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Ghosts of Bosasa and Trojan horses running in Election 2019


Susan Booysen is Director of Research, Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA), and visiting and emeritus professor, Wits School of Governance.

South Africa’s touch-and-go, on-and-off ‘Ramaphorist new beginning’ was on thin ice this week. While President Cyril Ramaphosa’s own small Bosasa nyana was on display, Minister Pravin Gordhan fended off innuendo and allegations of being tainted. These were chilling reminders of the tenuous, fragile character of the ‘transition’ under CR tutelage... and what Election 2019 may amount to.

The attacks on these two figureheads of the ANC’s attempted new beginning were crass reminders that the ANC’s Nasrec transition is not sealed. Rather, that battle is being fought in many post-Nasrec configurations. The bottom-line threat to the “transition” was, once again (as in the by now all but denied Maharani plot), an early post-Election 2019 ANC national general council to recall Ramaphosa.

It is a long and convoluted path that unfolds as the African National Congress tries to regain a semblance of a soul that can be presented to citizens and voters as the reinvented, transformed Ramaphorist new beginning. And it seems that ANC factions, in their continuous war of attrition, are hoping to have their cake and eat it: many are going with the flow of Ramaphoria rule, reluctantly and opportunistically, while commissions of inquiry bring some public accountability. By all appearances many Zumaists are positioning first to score in Election 2019 (by virtue of public endorsement of clean-up and accountability), and then step up to regain the ANC once an electoral victory is in the bag.

As this transition unfolds we see power shifting to and fro, repeatedly. Just as it seems evident that Ramaphosa has gained the upper hand in conquering the dark, Zumaist side of the ANC, there is slippage in his hold on power, courtesy possibly of Zumaists in intelligence circles who let slip the issue of the R500,000 from Bosasa’s deep pockets. It could very well be that it is a perfect tool to warn the clean-up squad to moderate their digging? Power threatened to slip away from Ramaphosa. Bosasa dented Ramaphoria: the supposed paragon of anti-corruption had received money from one of the most tainted of “patriotic capitalists”.

Quickly, in Ramaphosa’s favour, contexts fell into place. There is no political party in the country that is not tainted by dirty money. It had been known too throughout Campaign Nasrec 2017 that money talked and secured votes. The NDZ campaign probably has even more to hide than the Ramaphosa crowd. Only those who do not have ready access to business or dubious international donor funding are eager to see the can of worms called party-funding being displayed.

The Bosasa-party funding debacle followed on the heels of Malusi Gigaba’s ejection from presidential ambition. All of these bumps on the over-stated “transition road” came in the wake of new standards of public accountability for powerful politicians’ children (and other associates) in government consultancy positions, the forceful usage of the trap of getting politicians to lie in Parliament, and heightened public insistence on accountability in light of heightened sensitivity to abuse of public funds.

The fluid power configurations are illustrated graphically in the new convergence of Economic Freedom Fighters and Black First Land First outside the Zondo Commission hearings (rather than within – allegations and innuendo are easier than evidence and cross-examination). They are on the same line of anti-Ramaphosa attacks again, albeit seemingly for different reasons: the BLF to try to wreak revenge on Ramaphosa who had wounded and deposed Zuma (and the Guptas); the EFF, high on the victory of Nhlanhla Nene’s resignation, now trying to claim Pravin Gordhan, who had helped thwart some earlier, pre-VBS raids on public funds in Limpopo.

In the bigger frame, the Zumaists have reason to worry. Zuma-NDZ troops have been falling by the wayside, one after the other. For example, SARS is – and the NPA is close to being – under new management. Eskom, Prasa and Transnet have new boards. The Treasury is being reinstated as a watchdog over public spending. Delinquent municipalities (albeit a sprinkling to date) are being hung out to dry.

North West is under reformed interim government. Some of the worst Cabinet members were axed (albeit bad cases remaining). On the ANC front, several ANC provinces have toned down their Zuma support, or have changed management. Several ANC big shots are lining up to give Zondo evidence (amid multiple deafening silences). It is not unambiguous, but the balances of forces seem to be reconstituting themselves, bit by bit. It is not irreversible, but shows modest momentum away from some of the worst of the past.

That is, unless some great trees fall.

The Ramaphosa-Bosasa interregnum is a reminder that there are no simple, ideal, pure new political realities being born in this to-be-proven new dawn. One of the biggest ANC challenges of the time is for the party to be an irreversibly reinvented organisation by the time of the 2019 election – so that it does not enter elections as a Trojan Ramaphosaist horse that can become a Zumaist manacle as soon as an election victory is in the bag. DM


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