Tired of the shenanigans of Julius Malema and his red brigade as well as sending a clear message to his internal adversaries in the ruling party, ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa did a most unusual thing on 31 July, the last day of Nelson Mandela’s birth month. On the final evening of a two-day ANC lekgotla, Ramaphosa addressed the nation on television.
In a pro-active and decisive move, he decided to appropriate the issue of land reform from the Economic Freedom Fighters and enemies within his party and made it his rallying cry for his election campaign 2019. No doubt the battle to win the hearts and minds of South Africans for the 2019 national and provincial election is moving into top gear.
Ramaphosa may have had enough of the ANC playing second fiddle to the loquacious EFF and decided that as leader of the ANC, he was reclaiming the dominant role his party has played in South African politics. The fact that Ramaphosa spoke to the nation immediately after the lekgotla instead of leaving the matter to party Secretary General Ace Magashule to hold the traditional press conference the day after, is significant.
Ramaphosa also felt it necessary to clarify who the party boss is after he and Magashule sat in opposing factions at the Nasrec conference the previous year. He boldly seized on the sensitive and politically significant issue of expropriation of land without compensation and made it his business. It is common knowledge that there is no love lost between the ANC president and his secretary general.
In what he calls a “stimulus package to ignite growth in the economy, especially in townships and rural areas”, Ramaphosa outlined in some detail what the ANC will do to stimulate economic growth through land reform. This is a political master stroke. In an act of brinkmanship, Ramaphosa has directly linked economic recovery to land reform, outlining in detail measures that government would take to support especially emerging rural farmers. For far too long the ANC government has failed to provide support to emerging black farmers that would give them a fighting chance to compete with apartheid-empowered white commercial farmers. Should Ramaphosa’s initiative be taken to its logical conclusion, the ANC would definitely neutralise the EFF’s edge over the ruling party.
For far too long the ANC has allowed the red berets to punch far above their weight. Ramaphosa feels the time has come to put it beyond doubt who the real bull is in the South African political kraal.
There is no doubt that Ramaphosa, emboldened by just having hosted the globally significant Brics summit and having shared the stage with Barack Obama at the Nelson Mandela centenary celebration, has calculated that the time has come for him to show the way both in the party and in the country.
Ramaphosa is undoubtedly sending a message to his internal adversaries and company that the president of the ANC is the ultimate leader of the organisation and that henceforth the announcement of major decisions by the party will be made by the boss and not the secretary general, who made it clear after Nasrec that the party would in five years be returned to the cabal that led and looted the country under the leadership of Jacob Zuma. In a sense, Ramaphosa is giving notice to his underlings as to who is in charge of the party.
Ramaphosa’s late night television address was also an unusual act of impropriety — having concluded that the parliamentary land expropriation review process had overwhelmingly supported expropriation of land without compensation, Ramaphosa is uncharacteristically not prepared to wait for the parliamentary process to run its course before his next move.
His strategy is to neutralise the EFF and disarm the opposition in general in the countdown to 2019. In one fell swoop, the Buffalo has left his adversaries inside and outside the party breathless and panting as he surges forward to reclaim his position as the undisputed leader of the ANC and the Republic of South Africa.
The battle for 2019 has begun in earnest. Ramaphosa is determined to be the pace-setter in the titanic struggle to reclaim first position for South Africa’s leading liberation movement.
“The ANC will, through the parliamentary process, finalise a proposed amendment to the constitution that outlines more clearly the conditions under which expropriation of land without compensation can be effected. The intention of this proposed amendment is to promote redress, advance economic development and increase agricultural production and food security. It will also transform the country’s spatial realities in urban areas.” This is vintage Ramaphosa giving expression to the carefully worded ANC conference resolution on land reform and giving direction to the whole country.
Left-wing romanticists dreaming of a land grab in South Africa similar to that of Zimbabwe will be defeated through a controlled process of meaningful land reform.
From the first day of August 2018, the parliamentary opposition in the country must prepare itself for a battle royal with the ruling party as Ramaphosa ups the ante in what is billed as the most difficult election campaign for the ANC since the dawn of democracy. Not so long ago a Sunday newspaper had a screaming headline “I am not weak”, alluding to Ramaphosa. The allegation about weakness has its origin at Nasrec where Ramaphosa won the presidency of the ANC with the smallest of margins against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Ever since, he has been dubbed a weak and indecisive ANC president leading a team contaminated by his internal adversaries like Ace Magashule and Jesse Duarte and Zuma supporters who run the ANC on a daily basis as its secretariat. This is truly a tricky situation in which those who reign supreme at Luthuli House are alleged to be undermining the authority of the party president, who spends most of his time at the Union Buildings.
By addressing the media immediately after the lekgotla and before the traditional press conference hosted by Secretary General Magashule, Ramaphosa was asserting his authority as supreme leader of the party.
The ANC is a mess. Emerging from a brutally factionalised national conference in December last year, the faction generals have failed to honour a ceasefire but chose to go underground and engage in an ongoing cold war while preaching unity. Despite boring and unconvincing public protestations that post-Nasrec the party is striving for unity, the divisions run as deep as they were before Nasrec. The treatment that Ramaphosa received when he closed the controversial KwaZulu-Natal conference less than a fortnight ago is a case in point.
For those who do not know, Ramaphosa is a calculating and gifted politician. He has reckoned that the only way the ANC can regain the strategic initiative it lost to the opposition is to go for broke. Instead of leaving the constitutional amendment to the political loudmouths in the EFF, he has chosen the route of a smooth and democratic constitutional amendment process led by him as the father of the South African constitution.
What Ramaphosa is doing is to remind the DA and land-owning whites that there is a provision in our liberal constitution to democratically amend any clause, as long as due process is followed. Even in the US and elsewhere in the world there have been amendments to the constitution without much hullabaloo. In South Africa, strangely, amending the constitution is frowned upon. Ramaphosa, as the man who led the constitution-making process, wants to control a smooth constitutional amendment process that, while bringing about social and racial justice in the country, does not upset the markets and foreign investors. That’s the main thrust of the Ramaphosa initiative.
With the demise of Jacob Zuma, the DA and EFF have lost their trump card in Parliament and elsewhere. While the DA is is fighting its own internal battles, while the EFF has been desperately trying to find a new Zuma in the ANC.
Ramaphosa is not Zuma, but a successful businessman and shrewd politician. The fact that Ipsos has produced a poll report placing the ANC at above 60% of voter support last month is mainly due to faith in Ramaphosa’s ability to reverse the destructive legacy of Zuma and usher in a new era of economic recovery. This does not bode well for the opposition parties and explains why Malema recently launched an unprovoked attack on the president and his billionaire brother-in-law Patrice Motsepe. Ramaphosa’s speech after the lekgotla was essentially announcing his fightback strategy as he seeks to lead the ANC to victory in 2019.
It will be interesting to observe how the EFF and the DA will respond to a bullish Ramaphosa determined to take on an opposition that had a field day under the ruinous Jacob Zuma.
Ramaphosa has defined this moment as his and has sent a clear signal to his internal and external adversaries. The Cyril who helped bring the mining industry to a standstill in apartheid South Africa in 1987 and led the Codesa negotiation process that ended with a democratic breakthrough is still alive and kicking. His message is simple: never mess with the buffalo, you will be gored.
Let the games begin. DM
Sello Lediga is a social commentator, author and CEO of the Thuma Mina Movement.