Opinionista Omry Makgoale 4 March 2018

Ramaphosa: Caught between political opportunism and morality

Cyril Ramaphosa's first reshuffle as President of South Africa reflects a balance between political opportunism and morality. The opportunism relates to what he considers best to keep him in power while retaining support from the polarised ANC slates that were heavily bruised during the Nasrec elective conference last December, with the Zuma/Gupta slate on one side and Ramaphosa's slate on the other.

Do you confront the bruised but still strong Gupta deployees such as Ace Magashule, Jessie Duarte, and Malusi Gigaba, and polarise the ANC with only little more than a year before the general election?

On the moral side, do you remove all those associated with the Guptas, all those facing potentially criminal charges from the various Cabinets – and get their wrath? Or do you lie low and replace them gradually?

Further, do we as the people of South Africa have the time for a slow, gradual replacement of corrupt ANC politicians before the general elections of 2019? Or will ANC members be campaigning alongside these former Gupta deployees, hoping the South African electorate will assume that after winning the general election we will clean up the Cabinet and the departments of state?

There is no middle way, and there is no perfect way. Can the ANC realistically hope that its candidate list for the 2019 general elections – compiled by Magashule and Duarte – will be received well by the electorate? Will that not be pulling it too far?

In the end, Ramaphosa will have to try to consolidate his power like a buffalo surrounded by a pride of lions. It is not an easy task by any stretch of imagination. Ramaphosa was given a radically flawed National Executive Committee by the Nasrec elective conference, when delegates chose a mixed bag of leaders consisting almost 50-50 of Guptas deployees such as Gigaba, Duarte and Magashule facing ANC democrats such as Joel Netshitenzhe, Pravin Gordhan and Derek Hanekom. It is like mixing fire and water. They cannot coexist. Water will evaporate when heated and fire will be deluged by water. If he is not careful, it is only a matter of time before Ramaphosa will be effectively displaced by the Gupta machinery.

For a politician to survive, it is more about acting decisively at an opportune time. Sometimes it involves patience, even under difficult conditions. We have to think of Ramaphosa over the past five years, watching as the Guptas took over the ANC and ran the government of South Africa while he kept quiet so as to avoid antagonising president Zuma. Only then did he get his chance.

The presence of Malusi Gigaba in Ramaphosa’s Cabinet – the man who prematurely gave the Guptas citizenship before they had completed the minimum of five years residence in South Africa – cannot be seen as an asset at this time by anybody except Ramaphosa himself. What about Bathabile Dlamini, Zuma’s president of the Women’s League and former minister of social welfare: the minister who ran South Africa’s Social Security Agency down to the ground? And Nomvula Mokonyane, the former minister who bankrupted the department of water affairs ahead of the worst drought in living memory. Such ministers offer the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance all the ammunition they need to shoot down the ANC. They are easy targets to humiliate and embarrass the ANC. But Ramaphosa saw the need to keep them on board. We can only hope he knows what he is doing, and that he has a strategy.

Ramaphosa clearly believes his biggest need right now is to maintain stability inside the ANC. Whether this will work, nobody knows.

The transition from Zuma to Ramaphosa was never going to be perfect. It is a revolution through reforms. Ramaphosa’s government is born out of Zuma’s government and there was always going to be some inheritance from the old government. It is not possible to discard all the bad things from the past at one go. Most of the bad things from the Zuma government will be phased out over a long period… if we are lucky. Unfortunately, all this happens at the expense of the ANC, and of South Africa, which continue to bleed as a result of the injuries inflicted through Zuma’s association with the Guptas and other crooks.

It will be up to the National Prosecuting Authority and the Hawks from the South African Police to help clean the government and the state. Most ANC politicians are so immersed in corruption that they cannot self-clean. Ultimately ANC politicians can only be cleaned by the people of South Africa through a reform of the country’s parliamentary electoral laws, so that 75% of MPs should be elected by constituencies (equivalent to 300 MPs) while 25% (equivalent to 100 MPS) will be selected by proportional representation and the party list in the same way as at present.

That is what the majority of the Slabbert Commission – appointed by Thabo Mbeki’s government – recommended as far back at January 2003, but nothing was done about it. The result was Jacob Zuma and the Guptas, with a captive parliament held hostage by the executive and the executive kept hostage by a corrupt, neo-colonial, foreign clique.

After all our struggles and sacrifices, how did it come to this?

At no time in its 106 year history has the ANC covered itself in such a terrible disgrace. It is way over time to clean up the mess.

Under the present electoral system, parliament has been helpless because MPs are constitutionally not accountable to the voters, only to their party bosses. The EFF is just as bad as ANC when it comes to removing MPs from parliament if their leader doesn’t like them any more, as when Julius Malema sacked four EFF MPs in 2015. Even the former DA MP, Raenette Taljaard, accused her leader Tony Leon of demanding “unquestioning loyalty and assumed support for his positions in debates and internal caucus votes – something I was not able to give at all times”.

As Zuma’s removal of brave and principled Makhosi Khoza showed the nation last year, there is no protection for moral conscience in our top-down parliamentary system, which makes impossible the independence of Parliament.

In complete opposition to this undemocratic political system, South Africa needs a true Parliament in which the legislature can hold the executive to account, not like the present slavish charade of puppets and toys of Luthuli House.

There is no way to realise the promise of the Freedom Charter – that The People Shall Govern! – without radical democratic reform of our failed electoral system, which delivered South Africa and the ANC into this abyss of shame, like captives, through a bribe in brown envelopes.

If he was wise, Ramaphosa would go to the people with a campaign for the wholesale cleansing of Parliament along the lines of the Slabbert Commission Report.

It is not just a new Parliament we need; it’s a new electoral law. DM

Omry Makgoale is a rank and file member of the ANC. These are his personal views

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