeks later, the ANC is back in the same position, after many steps back.

Hair-raisingly, it was only the pandemic, and unprecedented anger over the PPE looting orgy that could force these decisions by the NEC.

And if it took a pandemic to get the resolutions passed, what’s the next calamity that will force actual implementation of these decisions? DM


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