South Africa

ANALYSIS

The Zuma-Ramaphosa political marriage was of no convenience

Former Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Nasief Manie) | President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Felix Dlangamandla) | Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Scott Eells / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

It is clear now that Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa did not trust each other while serving as president and deputy president, respectively. Could the same situation be repeating itself, this time with President Ramaphosa and Deputy President David Mabuza?

During his testimony to the Zondo Commission, President Cyril Ramaphosa revealed for the first time that in December 2015 he threatened to resign over then president Jacob Zuma’s replacement of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene with Des van Rooyen, shedding a lot more light on events that almost directly led to Ramaphosa’s victory at Nasrec in 2017. It also highlights just how difficult the relationship between Ramaphosa and Zuma must have been during that two-year period. 

And yet, despite this, in public the two claimed to be working together, while the ANC denied divisions within it. It is clear that this was not true. But it also shows how quickly things moved, from when Ramaphosa became deputy president of the ANC in December 2012, to threatening to resign just three years later. And if this was the relationship between South Africa’s president and deputy president during that time, it raises questions about the relationship between our current president and deputy president.

When Zuma finally resigned as president on Valentine’s Day 2018, this writer started his report by suggesting: 

“And so it came to pass that the process which started the moment Mr Jacob Zuma fired Nhlanhla Nene as Finance Minister on 9 December 2015 culminated in a speech that saw him fulminate and fume, and lie and distort the truth once more.”

This was because there was a direct line between Zuma’s decision to fire Nene in 2015 and his loss at Nasrec and then his forced resignation as president. 

December 2015 was when Zuma revealed for all to see that he was acting for interests other than the ANC. His mistake was to act without the backing of the National Executive Committee. 

On Wednesday Ramaphosa made a statement to the Zondo Commission in which he explained some of the events that followed Nene’s firing. He said, “Shortly after Mr van Rooyen was sworn in, then director-general of National Treasury, Mr Lungisa Fuzile, asked to meet me urgently. He expressed grave concern, based on his interaction with the new minister and his advisers, about the impact this development would have on the ability of National Treasury to properly exercise its functions. 

“Concerned by what I considered the ‘capture’ of National Treasury, I contacted ANC Deputy Secretary-General Ms Jessie Duarte and indicated that I would resign my position as deputy president of the republic. I believe that that message was conveyed to the then president.”

This was a major threat to make. If Ramaphosa made such a threat and then failed to act on it he would have had a busted flush and would have had no political power thereafter.

In the end, his threat to resign must have had some impact.

But the full impact is difficult to assess, as Ramaphosa was not alone in the ANC in opposing Zuma’s decision. It is well-known that the then ANC treasurer, Zweli Mkhize, played a key role as well. But it does appear that Ramaphosa must have been a central part of the decision to insist that Pravin Gordhan be appointed in Van Rooyen’s place.

It is true that there were very few candidates available who were both in the ANC and who would be accepted by the markets. This all occurred over a weekend after banking shares had dropped by nearly 20% on the JSE on the Friday before, and the rand was due to resume trading again in Asia late on Sunday night. The announcement of Van Rooyen’s removal and Gordhan’s reappointment was announced on Sunday evening.

But by insisting on Gordhan, Ramaphosa might have known that he would then be able to play the role he did against State Capture. And that Gordhan would be able to use the Treasury to prevent as much of it as possible. When Gordhan himself was charged with “fraud”, Ramaphosa offered his “political and personal support” to him.

This leads to the question: if it is clear now that Zuma and Ramaphosa did not trust each other while president and deputy president, could the same situation be repeating itself? 

This also raises the question: if Ramaphosa had the power to play a major role in forcing Zuma to rescind his appointment of Van Rooyen, then what other power did he have? Did he have the power to prevent State Capture? Did he use all of that power to try to prevent it? If not, what does that mean for his claims now that he wants to reform the government and renew the ANC?

This gets to the heart of starting an assessment of Ramaphosa’s decision to remain in government and resist from within. But that can only have been the correct decision if, in fact, it was successful. 

As Ferial Haffajee points out, Ramaphosa spoke out against State Capture only twice during five years. 

Ramaphosa spoke up against State Capture only twice in the five years of grand corruption

Was that enough? Did resisting from within help him achieve ultimate state power and become president, making it a self-serving act?

The timing here is fascinating.

Ramaphosa’s threat to resign was made in December 2015. He had been deputy president of South Africa only since 2014, being elected deputy president of the ANC at the Mangaung conference in December 2012. 

It is clear that Zuma wanted him to be his deputy. As Qaanitah Hunter recounts in her book Balance of Power, the now suspended ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule had to convince Ramaphosa to make himself available. 

This means that the relationship between Ramaphosa and Zuma, such as it was, broke down very quickly.

It also meant that for the next two years, from December 2015 until December 2017, Zuma was president while he knew that his deputy was working against him.

But in public there was a concerted deliberate effort to hide all of this.

Just three weeks after Ramaphosa threatened to resign and the ANC’s top leadership moved against Zuma, everyone involved put on a show of unity in public. The images of the ANC’s 2016 January 8th Statement show how they all pretended to be working and celebrating together.

It was a good show.

And it was a show that was maintained probably until Zuma’s final reshuffle at midnight on the last day of March 2017.

This leads to the question: if it is clear now that Zuma and Ramaphosa did not trust each other while president and deputy president, could the same situation be repeating itself? 

After all, this has happened before. It was clear from 2005 onwards that President Thabo Mbeki and his deputy in the ANC, Zuma, did not trust each other either.

Now David Mabuza is the deputy president. He has said virtually nothing of significance in public during his time in this role. Almost all of his public appearances have been answering questions in Parliament; he has answered questions from journalists only in brief statements, with no proper questioning possible.

He has also been out of the country, receiving medical treatment in Russia for undisclosed health problems.

This makes it difficult to assess the relationship between Ramaphosa and Mabuza. In fact, it may be argued, it makes it difficult to assess whether they have any political relationship at all.

This may be significant, because the ANC has developed a tendency to devolve into fights between two factions headed by two different people (in 2007 it was Mbeki vs Zuma, in 2017 it was Ramaphosa vs Zuma). 

A proper assessment of Ramaphosa’s role in our politics, and whether or not he was right to stay in Zuma’s government, may only be possible after more time has passed. It is certainly self-serving to claim there is a moral argument to staying in an allegedly corrupt government with the aim of becoming president. But, if your presidency really does lead to proper reform, perhaps such an argument can be accepted.

For the moment, it is still too soon to tell. DM

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All Comments 16

  • I think that time will tell and a strong leader will emerge which happens to c0-innceide with new new thinking from a new society.

    • The biggest problem is that it might be too late to placate a youth movement that has had enough of what is, i.e. the status quo, and that we have created is what they’re going to inherit. They, no doubt, feel that they can do better with modern technology and will do so if given the opportunity to. Let’s free up the market and see where it goes..

    • My first reaction to your comment was; Give me some of what you’re smoking.
      But I know you’re serious and that would be rude. I think many of us dream of a strong leader to step in and take over, but that is so far from likely at this point that it doesn’t warrant consideration. As Charles Parr responded, it would be great to let a younger generation come to the fore, but SA politics have always been dirty, if nothing else. As long as the DA hangs on to Zille, there’s no option on that front, Mashaba throws meaningless barbs from the side and the Good Party does nothing, let alone good. That leaves the EFF – enough said.

      • Have a look at the brand new party, the UIM. This party has a very strong leader in Neil de Beer who has the correct struggle credentials. He has the ability to reach all constituents in South Africa and hopefully bring unity.

  • Again the ANC seems closer to a mafia organization than anything else, complete with internal subterfuge, yet near total amnesia when asked anything that may portray the organization negatively, no matter the cost to others.

    • Indeed. But it is to late for CR and his beloved ANC to do any spinning successfully. Although a large portion of its kniving will always remain in the dark, they have already been exposed as a Mafia organisation par excellence. This fact cannot change.

  • I would trust that rogue thug, Mabuza, if I were cr, only as far as I can see him – and even then, right under your nose, he’d be up to something sinister. A visit to Russia for alleged “medical” reason that will never be disclosed? The visit just happened to coincide with a few days prior to the coup/”uprising”? He has uttered not one word about what occurred in his “absence”. But of course, we the people, will never know the answers.

  • The problem with all this speculation about other influential and competent people as well as other parties “saving South Africa” is that for 100 or so years in this country the general populace has voted with their hearts and not their heads. Even in the UK the Brits voted with their hearts for Brexit, and not their heads. The Trump supporters are another example of this tendency, so where do we find the “leader” to stir people’s hearts?

  • Everybody must be heartily tired of all the cloak and dagger politics of the ANC- it seems a pointless exercise of second guessing every move the governing party, or its deployees, make. Probably the saving of South Africa will come not from a single party( and certainly not the morally bereft ANC) but from groupings of civil society working alongside one another.

    • Problem as I see it that taking practical politics into account, I cannot see any other Party getting enough support to become the government. So, as you say a coalition is necessary. Once again problem is with who? I sincerely hope that Julius’ Party is not part of any coalition, and apart from the DA the others are very small. Optimum would be for Cyril’s faction of ANC to coalesce with the DA. Am I hoping for too much?

  • The only reason Mabuza has any legitimacy, is because the ANC has a ‘system’ of ‘representation’ which makes this possible. Find enough ‘supporters’ to promote your candidacy (irrespective of competencies) and you can be elected into senior positions ! The problem with CR is his belief (mistaken as it may be) that the ANC is the only rational ‘ruling’ party for this country. He should take a closer look at what happened to another much older congress with equally outstanding original credentials – the one in India … and see what has happened to it ! What has replaced it is even more frightening (though popular!) … so beware of what change we wish for ! As for the many calls for ‘strong’ leadership – I hope you aren’t thinking of the Trump, Putin, Xi, Modhi, Erdogan, Boris et al variety – enough testosterone !

  • What I never understood was how it came about the ANC leadership battle was between Zuma/Ramaphosa and Motlanthe/Malema (if my memory is correct). It left a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea – Zuma or Malema. The option were equally frightening, as the reality panned out to prove.
    So how did the ANC machinations work? Why was there no thought given to Motlanthe/Ramaphosa as a team?

  • The concluding view about the morality of serving in a ‘compromised’ government is a difficult one. Given the context of CR apparently being a person of ‘independent wealth’ … suggests or points to the possibility that his motives may not be ‘materialist’ at least ! Though not the most important criterion for leadership, it is more than most other candidates can claim.