South Africa


Who’s in charge of SA — ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula or President Cyril Ramaphosa?

Who’s in charge of SA — ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula or President Cyril Ramaphosa?
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Vitalii Nosach / Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images) | ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

Who runs the country? The ANC secretary-general or President Cyril Ramaphosa? The confusion between party and state has defined South Africa’s politics for 30 years, creating instability and confusion.

Take the past fortnight. The newly minted party secretary-general Fikile Mbalula said at the weekend that the ANC will remove Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan if there are no tangible improvements in the transport utility Transnet, hobbling the economy at a pace equal now to Eskom’s death knells.

But Cabinet ministers are appointed by Ramaphosa, who has not said anything about the party boss’s threats. This shows that party deployment is still superior to the Cabinet accountability system.

Last week, Mbalula warned the SA Reserve Bank that it wanted the cost of living to come down. The SA Reserve Bank’s independence to set monetary policy is constitutionally protected. However, this has never stopped the governing party from taking repeated potshots at the central bank. SA Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago ignores the political rhetoric. Still, it needs clarification about South Africa’s mores and how committed the ANC is to the Constitution that it helped birth.  

The country does not need more confusion in a precarious moment where rolling blackouts, the logistics crisis and a challenging global economy have put South Africa on a precipitous edge. 

In China, Xi Jinping is also the secretary-general of the governing Chinese Communist Party, so the issue does not arise. But in none of South Africa’s comparator countries does the head of a governing party steer so far into governance. You would not, for example, even recognise the name of India’s BJP party secretary (BL Santhosh). These roles generally involve managing the party machinery and running elections. In the ANC, the secretary-general also sits with the President to decide Cabinet positions. In the past, this official has also broken the news to members who have lost their jobs. Over the terms of successive ANC governments, it is a role that has grown in power to the extent that it risks overriding the function of the country’s President. 

The role confusion spreads like a virus into the rest of the Cabinet system. This week, for example, the Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel (with the party’s labour ally, Cosatu) asked the US to renew the Agoa trade agreement worth $28-billion ahead of schedule. At the same time, wearing her party hat, the Minister in the Presidency, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, took a broadside at a nefarious neo-imperial order (including the US) at a BRICS party summit. (Read business leader Busi Mavuso’s summation here).  

Read more in Daily Maverick: After the Bell: Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma on those dastardly banks and why BRICS is our only saviour

In the energy sphere, it needs to be clarified whether Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe is equal to the two other Cabinet ministers responsible for energy or their senior. This is because he is also the ANC chairperson.  

President Cyril Ramaphosa is conflict-avoidant, and you never know quite where he stands. He prefers “kitchen cabinet” governance through more than 100 structures that crisscross government, business and civil society. (See City Press’ report on a research paper here.)  

Mbalula has seen and taken the leadership gap since he was elected party secretary-general in December 2022. With his braggadocio and hip-shooting style, he risks confusing the rest of the country, which is not au fait with the governing party’s particular culture and practices. 

A different opinion

We asked ANC spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri for her view on the two centres of power.

“We do not see a contradiction with two centres of power. The governing party receives a mandate from the electorate and its manifesto gives direction. It must rightly [therefore] oversee the performance of government. It is a time-tested method and there is nothing untoward in this. There is nothing untoward about the secretary-general expressing an opinion. It wasn’t a case of managing performance [of Gordhan] in the media; he was expressing an opinion about the performance of a [party] deployee [Gordhan). Fikile Mbalula is a very forthright person. The President is nominated by the ANC and all of them [Cabinet] are subject to the ANC.” 

Bhengu-Motsiri said the ANC is finalising a performance report on all its employees in government. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    ‘It is a time-tested method”

    I would agree. And it has visibly failed every meaningful economic test since 1994.

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    Frikkie, in my humble opinion, does very well in his new role as the ANC head clown. He looked the part at the ANCWL conference.

    • Peter Holmes says:

      That beanie was something else. ANC branded merchandise too, by the look of it. Apparantly Frikkie has an extra, extra, extra large headgear size.

  • Eric Pelser says:

    I’d advise our President to start up a task team to advise on terms of reference for a Working Group to negotiate the need for a formal Commission to engage on a
    mechanism to enable a platform for further negotiation on consultation with stakeholders and and other interested parties, especially those representing gender concerns

  • Robert Morgan says:

    Does it really matter which of these two buffoons “runs” the country? The good news is that if it’s left to Fix Fokol, then the ANC’s days are truly numbered. Along with Sputla and Number Two Pauly Blue Lights, this Clown Car is filling up nicely and with any luck headed for a very steep cliff edge not too far in the future.

    • Peter Hartley says:

      Robert, if this were a foregone conclusion, we would all sleep well but unfortunately a large percentage of the electorate believe everything the ANC will tell them before the elections -helped along by a tee shirt or two and a promise that will never be delivered.

  • Andile Mjwara says:

    Clearly, this is a culture thats prevalent at the anc hence why phosa hasnt taken any strong measures (thats assuming he has any teeth).

    But nevertheless the question is somewhat irrelevant, opinions are just that and everyone is entitled to them. When lula begins taking decisions on behalf of phosa, i.e., signing crucial docs, thatll be problematic.

    Still lula is making a clown of himself, which begs the question: was he the anc best candidate for SG?

  • Peter Oosthuizen says:

    Does it matter/ They’re both worse than useless.

  • Denise Smit says:

    To me it seems SG is styling himself on J M or is preparing to work with him or outsmarting him. The populist rhetoric is getting more and more as well as the show off style. he will wear the black North Korean suit J M wore yesterday soon. D Z attack on banks and the energy minister anti green energy stance all cause confusion about who is in charge. The ANC is the most divided ever and poor CR has to try to do PR to keep AGOA agreement. Can anybody still believe anything that anybody in the ANC says? Denise Smit

  • Hermann Funk says:

    None of them; they are both useless.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    I would argue that neither is in charge of SA – we’re rudderless, leaderless and sinking fast. Ramaphosa has abandoned South Africa in search of a global relevance that doesn’t give a damn about him, and Mbalula is out of touch with everything, inhabiting the self-congratulatory lunatic fringe of his own ego, and basking in its glory.

    • Jimbo Smith says:

      Fixfokol was in charge of Transnet…a mess costing our economy billions in lost revenue, taxes, jobs. And he sits in Luthuli House making outrageous statements indicating that not much thought before he sprouts forth. What does the World think about our special clowns and unique ciscus? Actually, nothing. They have lost interest. Most South Africans are desperately clinging to hope. The 2024 election is the final line in the sand!!!

    • Steve Stevens says:

      Ramaphosa has abandoned South Africa in search of quality cattle you mean.

  • T Mac says:

    “The President is nominated by the ANC and all of them [Cabinet] are subject to the ANC.” Really? The opposition members too?

  • Hiram C Potts says:

    Stealers Wheel summed it up: “Clowns to the left of me Jokers to the right, here I am……”

  • Bradley Welcome says:

    “The governing party receives a mandate from the electorate and its manifesto gives direction.”
    This statement underlines the fact that South Africa is a government of the ANC for the ANC. Little wonder that South Africa is failing if not already failed. Your cannot have multiple accountable entities for 1 output. Responsibilities can be shared but there has to be only 1 person who gives answer and therefore is responsible for coordination of all the time players’ input.

  • johanw773 says:

    Any party that can stumble through all these embarrassments without feeling shame must be immune to the concept of disgrace and dishonor.
    Such a party will not hand over power to anyone, regardless what happens at the ballot box.
    Very few people seem to want to face up to the fact that the democratic experiment has failed spectacularly in South Africa, as it has elsewhere on the continent.

  • Soil Merchant says:

    The tail wags the dog …

  • Mark O’Malley says:

    Read up on the NDR, then it all makes sense.

  • Libby De Villiers says:

    Does it matter who sits on the throne – neither of them can run anything and it has always only been about the power to the party.
    Mbalula makes sure the mayhem is still on track here while Cyril is taking things to a next level, sucking up to Putin.

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    In communist one-party states, it has always been a constitutional principle that the Secretary General, as spokesman for the Central Committee, is the actual dictator. This has also been in the DNA of the ANC from the very beginning. It is solely due to the decline of the Soviet Union that the ANC became such a System could not build.

  • Gerhard Vermaak says:

    I have been asking this exact same question since Mbalula became SG, he seems to be shooting his mouth off every other day regarding government business, so why aren’t more people asking what is going on, the silence regarding this matter is deafening!

  • Gordon Bentley says:

    The “LOUDMOUTHED LULU” aka “Mr Fix Fokol”, “Mr Do Fokol” with “Fokol Qualifications” to hold down the important portfolio of SG for (our) South Africa thinks he is a gift to RSA. What an embarrasment. His only claim to fame is that he lead the Anc Youth League, a long time ago. As I remember, I think, he achieved Fokol in that position.
    Now, it appears he is taking over decision – making from Ramaphosa, making a lot of noise as only an empty vessel can do.
    What were the Anc government thinking when they left him in the SG position for want of looking for a better candidate. This must be Cadre deployment, by default, of the worst kind.
    Preserve us all from this ridiculous clown.

  • Rae Earl says:

    Ramaphosa is floundering. Mbalula is floundering. Mashatile is floundering. The ANC is floundering. The Cambridge Dictionary says it all: ‘Floundering. To experience great difficulty or be completely unable to decide what to do or say next’. And they all do it so well…

  • Brian Doyle says:

    Here we have 2 of the most incompetent fools-Mbalula and Dlamini Zuma trying to make an impression by sprouting the biggest amount of garbage. Mbalula especially has no right to attack Gordhan about Transnet when he was in charge of doing nothing at Transnet other than making the situation worse than when he took over. With Ramaphosa not reining these fools in he is doing the ANC no favours taking into account their falling ratings

  • Brian Cotter says:

    In a book “Don’t take shit from hyenas in the workplace” the following paragraph took my attention.
    “Proof of character can only be observed when someone has the power, albeit through a position in the workplace or money. What do you do when you have power? ”
    The book contends that the seniority of the position is not always the determining factor but the power over people.
    Can we thus assume with this article Fikile has assumed overall power or has megalomania set in?
    The book is written about hyenas and Fikile has assumed the role of Makhula hyena in the ANC.

  • Penny Philip says:

    Mbalula is a clown. It’s a complete mystery how he’s made it this far.

  • Bruce Q says:

    I have always thought that Frikkie Buffoonbalula would seal the ANC’s fate as their SG.
    Eish – the ANC must go!

  • John Stephens says:

    The ANC clearly sees the Executive as mere Party deployees and there oversees their performance. This contrary to the Constitution which makes Parliament the elector of the President, and cabinet appointments as the prerogative of the President. Cabinet members serve at his behest, not the party’s. It also conflicts with the constitution, as Parliament is the body that oversees the performance of the executive. Party apparatchiks have no standing in terms of the constitution.

    The problem originates from the USSR totalitarian party state, which is the real ideological informer of the ANC’s mindset. It does not help that our constitution gives such a prominent place to parties in our elected forums.

    • Botha Laubscher says:

      I agree. The definition of state capture read in essence something like: When important policy decisions are made by people that are not elected by the electorate. The ANC congress of 4000 people choose the President and Vice-President and decide all the policies and keep the ministers and MP responsible for the implementation of the policies. Our voting system also make the MP’s responsible to the party and not the electorate. This reduce parliament to a rubber stamp of the ANC decisions. What a joke is the constitution!

  • Antonio Tonin says:

    Amazing how fast it seems to have gone. Just the other day Fikile was a rabble-rousing youth league heavy, and now he’s a grey-haired madala. And he made that leap without gaining a shred of wisdom, apparently

  • Jose.correia says:

    “Fikile Mbalula is a very forthright person” Ah AhAh Ahahahah. Oh how the clowns stick together and waddle around the ring. Nothing but a distraction from the real performers.

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