Opinionista Ian Von Memerty 2 February 2018

Ramphosa’s incredible balancing act

Will South Africa be better under Ramaphosa than under Zuma? Undoubtedly. Will the ANC be better under Ramaphosa than under Zuma? Hhmm – maybe.

If you are reading this it is highly likely that you are one of the chattering classes about politics (as am I). And we chattering classes smugly pride ourselves on being informed, well-read, global, objective and clear-eyed. So the elevation of Cyril Ramaphosa to the status of South African Saviour and Saint over the last six weeks has been fascinating to watch. It is a self-interested and deeply emotional response. “Only you can relieve of us of our burden, and save us from disaster.”

And while the Pending President has shown the wealthy gathered at the wailing watering holes that he will indeed stop South Africa from hurtling over the abyss into endless recession, junk status, and post-colonial apocalypse, this will merely mean that business class and first-class travellers of our country will be back in the pound seats (so to speak). For the vast majority of ANC voters, there is almost nothing that he can do in the next 15 months that will make their lives better. They will still feel the same as they did six months ago. Forgotten, used and betrayed.

The train wreck of Jacob Zuma’s South African Presidency is coming to an end. Among many disasters, he leaves a country with an economy straining and close to breaking point; he leaves more South Africans unemployed than ever before (most of whom voted for him); he leaves students with a lower standard of education than at any time since 1994; he leaves the courts cluttered up with cases pending against him, his family, his political associates, his business partners; he leaves our State Owned Enterprises sucking blood out of our national fiscus like dehydrated vampires.

This roster of democratic disaster could not have been done by one man alone. JZ was only able to do this because the ANC elected him, supported him, enabled him, and either abetted him in his multiple crimes of incompetence, or stood silent, or quietly muttered from the sidelines. Why did they do this? Because he could deliver them power at the ballot box. He knew ANC voters, he knew how to speak to them, he knew what motivated them, what kept them true “to the faith”. But, the ANC’s slide to just 54% of the national vote in the 2016 municipal elections was an indicator that the master manipulator had lost his grip. And the ANC has followed him down a narrowing alley around a dark corner where awaits a worse fate that any party can imagine, the loss of its base.

So the fact that Cyril Ramaphosa has come in and behaved like a national leader (witness his debonair billionaire to billionaire smoothness at Davos, his smooth chess board reshuffle at Eskom, and unleashing of the Hawks) in the last six weeks tends to blind us to the fact that the ANC itself has not changed. The ANC NEC could not be more divided if the EFF and the DA had been allowed to vote for the individuals most likely to damage the ANC.

We have Ramaphosa and Mantashe, who have been one adulatory seat away from Zuma for the last 10 years, but who apparently have both had a Damascus like epiphany in the last six months – “the ANC needs to return to the values of its past”. We have Jesse Duarte, (whose every utterance I measure against her former boss Nelson Mandela and shudder with each comparison) and Ace Magashule, the man who creamed money off of dairy farming like a true Fat Cat, both of whom seem to be Zuma Zombies to the bitter end. Then we have Paul Mashatile and David Mabuza, whom it seems impossible to get any clear reading on, except that their respective former provinces seem equally glad to be rid of them.

Whether you like him or not, there was no more powerful leader or a more politically cunning being than Jacob Zuma. And to fix the ANC, Ramaphosa s going to have to out Zuma Zuma. He will have to be part faith healer, part army general, part emergency room triage surgeon, part educator and part seducer. And that is just for those entrenched people at the top.

His real test as ANC leader comes in the 2019 elections. His rallying cry is obvious – “the church of the ANC has cleansed itself, return all ye faithful to your true home”. But that song needs to be heard and be believed in the dust filled schools, ever lengthening lines of the unemployed, packs of worried pensioners, angry mothers, and despondent fathers who have heard it and believed it before and have been betrayed, repeatedly.

As for their children, who have not grown up in the faith and watched as the rich get richer and their lives don’t change – that old song is not going to sound nearly as appealing to them. Especially as they gather round the doors and watch the on-going celebration of the Accused and Convicted Criminals Club with Tony Yengeni, Mduduzi Manana, Bongani Bongo, Sylvia Lucas, Pule Mabe et al.

As political pundits have whispered about a possible Ramaphosa alliance with Lindiwe Sisulu there could be no clearer picture of party that has changed beyond recognition. Two mega-wealthy sophisticates that are a million miles away from the ANC voter – which is not where Zuma was when he started out from a far more powerful and popular base.

As state president, Ramaphosa will inherit long-term problems but there are institutions that can solve them so long as competent people are put in charge. And like the excellent conglomerate CEO that he is he will hopefully find those people, and they can start the slow work of restaffing, redirecting and recovery that each department will need to reshape our national future.

Running the national government with all the problems that need attention is going to be very difficult, but its going to be a lot easier than leading the ANC. It is a fractured and fractious push-me-pull-you organisation that cannot decide whether it should be going backwards or forwards. History shows us that its power as the first democratic liberation party is waning. Its elected leaders are all facing in opposite directions, pulling away from each-other.

Treat Zuma with dignity” seems to be this week’s ANC party political broadcast. But will its (ex)voters say “treat us with the same dignity that you treated Zuma”? While he is trying to heal South Africa, and he will certainly do a better job of that than Jacob Zuma, Ramaphosa may find that he has not dealt with the complex of tumours, parasites, cancers and infections affecting the ANC.

So the question is – on which presidency will he focus? Whichever way he decides he could win one and lose the other. DM

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