South Africa


Five times Cyril Ramaphosa has put the party before the people — and why he has to stop

Five times Cyril Ramaphosa has put the party before the people — and why he has to stop
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

Advisory panel says Cabinet must take responsibility for July violence and that Ramaphosa must develop a national security strategy.

As he gets set to deliver his sixth State of the Nation Address since becoming head of state, President Cyril Ramaphosa has proven unable to break the ANC leadership pattern of putting the party before the people. 

This is creating instability for his presidency and a downward trajectory of growth, employment and investment for his country.  

At five crucial moments, he has made decisions that favour his position in the party over the law and the betterment of South Africa.  

Ramaphosa was elected president of the ANC in December 2017. Winning with a slim 279-vote majority, he said he was establishing a “beachhead”. He has used the politics of accommodation to extend that position to execute his reform mandate.  

This has meant it has become an unworkable structure by accommodating different factional interests in his Cabinet. The expert panel report into the July 2021 violence, chaired by Prof Sandy Africa, says a divided Cabinet catalysed an incoherent response. 

“It is very clear that different government leaders had different interpretations of what was unfolding, and this resulted in a poorly coordinated response. Ministers differed with each other; there were differences between some Ministers and the officials reporting to them.”

A group of elders convened by Africa and her co-panellists, Mojanku Gumbi and Silumko Sokupa, said the July riots had been a “spectacular governance failure”, while other veterans of the security services said the events had presaged the question of state collapse.

The report found that “poorly rolled-out programmes of service delivery and unacceptable living conditions, the state of the economy, and the persistent levels of poverty, served to provide a ripe environment to light the tinder box that was the incarceration of former President Zuma that led to many poor and desperate people joining in the looting, alongside those more calculating in their objectives and motivation”.

July riots, 2021

In the immediate aftermath of July’s “failed insurrection”, Ramaphosa used strong language, saying no stone would be left unturned in finding the masterminds who stoked the violence and looting for which more than 300 people perished and which stripped R50-billion in GDP.  

 The latest figures from the SA Property Association show that 2,362 stores were looted and the economy lost 3,217 jobs. Most retail, banking and construction company results that have come out since have detailed the extent to which the July violence impacted on the economy and forestalled investment. 

To date, not a single mastermind has been netted — a few social media mavens have been arrested and charged, and the investigation appointed by Ramaphosa into the intelligence failures which led to the violence has not been heard about since. 

Hundreds of people were arrested and released on bail, but the National Prosecuting Authority has never provided a detailed briefing on progress or prosecutorial strategy.  

The report on the violence says “the ANC admits that some people inciting violence were their members and called on them to put a stop to the behaviour, but it is unclear whether their disciplinary action was taken against such members”. 

It is common cause that former president Jacob Zuma’s arrest and jailing on contempt of court charges was a political catalyst for the riots and looting, and that branches, members and structures of the ANC were involved.  Once this became clear, Ramaphosa took his foot off the pedal and left all stones unturned. 

The National Security Council was unprepared for the violence. 

“The National Security Council had not been sitting regularly before July 2021 despite warnings from NICOC (National Intelligence Coordinating Committee) that 2021 was going to be a particularly volatile year.  

“This is concerning, given that it was clear that there was heightened mobilisation for protests… As the tug-of-war around the Constitutional Court case of former president Zuma unfolded, tensions kept rising, especially on the political front,” the report found. 

Cabinet must take overall responsibility for the events of July 2021, and the National Security Council must work much more effectively, said the report. 

“The question that remains is whether the National Security Council has, subsequent to the riots, sat down to conduct a deep analysis of what happened, why it happened, who was behind it, what their ultimate goal was, or why the country faces constant instability, and related questions.” 

The panel found there was a “culture of lawlessness” in South Africa and that the authority of the state had been eroded without any visible plan to respond.  

The graphic of the president’s National Security Council shows that crucial positions remain unfilled: The coordinator for intelligence and the head of domestic intelligence positions have been vacant for months. The suspension of Robert McBride, the director of foreign intelligence, is shrouded in silence.  The Secretary of Defence Gladys Sonto Kudjoe was named at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture as having been, in her former position, part of the network that captured the intelligence structures, but she remains in a strategic role.  

The Minister in the Presidency, Mondli Gungubele, is now responsible for intelligence after his appointment in January. There is no clarity on what this position entails or how Deputy Minister in the Presidency, Zizi Kodwa, fits into the picture. Ramaphosa has not resolved the politicisation of intelligence or clarified its opaque operations because it is too politically costly to do so.  

“The possibility that the faceless people behind this attack on the State were aware of the weaknesses of the security services makes the task of rebuilding a credible and professional intelligence service even more urgent,” said the Sandy Africa report. 

It added that “… business leaders urged the President, given the negative impact on investor confidence, to assure investors that government is acting urgently to address the security, law and order and intelligence weaknesses identified…”.  

The report also said that “the ANC’s internal differences should be addressed as a matter of national security now”. 

Medical parole for Zuma — September  2021

In September 2021, then Correctional Services Commissioner Arthur Fraser overrode the opinion of the medical parole appeals board to grant Zuma a get-out-of-jail-free card. Before making the decision, Fraser informed Ramaphosa of his intentions. The president did not object. His people put out the rumour that Zuma was on his deathbed while, in fact, he was in rude health. 

The reason was clear. Having Zuma behind bars was politically damaging to the president. A December appeal judgment ordered the former head of state back to jail to complete his contempt of court sentence, but he appealed against that ruling. The decision to grant Zuma medical parole, with Ramaphosa’s acquiescence, means that Zuma — the man at the centre of State Capture — is very likely never to face prosecution in that regard. 

Hostage-taking, October 2021

In October 2021, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Thandi Modise, her deputy Thabang Makwetla and Mondli Gungubele, were taken hostage by scores of ANC MK veterans.  

It took police intervention to get them released — 56 veterans were arrested and three injured.  Since then, Modise, Ramaphosa and Gungubele have refused to communicate on the hostage situation. 

Journalist Rebecca Davis reported that the hostage-taker who led the group works for the eThekwini municipality, while 43 have criminal records. The former fighters rebranded themselves as the Liberation Struggle War Veterans after the ANC disbanded the MK Military Veterans’ Association. This portends the creation of a political force such as that formed by ex-combatants in Zimbabwe. They are used as a paramilitary group by Zanu-PF whenever authoritarian leaders require the execution of a pet political project. 

SAPS Commissioner Khehla Sitole, ongoing

Almost four months ago, Ramaphosa instructed Sitole to inform him why he should not be suspended.  

Crime is entirely out of control after Covid ravaged the economy. Burglaries, robberies, cash-in-transit heists and murders have reached and, in some cases, exceeded record levels. Policing has failed. 

But because Sitole was appointed by Zuma and has support in the security structures still loyal to him, he hasn’t been moved. The failure to keep citizens safe — while the party wins at the expense of the state — is played out in the most macabre fashion in the political theatre that is criminal justice mismanagement.  

The Sandy Africa report found that Sitole failed to give Police Minister Bheki Cele a threat and risk assessment, or early warning report, ahead of the July violence, despite crime intelligence being put on alert in June ahead of Zuma’s imprisonment.  

The report found that the police service had been “overwhelmed” because public order policing did not have adequate resources. Also, the rivalry between Cele and Sitole was a potential risk. 

“It must be said that the Minister of Police was scathing in his criticism of the SA Police Service,” the report finds. 

The report says the police decision to illegally buy grabbers to listen in to conversations at the ANC’s 2017 conference still divides the cops. Sandy Africa’s team heard reports that members of the SAPS and elements within the State Security Agency may have been involved in the looting.  

Leaked voice notes from the ANC’s executive suite 

In December 2021, edited voice notes from the ANC’s National Executive Committee were leaked.  Journalist Stephen Grootes transcribed and analysed them.  

Politics and recordings — the latest RET claim might inflict pain on the ANC — but no legal bother for Ramaphosa

The context for the leaks is the factional war in the ANC which continues to rage after five years of Ramaphosa’s policy of appeasement. Now he faces an investigation by Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts — those voice-notes suggest Ramaphosa knows that state funds are used to fight ANC battles.  

Ramaphosa’s presidency has weakened from a solid start to a slow fizzle.  

One of the reasons for this is that he has a constant eye on renewing his mandate at the ANC elective conference slated for the end of 2022.  

The strategy of putting the party first and the country second has backfired. Ramaphosa now has very little time to turn things around. DM


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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Karsten Döpke says:

    It is now abundantly clear that we cannot rely on the government or other state institutions to curb the rot, the only way is a concerted effort by civil society to pursue convictions etc. Getting upset about the latest revelation is no longer good enough.

  • Paul Savage says:

    Isn’t it amazing that not a single person in the so called “security cluster” has put his/her hand up and said: Yes, we stuffed up, we were caught asleep at the wheel, but we have a plan to make sure this doesn’t happen again, here is that plan. Accountability is zero, and Ramaphosa either has very little power to force accountability, or no will to improve the situation. Either way, he is pathetic.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    The choice is stark, President Ramaphosa, you either face down the many rotten members within your cabinet, within your ANC, within your security cluster, within the armed forces, within the police, or our country – our country, Mr President that belongs to all of us – continues to disintegrate.

    A “better life for all” vanishes into thin air, destruction of institutions gains pace, hallowed institutions of higher learning get burnt and destroyed at an even faster pace and hospitals reduced to ashes.

    But there is another way, Mr President, and you know this. It requires courage and leadership – it requires putting South Africa and all it’s peoples first. The question has been asked, Mr President – are you brave enough to now act – even at this late, last hour

  • Steve Otoole says:

    Has there being a capable leader since the so called dawn of democracy ?

    • Carsten Rasch says:

      You are implying that there were capable leaders before the ‘dawn of democracy’. The only leadership act worth mentioning was the one that led to the ‘dawn of democracy’.

      • Lawrence Jacobson says:

        Well said Carsten Rasch. The myth of pre-Democracy excellence can only be seen if I ignore the slaughter, destruction, dispossession of the majority of South Africans that served as paving stones on the road to so-called success.

        • cjg grobler says:

          Just repeating the drivel that has been fed since 1994 ; do you really know the facts?

          • Kanu Sukha says:

            Off course … only you do ! How amazing you are … Sir, which in my woordeboek in the 60’s translated in the Bosman and Kie version as ‘witman’ !

  • Patrick Devine says:

    The National Security Council – you would struggle to find a more incapable, incompetent, bunch of failed politicians if you tried.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    All anyone has to do, is look around at the physical manifestations of the state to realise that it has been failing for decades. The ones employed by the state have no capabilities other than their political affiliations, and do no even comprehend that they owe their jobs to the ones keeping the state afloat. That’s us, by the way, the people. Ramaphosa and his little cabinet of horrors are the only ones to blame, because he got his ticket to lead based on a ‘new dawn’ – a new dawn of what? We should have asked, because it surely ain’t of the country. We really must know by now that the ditherer will not lead us out of this mess. Only we can rectify this mess.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    I always believed that a major cause for the mess the country is in was the President’s dithering. Reading all the assessments of the special report it appears that his sheer incompetence is the main reason the country is stuck in this morass. Only civil society can safe this country, provided it acts as a collective.

  • Peter Doble says:

    Even a blind man can see the state of this nation. The question is – how long before it completely falls apart?

    • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

      It has already fallen apart. The full feeding trough (Tax payers who keep on paying) remains, so the anc will keep on feeding.

  • virginia crawford says:

    I can’t believe the courageous Cyril of the 80’s is now so spineless. Get rid of the crooks, the communists and incompetents: the country will be behind you. Sadly, this doesn’t seem likely. No one arrested for instigating the July violence – how is this even possible?

    • Charles Parr says:

      He had a different enemy when he was running a mining union, but even then, CR could not see that the mining companies had an income constraint by selling commodities into a market where the price was fixed by the market and not the supplier. Now his enemy is his own people and he’s battled he earn respect because he comes from a small tribe and has never occupied a traditional leadership position. When he considered challenging Thabo Mbeki for the leadership of the ANC in the late 1990s he was told ‘you’re not one of us’.

    • Sam Joubs says:

      I can fully understand why it has come to this. Back then it was sufficient to complain and blame. Now they actually have to do something.. Not only is that a bridge too far, the bridge was never built.

  • James McQueQue says:

    Shame on you Ramaphosa. You had so many backers but have thrown all their goodwill away.

    How arrogant are the ANC though, trying to play us for fools, thinking they are God’s gift to South Africa. They also refuse to acknowledge any progress made pre-1994 and are trying their hardest to write(burn) it out the history books.

    • Sam Joubs says:

      Maybe they are God’s gift. Looking at the general state of affairs on a global scale, God is very much useless and incompetent himself. Assuming if course that there is a god.

  • Colleen Dardagan says:

    So many reports and yet so little is being done. Ramaphosa better step up at SONA, although I am not holding my breath that’s for sure. Perhaps we should all stop paying our taxes. I mean, isn’t that something you can do if you live in a small town where services aren’t being provided? Put the Rates into a bank account and then the private sector takes over the management of the town?
    Sannieshof comes to mind.

  • Tony Purchase says:

    Ramaphosa hasn’t put the party before the nation. His puppet-masters have.

  • Lawrence Jacobson says:

    President Ramaphosa should look back at the term of PW Botha. He also rose to prominence, and in some respects united a portion of white South Africa, on the idea of reform. But then he balked. A split within the Afrikaans community and the rise in popularity of the CP, HNP and AWB was too big a mountain for him to climb. Left out on a limb, he ended up allowing the securocrats and kragdadigheidto try and restore control.

    I admit that this is a simplistic analysis or retelling of the PW years. I do think that for Ramaphosa though, there are lessons to be learned from this time.

    In 2019, many South Africans who had stopped voting ANC, myself included, voted for Ramaphosa and reform. By 2021, the failure to implement this reform showed in the ANC disastrous LG election results. The losses Ramaphosa is scared to hasten by moving forward will be won back by those who have turned their backs on a corrupt, inefficient and floundering ANC.

  • Robert Morgan says:

    How can Cyril not observe the writing on the wall. The ANC has demonstrated time and time again their inability to govern literally anything. I’m amazed that they haven’t managed to do the one thing that they might just be able to do – hang themselves. The amount of meterage they have grabbed with their greedy little claws should surely be enough to entangle the whole miserable bunch in a noose tight enough to garrotte every last one of these miserable, self-serving imposters.

    • Paul Savage says:

      No, they’ve managed to do another thing quite successfully: Steal all the money. What a bunch of criminals. If the NPA wasn’t so pathetic we might be in with a chance.

  • Robert Morgan says:

    How can Cyril not observe the writing on the wall. The ANC has demonstrated time and time again their inability to govern literally anything. I’m amazed that they haven’t managed to do the one thing that they might just be able to do – hang themselves. The amount of meterage they have grabbed with their greedy little claws should surely be enough to entangle the whole miserable bunch in a noose tight enough to garrotte every last one of these appalling, self-serving imposters.

  • Rg Bolleurs says:

    Shameful. We don’t have a government in this country.

  • Leslie Stelfox says:

    I am shocked!

  • Mark Hammick says:

    The list above is incomplete; how about the number of times CR voted for JZ in the numerous votes of no confidence in that cesspit known as Parliament?

  • Johan Buys says:

    The scariest part is how our democracy determines who is president. If you capture the branches and their million or so members, then a congress of these branches chooses president of ANC and that is our country’s president.

    So actually plus minus 1m decide and that branch structure is corrupt as hell and easy to capture.

    All this will change when the ANC splits and the saner part joins with other political party like ActionSA. It is a great pity that the UDF got disbanded.

  • Peter Worman says:

    What’s not mentioned is the role big business has played in the destabilization of our country. Who was bribing the politicians and thereby corrupting both sides? This started way before 1994 and was firmly entrenched by the time Mandela came to power – remember the Arms Deal? Big business in general has been extremely quiet for the past 30 years and have continued to reap record profits. Some of them gallantly handed back the spoils of their corrupt activities yet no further action taken. We truly are a gangster state where the law is there to protect the rich and powerful and to crush the poor. And the ultimate irony is that these businesses are ranked number one by the Institute of Business Ethics for their formal aspects of business management but are extremely tolerant of accepting unethical behaviour as inevitable in the workplace. Seems if you can’t beat them join them.

  • Mike King says:

    “Thuma Mina” you bragged, we did and you acted like the rest.
    Time to say goodbye Mr President….

  • Sandra Goldberg says:

    Seems we have reached the last outpost, and nobody, in government, including the President, seems to see the urgency.The bloated cabinet is not likely to save us ,we who have been duped by a spin doctor with his tantalizing promise of a New Dawn. Unfortunately, the latter has changed into a New Night. The only ones who can save this country are ourselves- big and small business, religious organizations, NGOs, academic institutions , and ordinary people. We can organize. Petition, crowd fund, even March. If nothing was done to correct the July violence, if no one has been brought to book, why should we think that it will be different now?

  • Amanda Landman says:

    To be put in a position of “intelligence” – you actually have to be intelligent…

  • Shane Kennedy says:

    “a culture of lawlessness” indeed… Just look at the questionable Cabinet, never mind the National Security Council with multiple allegations against them, but without investigation or prosecution.
    With lunatics running the asylum how could South Africa be anything but lawless. Unfortunately the President won’t or can’t do anything about it.
    The ANC has honorable members such as Gigaba, Zuma (all of them), Zizi, Bathabile, McBride, the rapist mayor up north, eThekwini mayor now in its provincial leadership, Lindiwe, fraud & corruption cases all over the place, sexual harassment and assault against members without any action, BOSASA, SASSA, SAA, Eskom, Denel all defunct and bleeding SA tax money and so forth and so on…
    Tough times, call for tough action Mr President.

  • Peter Dexter says:

    It’s clear that Ramaphosa has put the party ahead of the country repeatedly, but it’s not surprising due to the structural problem of 1,4m ANC members appointing him, and having the right to remove him. He either dances to their tune, or he’s out. They are the beneficiaries of cadre deployment and resultant corruption, so it’s impossible for the president to clean up South Africa for the remaining 58 odd million citizens. His corrupt membership would merely remove him. No matter how good the man may be, the structure renders the president a puppet. In theory, the citizens would vote the party out at the next election, but educational standards are so low that a very large proportion of our voters have no real understanding of the difference between the party and the state, the secrecy of their ballot, functioning of government, or basic economics.

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      Your …and many other observers comments are pertinent … but none seem to answer the question of what will follow CR … assuming he decides to resign/walk away/step down (which he can literally ‘afford’ to) …. a Juju presidency ? Apologies to (reference) opinionista Ismail Lagardien !

  • Jimbo Smith says:

    Ramapromisa’s legacy will be summed up very simply…a man who sat alongside Zuma for 9 years and said NOTHING! A man who thinks endless, hollow, meaningless talk spiced with pathetic cliches and all manner of promises is the solution! A man who has presided over catastrophic failures in his current term in terms of economic ruin, record unemployment, local government implosion, SOE debacles beyond belief, crime soaring to unprecedented levels, theft and corruption by his comrades on a scale not seen on planet Earth before. And he is about to deliver a State of the Nation address!!

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