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Inaction is no longer an option – Fraser-Ramaphosa co...

South Africa


Inaction no longer an option – Fraser-Ramaphosa conflict marks new aggressive phase of ANC’s Forever War

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

This toothpaste is not going to go back into the tube again and the ANC appears to be entering a completely new phase of near open warfare in which President Cyril Ramaphosa has little choice but to go on the offensive.

The repercussions of the robbery at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s farm and his admission that it was not properly reported to police appear to mark the start of a new – near as hell to brutal – phase of warfare within the ANC.  

Obviously, the former spy boss Arthur Fraser’s goal was not to help the national interest but to help himself and hurt Ramaphosa. 

And while it is true that Ramaphosa is under pressure, it is also true that he has important advantages, particularly his incumbency and the power of the state. Despite the important questions he has to answer about his personal finances and why he appeared to have strained multiple legal boundaries, it is likely that it will be his enemies in the ANC who end up on the losing side. 

The crucial change may now be that he can no longer prioritise the unity of the ANC and the rebuilding of the state’s capacity, but must focus on expeditiously removing his enemies from contention.

Fraser’s action in publishing the details of the claims against Ramaphosa, and the opening of a criminal case against him is possibly the most openly aggressive political act against the President since he was elected as ANC leader in 2017. There appears to be no other incident in which the challenge was so clear. Nor has there been any other act which comes close to inflicting this level of damage.

If Ramaphosa wishes to stay in power, both as ANC leader and President, he will surely have to respond. Also, for perhaps the first time, he may now have to choose between his own survival and fighting to keep the ANC in its current form.

Put another way, he may have no choice but to dramatically weaken his enemies and take steps to bolster his own public support.

Or, as University of Johannesburg Politics Professor Mcebisi Ndletyana put it on Newzroom Afrika on Wednesday: “If this doesn’t knock some sense into him [Ramaphosa], I don’t know what else will. You need to be aware of the wolves in your administration. Arthur [Fraser] is a rogue of note.”

Beyond the roller coaster ride — whither South Africa?

Other presidents have found themselves in similar situations in the past, they have been under intense public pressure and survived.

The obvious example is Jacob Zuma. Despite the most intense public pressure, from as early as 2010, and the obvious impact his behaviour was having on the ANC, he was able to stay in power.

The same may hold true, for different reasons, for Thabo Mbeki. Despite his government being sharply criticised for its failure to provide antiretroviral drugs in government hospitals, he was able to exert his will (who can forget the Mpumalanga Health MEC Sibongile Manana, mother of Mduduzi Manana, claiming ARVs are poison).

This suggests that so long as the ANC is in power it is unlikely to move against a sitting President.

This is probably because of the entirely structural reason that the people elected into the party leadership ranks were elected along with their leader. If the leader goes, their own position becomes vulnerable.

This may also be further explained by the Mbeki recall in 2008. It was only after Zuma was elected leader, along with a National Executive Committee (NEC)  that backed him in 2007, that Mbeki became even remotely vulnerable.

This also suggests that the sitting leader of the ANC has important political power which gives them space in which to act if they so choose.

At the same time, it appears there is almost no risk of Ramaphosa losing the December ANC leadership election, short of having to step aside.

Already, the ANC provincial structures in the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga have signalled their support. Gauteng and North West will surely follow. It is not certain what will happen in the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, while the Western Cape is insignificant.

More importantly, despite this scandal, there is still no hint of a serious challenger who will go up against him.

Up until the forex scandal, Ramaphosa was often criticised not for what he did, but for doing too little. His sharpest critics were those who wanted him to act more decisively. It could even be argued that one of the reasons he may have been losing popularity was more because of his inaction than his action.

Now, inaction may no longer be an option.

This means it’s important to consider what could happen next and whether this would require direct action from him.

Considering what has been published about Fraser in the past, and the testimony against him at the Zondo Commission, it is entirely likely that he has other skeletons, smallanyana or otherwise, to put in the public domain. 

In his book, Two Minutes to Midnight, Oscar van Heerden details how Ramaphosa went on a daily walk at the Nasrec conference, and once, opened the door of a temporary structure to find what appeared to be a surveillance centre inside. After he asked what was going on, the centre was packed up and removed very quickly.

There are surely other incidents that Ramaphosa and his allies are aware of.

It must surely follow that these could, magically, appear in public.

Then there are the overt political acts that Ramaphosa could carry out.

Perhaps the strongest possible signal to show that he is in charge would be to perform a sweeping Cabinet reshuffle. To remove people who have opposed him, such as Lindiwe Sisulu, and those who are inept, such as Fikile Mbalula.

This would show that he is in charge, politically and legally.

But it would also show that he is prepared to act against those who are not performing – even if it were an overtly political move, he would gain strong public support.

Then there is the possibility that he could act in the ANC more directly.

It is obvious that people like Sisulu and Tony Yengeni are prepared to fight him at every turn. It is also clear that they do not have the numbers in either the National Working Committee or the NEC to move against him.

It may then be possible for him to go on the offensive against them, to directly criticise them within the ANC, to remind us of their previous support for Zuma, and to ask the question: Who believes that Yengeni, with a criminal conviction, is an ethical leader?

He could also take other, very public action.

It has long been lamented that the government appears unable to deal with the economy and to help create jobs for young people. If Ramaphosa, with his economic cluster ministers, were to be seen taking strong action on this, that might well grasp the public imagination.

Perhaps more important than Ramaphosa’s possible reaction to this is what may be done almost completely independently of him.

It is entirely possible that the Zondo Commission’s finding on Fraser suggests he is guilty of criminal behaviour. And that the National Prosecuting Authority is preparing to act against him.

For Fraser to be charged, and for those charges and his alleged acts to be made public would surely increase the public perception that his publication of the Ramaphosa robbery was inspired only by politics.  

While it is possible that Ramaphosa may be forced to act, it’s also true that there are some boundaries he cannot cross.

And while he must be confident of a victory in the ANC’s leadership election, it is still not certain who will be elected to the other key positions, including deputy president and secretary-general.

This means he may not want to lose any political capital that could make it harder to get his candidates into those positions.

It’s also true that the ANC as a whole is incredibly brittle, and Ramaphosa may be concerned that the entire edifice could fall apart if he pushes too hard.

But, all of that said, the key questions for Ramaphosa remain: Can he allow this kind of action to be taken against him with no response? If he does not respond, can he not expect more enemy action in the near future?

And if he does do nothing, how much does he really value the presidency? DM



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All Comments 8

  • If we go by action taken so far ……… the hawks will take 5 years to investigate, the case will be cleared in the integrity commission politically, Ramaphosa will perform the apartheid homily on multiple occasions on multiple platforms and for sure the police will not be making any charge. Maybe he tinkers with BEE to keep sandtonsoc happy. SAPS haven’t charged many that are far worse so this is a real run of the mill situations for Cele. Expect the same. This article above is about Ramaphoria and he is not that person. He does low key moves, papering over cracks, telling people what they want to hear and just going about keeping the creaky old South African state cranking along. Given the economic mess this might not be a bad strategy. Remember that cabinet reshuffle after 50 billion and 350 odd deaths???? If he does anything bold I will be shocked.

  • He should have shafted Frazer as soon as he took over. Along with the Publuc Protector, these should be the first out. Ramaphosa has dithered from day one. Africans like strong leaders he should know that. Zuma moved people in and out, so what’s his problem?

  • Ramaphosa is in for the fight of his life. If he is unwilling to battle with all he got, he is going to be toast. Unfortunately, his past performance and wishy-washy actions causes serious doubts of him being able winning this battle.

  • Just been with a client discussing the state of plumbing in this country and he remarked that we are a third world country slipping into a fourth world country! with this going on my client was absolutely correct and it does not apply only to plumbing!

  • I support Ramaphosa. The thought of Sisulu, Yengeni, Malema and Ace & co with their fingers on the public purse is too ghastly to comprehend. Why worry??

  • One crook calling another crook a crook… Grootes has again fallen short in not condemning Ramaphosa outright for being an ANC comrade more interested in himself, the party than long suffering South Africa. The sooner the ANC dies a miserable death the better for this long suffering country…

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