Opinionista Susan Booysen 20 February 2019

Ramaphosa an Achilles’ heel for the ANC going into election – and their only hope

The ANC’s election eggs are all in the Cyril Ramaphosa basket, crafting a fraught and risky polling project in a make-or-break election.

Should President Cyril Ramaphosa be discredited by the opposition, or politically neutralised by his own African National Congress, opposition parties in particular will dance all the way to Election Day. All “guns” are trained on the CR target. For the ANC’s anti-CR faction, “taking aim at Cyril” is an intricate internal game, hard to control but rich with potential factional gains. It is easier for opposition parties: damage to Ramaphosa’s credibility creates a lifeline for their own growth or survival.

This renders the ANC campaign incredibly vulnerable. For ANC success in the 2019 election there is no leader to substitute for Ramaphosa, flaws and all and gaps in performance and all. As Ramaphoria had suggested, voters and citizens at that stage of 2018 saw Ramaphosa as the clean-up agent who is courageous enough to tackle state rot and corrupted ANC leaders. For many in the ANC he was even the saviour of traditional ANC values (different interpretations of such values notwithstanding). Ramaphosa and New Dawnism became associated with a New ANC, a party that can still ask for five-year electoral endorsements.

Much has happened in the ANC and South Africa since that euphoria that had been associated with seeing the back of Zuma (not the totality of the problem, but epitomic of the ANC’s decay). Consider, for example, Ramaphosa’s own Bosasa baggage, his multiple policy predicaments in having to implement ANC policy resolutions amid investors’ insistence on prudence, and keeping internal ANC peace while hunting down, in commissions and courts, the worst of the corrupted ones.

For the ANC election campaign it is Ramaphosa or bust. The electorate will not relate similarly to, say, deputy president David Mabuza or treasurer-general Paul Mashatile stepping in to try and to fill the Ramaphosa shoes. This was confirmed in January when on the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal community walkabouts these leaders registered close to zero recognition value (the same goes for multiple other ANC leaders). No replacement will have the organisational power that Ramaphosa has been building up within the ANC either. Neither do the lieutenants have Ramaphosa’s (relative) credibility on the corruption-fighting front. In strategic and tactical terms, there is no substitute for Ramaphosa who can preserve an ANC electoral majority at this stage.

The main opposition parties know this, and their strategies in the last few months offer cases in point. The Democratic Alliance launched the opposition parties’ Ramaphosa discreditation campaign. It asked a question in Parliament in early November 2018 that first implicated Ramaphosa’s son, Andile, and then Ramaphosa himself, in dubious financial dealings with or a donation from Bosasa (African Global Operations, now in voluntary liquidation), Ramaphosa scrambled to contain fallout. The Economic Freedom Fighters latched on. Ramaphosa’s explanations to the Public Protector suffice, for now.

The next major opposition mission to take out Ramaphosa came from Cope’s Mosiuoa Lekota’s allegations in Parliament last week that Ramaphosa had betrayed United Democratic Front comrades while in political detention in the 1980s. Ramaphosa could explain, and received the endorsement of his ANC colleagues in Parliament. All calm on that front for now.

Within the ANC things are somewhat rougher but shrewdly calculated. At this time the Zumaists are countering Ramaphosa on matters of policy and governance. They and their associates in micro-splinter parties (led by Jimmy-Mzwanele Many and Hlaudi Motsoeneng, for example) argue that there are deviations from and delays in implementation of the ANC’s Nasrec conference resolutions. It is their answer to the unfolding corruption hearings.

They damage Ramaphosa’s reputation of working to fix the economy – and economic optimism is central to voters having confidence in a ruling party… Damage on this front will impair the size of the ANC’s possible electoral majority. It will give ammunition to the anti-CR faction and, many of them hope, “firing power” against Ramaphosa for failing to grow the ANC post-election, despite them having “sacrificed” Zuma. They gamble on the chances that they can damage Ramaphosa but not cede the ANC’s outright electoral majority.

In these ways, Ramaphosa is an Achilles’ heel for the ANC, but he is the ANC’s only game in Election 2019. The ANC has never been as vulnerable going into a national election. DM

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