Coming to South Africa: Seven days that could make or break Cyril Ramaphosa
While the ANC’s National Conference in December is expected to be the climax of our political year, several of the defining questions about our politics and the strength of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership could be answered as early as next week.
While it is difficult to make predictions now, it could be that within the next 10 days, we may know whether:
- President Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to be re-elected for a second term, or;
- Ramaphosa is recalled, or;
- Ramaphosa has to resign.
It is rare in our democratic history to find such a wide spectrum that covers so many different processes, all of which relate to the President and could well determine his and South Africa’s short- and long-term political future, with all reaching their climax in the same week.
And yet this is what the political calendar suggests is happening.
First, this Friday (11 November), the ANC’s Integrity Commission is due to report back in a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting on whether it has made a finding against Ramaphosa over the Phala Phala forex scandal.
In another development, ANC Treasurer Paul Mashatile (in his capacity as acting secretary-general) has confirmed that on Tuesday next week (15 November) the party’s Electoral Committee will release the nominations received from branches. This should give a strong indication of how many branches are supporting each candidate for every position on the top six list.
And finally, as things stand, on Thursday next week (16 November), the panel chaired by former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo is due to report back to Parliament about whether it believes there is prima facie evidence that could lead to the impeachment of Ramaphosa over Phala Phala.
Pressure on the Integrity Commission
To begin with these issues chronologically, it is clear that the Phala Phala issue will put pressure on the Integrity Commission. But there is no evidence at all that it is prepared to act against senior ANC leaders.
In the past, its findings have simply been ignored or challenged in other ways. As its chair, George Mashamba, has previously indicated, the committee can appear to be virtually powerless. (Certainly, it has not appeared to act against any of the people implicated in the Zondo Commission report.)
Also, its powers are limited. All it can do is report its findings to the National Executive Committee. This means that even if it does make a finding against Ramaphosa, the decision about taking action against him rests with the NEC, which means it will be a political decision about the issues of integrity. This may be heavily influenced by the balance of power or the perceived balance of political power within the NEC.
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Revelation of balance of power
This balance of power could well be revealed by the publication, just a few days later, of the branch nominations results. This will show which contestants have received the highest number of votes for each position.
It is difficult to predict what will happen here, as there are literally thousands of branches and their nominations are sent to Luthuli House in sealed envelopes.
However, there is one important piece of data that we do have, which is that the provincial executive committees have said in public who they are supporting. If it is assumed that their wishes are fairly close to the will of the branches in their provinces, then we can start to make some predictions.
From what can be seen, many provinces are backing Ramaphosa, while KwaZulu-Natal and the National Task Team of the ANC Youth League are backing Dr Zweli Mkhize.
This process should also reveal who will be eligible to stand, as the leadership contestants have to be nominated by a province. It is entirely possible that certain people, for example, Cogta Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma or Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu will fail to get over that threshold.
This would mean they are out of the race by next week, with one caveat: they could still get nominated from the floor at the National Conference and are able to get 25% of the conference hall, which votes through a show of hands.
There are many possible permutations. It could be that while provincial leaderships in places like Gauteng back Ramaphosa, their members back Mkhize, or that branches will produce a scrambled map of top contestants.
On the evidence available to us at present, however, it seems most likely that Ramaphosa will receive the support of more than half of the branches.
Of course, any celebration by his supporters could be very short-lived.
A crucial report to Parliament
Soon after the contestants’ picture is known, the panel investigating Phala Phala for Parliament should report back and declare whether it believes there is prima facie evidence against Ramaphosa that could lead to his impeachment.
Technically, the panel submits its report to the Speaker, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. She is supposed to table it before the National Assembly for debate. But formally, it should become public before that, when it enters the Announcements, Tablings and Committee machinery within Parliament.
It may be important here to remember the question the panel has to answer, which is not about whether there is evidence of wrongdoing against Ramaphosa. Nor does it have to make a finding about what actually happened.
What it has to do is answer the question of whether there is a prima facie case for him to be removed from his post. And it may be that this becomes a very technical question based on tight legal definitions.
This means that its finding has to also be based on the grounds in the Constitution which could lead to him being removed. To oversimplify, these grounds are mental or physical inability, serious misconduct, or a serious violation of the Constitution or the law.
Then there is the evidence on which it has to make this decision.
So far, some of the parties involved, and particularly the African Transformation Movement, say they have given evidence to the committee — and Ramaphosa has provided a response.
But this is all founded on an affidavit by former State Security Agency head Arthur Fraser. And the panel will not have been able to question him or cross-examine his claims. This means they have only Fraser’s document to go on. It is not clear that he has provided verifiable evidence of his version, apart from the one document, and some of his claims have been challenged.
Meanwhile, Ramaphosa’s detailed response has not been made public. But he has confirmed that there was foreign currency on his farm and that it was stolen.
Considering he has refused to give any further details in public, it may be that he has simply told the panel very little and has not actually explained where the money came from.
If this is the case, then the panel may find it difficult to make any findings. On the one side, it would have Fraser’s claims with perhaps little proof, and on the other, not much information from Ramaphosa.
Considering the legal nature of the panel (two judges and an advocate) and the legal nature of the question, it is entirely possible that it finds there is no prima facie case to remove Ramaphosa.
Of course, if it did find against him, that would be political dynamite. While this would only be the formal start of a process (the ANC could use its majority to refuse to take the process further in Parliament, or even to form a committee to discuss his impeachment) he would possibly lose the moral legitimacy to continue in office and the calls for his resignation would regain strength and energy.
The timing of the release of the findings could be incredibly political. Whatever the panel’s decision, it would seem almost too powerful a decision to keep secret for long.
This means that Mapisa-Nqakula may be able to decide when and how the findings are released. Certainly, she will face strong demands for them to be released the moment the findings are handed to her. And this could give her a moment of political power over the President, simply because she can control the timing of the findings’ release as the ANC is considering whether to reelect him to office.
While it is entirely possible that some of these deadlines will be moved, or the ANC or even Parliament shifts its dates, it does appear that our politics, the Phala Phala scandal, and the ANC’s leadership election, are moving towards some kind of climax.
Stay tuned. DM