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The election of Cyril Ramaphosa: From Buffalo to Black Umbrella, providing the shade for transformation


Dr Phillip Dexter is the Chief Operating Officer of NIH. He writes in his personal capacity.

The 54th Conference of the ANC was always going to be a surreal occasion. The outcome has left everybody flummoxed. The fact that Cyril Ramaphosa is the new President of the ANC can only be regarded as a positive outcome. He is a leader that has the ability to reposition and unite the ANC and to win back the public support. That he sits with structures that are by and large split between honest revolutionaries on the one hand and at best, inept leaders or at worst, alleged criminals on the other, as many have said, is far from good.

These elements will undoubtedly put pressure on the ANC President. It is what CR does from here on out that matters. His manifesto-for a ‘New Deal’, for a clean and corruption-free South Africa and for strong vibrant ANC, is what our country needs. The detractors of President Ramaphosa, unfairly, have dubbed him as being a ‘Buffalo’, after the alleged attempt he made to buy a rather expensive one of these creatures at an auction. To his credit, he has weathered this and other character assassination attempts with dignity and has even turned such labels to his advantage. Yet it is important now that as much as he transforms the ANC and hopefully our country, part of that transformation will be personal for him.

Few predicted a hung NEC between the ‘Premier League’ and the ‘Buffalos’. This happened because of the machinations of various people who have the money and the influence to put such deals together. The fact that they could not put a deal together that excluded CR is significant. His campaign also won the support of the broader public. An ANC without CR as President would be an ANC in opposition.

The balance of power that prevails in the NEC however, is a result of an ANC in transition. It could still go one of two ways – be a movement of the poor, the working class and the exploited, or be an organisation of the petite bourgeoisie and a corrupt one at that. The 54th Conference is a decisive step forward for the ANC, out of the morass of Polokwane, Mangaung, state capture, perpetual Presidential controversies and political hand-wringing. But for the process to reach its ultimate goal of a reformed, refocused, united, effective, radical ANC, the struggle continues.

Our history, that of a colonial country, has meant that fortunes have been made in the most violent and dramatic ways. We are not unique in this regard, but as a young democracy with a ruthless, coherent bourgeois class which silently trawl the system for super profits, it was inevitable that we would run the risk of going from Colonialism of a special type, to Neo-Colonialism of a special type. In truth, all the arguments about state capture and corruption have been biased in the sense that they have focused on state capture and corruption by black people. The Steinhoff debacle has shown that, no matter how bad the black petite bourgeoisie are, they are but amateurs at this game. People have been stealing stuff here since 1652. Land, water, gold diamonds and even people, have been stolen, abused, profited from, and then had it done to them all over again. In spite of everything that the ANC government has done, we are still the most unequal society on the planet. Inequality is one thing, but 40% of South Africans own no wealth at all. While there are a few wealthy black people who have ‘made it’, what they own is but a fraction of what the real owners have. While they go to supper at the homes of Stellenbosch ‘Randlords’, the reality is that there is no non-racial executive committee of the bourgeoisie in charge here. The Master is in the house and the Old Joe is in the field, picking cotton, just as he always was.

This political economy of post-apartheid South Africa has been the grist to mill of those who would limit transformation to imitating the neo-colonial masters. Instead of transforming our society, our economy, our polity, such elements have been focused on copying their bosses did – stealing, rigging, networking and the like – to get some for themselves. The name of the game has been ‘show me the money’. The failure of the ‘Left’ – the SACP, COSATU and radical revolutionary democrats – to propose and fight for an alternative to this reality, has been the single biggest weakness of the national liberation movement. Ever since 2006, when the SACP hitched itself to an individual called Jacob Zuma, this conference result was inevitable. The SACP has lost its vanguard role. COSATU has become a splinter trade union federation and the petite bourgeois have been laughing all the way to the bank they are robbing.

Ramaphosa-proposed ‘New Deal’, with some amendments, offers us a way out of this tortured loop of abuse and the pathetic imitation of a parasitic, racist, lazy, capitalist class. But to succeed, the ‘New Deal’ must be bold. It must reposition our county in terms of the economic model it has, in terms of the political dispensation and in terms of many aspects of society as a whole. The New Deal must forge a unity of purpose towards a common vision of a society free of poverty, inequality, unemployment, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia and many other phobias. The failure to transform society on an ongoing basis was brought about by the strategy of conservative people who seek to preserve the ill-gotten gains of colonialism and apartheid and their imitators who have argued that since the colonial and neo-colonial masters stole all this stuff, ‘it’s our turn to eat now’.

Chris Hani correctly argued that transformation was about transforming power, not simply seizing it. We witness the Guptas doing what Glencor has always done – using the state to subsidise themselves, Minister Lynne Brown doing what Minister Dawie de Villiers did – misusing state-owned enterprises, President Zuma doing what PW Botha did – abusing his office. This makes it clear that the failure to change the relationship between those in power and the masses, between the wealthy and the poor, is what has created the space for bottom feeders to rise to the top. In the course of this process, many have broken the law. The biggest test for the new ANC leadership will be whether it can bring these elements to book and make the face the ‘640 thousand 900million and 20’ charges they stand accused of.

As we look to the future, the specter of the 2019 elections looms large. If Cyril Ramaphosa does not want to be the President of the ANC who led his organisation into opposition, he must transform himself, as well as the ANC. His transformation from being like a ‘Buffalo’, peacefully grazing on the grass, minding its own business unless provoked, needs to happen,now. As the President of the ANC, he must now become the ‘Black Umbrella’, that gives us all the space and the protection in the shade to get on with transforming this country from a neo-colonial one into a modern, social democracy and with transforming the ANC from being an anachronistic liberation movement into a modern, disciplined, progressive force of the Left. DM

Dr. Phillip Dexter is a member of the ANC. He writes in his personal capacity.


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