Opinionista Mark Swilling 21 January 2019

The Zuma power elite is alive, kicking and preparing to replace Ramaphosa

To counter the threat of re-Zumafication of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa needs to rebuild the ANC as a national political force.

We South Africans are incredibly naïve. We have a poor understanding of power, a tendency to trust individual leaders and we worship big institutions such as banks, state-owned enterprises and large corporations.

This is why we widely assume that since Cyril Ramaphosa became president, State Capture is over. We assume State Capture was about corruption — a cabal of bad guys who stole the money. But now that we have the Zondo Commission, investment and job summits and a mudslide of reports about all the things the bad guys did during the Zuma era, we can relax and get on with our lives and businesses. It’s not going to pan out like this.

State Capture is an ever-present danger. And the Zuma-centred power elite that mounted the silent coup after 2009 to repurpose state institutions is very much alive, kicking and well-prepared for the post-election battle to replace Ramaphosa. Just join the dots.

First, there is a well-orchestrated campaign to restore Zuma’s image as the “man of the people” — including a pop song — who is prepared to lead the populist charge against poverty and oppression, namely, “white monopoly capital”.

Second, Zuma has returned to his KwaZulu-Natal base where he knows how to use violence and fear as a weapon to secure national power positions — after all, this was why Nelson Mandela brought him into the NEC, and why Thabo Mbeki had to bring him in close as deputy president.

When Zuma used that famous television interview before he resigned to subtly threaten increased violence if he was displaced, all he did then was to voice publicly what he’d always done within the secretive cloak-and-dagger world of ANC leadership struggles. The KwaZulu-Natal youngsters who were sent to Moscow to be trained as assassins continue to be very effective implementers of a low-intensity reign of terror.

Third, in his capacity as ANC Secretary General, Ace Magashule controls the election processes for provincial executives. By all accounts, he is systematically ensuring that provincial executives are elected that will do the necessary when the time comes to recall Ramaphosa after the election.

Fourth, there is mounting evidence that key power brokers within the ANC are encouraging the growth of smaller parties to ensure that the ANC’s electoral majority is less than it achieved in the previous election when Zuma was the leader. In the crazy world of shifting opportunistic alliances, the EFF seems to be playing ball — they consistently target Ramaphosa and Pravin Gordhan with little to say about their old “pay back the money” enemy, Jacob Zuma.

If successful, a reduced majority would allow Magashule’s ANC provincial executive committees to argue that contrary to the hype, Ramaphosa has not been able to reverse the electoral losses experienced during the Zuma years. The message will be simple: if the ANC is in worse shape under Ramaphosa, why should he remain the leader?

Fifth, there is sufficient anecdotal evidence that the majority of ANC members do not understand the true nature of State Capture. Nor is there much grassroots support for the Zondo Commission — many ANC members would welcome its closure. Recent “leaks” seem to be about discrediting the Zondo Commission.

Zuma’s well-known critique of State Capture is a sleight of hand:

Is the judiciary captured?” he asked during an address at Walter Sisulu University. “Is Parliament captured?” he mocked. If the state includes the judiciary and the legislature, his logic goes, then how can you talk about State Capture? And by implication: If there is no State Capture, why do we need the Zondo Commission?

Finally, don’t underestimate the Russians. Just because the Ramaphosa government has shunned the nuclear deal, this does not mean the Russians have given up on the idea. The global power stakes are far too high.

Putin signed a decree in 2007 that provided for the integration and consolidation of all nuclear capabilities built up during the Cold War into a new civilian nuclear industry with global ambitions. Since then, Russians have been building nuclear power plants that are a hybrid between an embassy and a military base, often financed off a state guarantee that effectively gives Russia massive leverage over the host country.

The contract that Zuma and Putin signed in 2014 was about Russia building a South African nuclear fleet. This, of course, was to be funded from loans generated from a state guarantee that both Gordhan and Nhlanhla Nene refused to sign, which is what cost them their jobs. If either had signed, South Africa would have become another Russian-controlled failed state held together with violence and fear.

Shortly before Zuma resigned I argued in Daily Maverick that the “Zexit” was being delayed so that the nuclear deal could be finalised. We also know for sure now that old apartheid intelligence officers (like Niel Barnard) were working for the Zuma presidency and that Russian intelligence officers were also involved.

Don’t forget: Zuma appointed himself chair of the ministerial committee on nuclear procurement. There is now more than enough evidence to suggest the Russians want Ramaphosa out of the way so that the nuclear deal can be implemented.

Mix all this together, and you have a pretty deadly cocktail to contend with: A well-orchestrated strategy to reduce the ANC majority so that Magashule’s provincial executive committees can recall Ramaphosa, all underpinned by rising levels of violence and the continued ominous presence of the pro-nuke Russians.

Add into this mix the crisis of the state-owned entities, in particular the danger that Eskom could trigger an International Monetary Fund bailout: the rising number of grassroots protests, including land invasions; the poor performance of the economy; continued capital flight despite business commitments to the contrary at the investment and job summits; and warnings by the IMF of another global financial crisis.

To counter the threat of a Russia-backed re-Zumafication of the ANC, Ramaphosa needs to rebuild the ANC as a national political force. But this means reversing the transformation of the party during the Zuma years into a constellation of provincial power blocs.

It means rebuilding the state as a developmental force, which means depending less on the CEOs who are now more influential than ever before. And it means translating the vast amounts of information flowing out of the various inquiries and commissions into an effective bulwark of believable information about State Capture — something that can only be achieved if the media ups its game and starts joining the dots.

The arrest of several big hitters will help to ram home this message. But most of all, Ramaphosa needs an economic policy rooted in the realities of South Africa. Unfortunately, this will not be achieved if this task is left to the Harvard economists that the minister of finance has brought back into the game.

Its time to get serious about power, the politics of policy and how close we are to becoming a failed state. DM

In this column, a reference is made to Harvard economists writing the economic policy. In fact, they worked with a group of over 20 South African economists.

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