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From New Dawn to dust — the implosion of Ramaphoria


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

The ANC lists are evidence of the poisoned Nasrec chalice, of the fact that Ramaphosa’s Nasrec unity mandate should have been read all along not as building a united ANC under the banner of a cleaned-up party, but rather of an ANC that cannot clean itself up.

So much hinged on that narrowest-of-narrow victories that was the outcome of the factional battles of the African National Congress at Nasrec, December 2017. It was a victory, compared with the too-ghastly-to-contemplate alternative. So was the turning of the National Executive Committee of the ANC in the next two months, up to Valentine’s Day 2018, when Jacob Zuma was forced to resign as the country president. The events brought hope that a new ANC was evolving.

South Africa responded. Ramaphoria’s “hundred flowers blossomed”. ANC ratings in public opinion polls soared. The ANC tasted the rekindled hope of winning an outright majority in the national electoral stakes. It had a president that showed principled leadership. The governing party appeared to embrace probity, along with respect for the people and national resources. Corruption and capture seemed to have been thwarted. It was the time of the New Dawn.

It seemed possible that the ANC had pulled itself from the proverbial ashes and had reinvented itself, or would do so in the near future. For many, it rang bells of the ANC being indestructible. For some time Ramaphosa’s approval ratings as president of South Africa hovered in the upper-60% territory. (Madiba himself had barely touched that level.) Positive sentiments were rubbing off on the ANC.

Then came the cooling off period. Bleak economic outlooks persisted. State institutions and state-owned enterprises malfunctioned or failed all over the state. Evidence accumulated that it would take a long, long time to bring State Capturers to book, if at all. This body of evidence grows daily when the Zondo Commission battles valiantly — sometimes almost feebly — through the hazards of bringing and testing evidence. South Africans wonder:

Have we been delusional when we wanted to believe, so desperately, that all was going to be fine, that the knight in buffalo armour was going to deliver the amazing new South Africa?”

The multiple and continuous economic obstacles and setbacks signalled that the foundations of the “new order” remained unsettled. Rating agencies were tolerant, giving the new order a chance (while South Africa’s and BRICS’s promised alternative rating agency struggled to grow beyond an embryo). The economy, growth and job creation limped on. Still, South Africans kept alive hope of the new ANC that would deliver the real promised land.

The wake-up calls started amassing as the ANC readied itself for the all-important list process for Election 2019. The process determines who the next generation of government leaders will be (given the Ramaphosa-linked likelihood of the ANC retaining an outright electoral majority).

This list is supposed to follow through and deliver on the trust that the sixth Parliament of South Africa and the provincial legislatures will be assemblies of scrupulous, beyond reproach, servants of the people.

But the albatross of those ambiguous Nasrec majorities, with the Ramaphosa camp’s forced compromise of interpreting the victory as a unity mandate, reigned supreme.

A clean and credible set of lists is a contradiction in terms when the unity mandate dictates compromise with those from the old Zuma order, also with the hitherto-unexposed occupants of the new order.

Ramaphosa’s Nasrec unity mandate meant that the good along with the bad in the ANC had to remain in place. No alienation, no split-off parties, no vigilant or definitive action against the platoons of corrupt and tainted, dubious characters that aspire anew to public office.

In some provinces Ramaphosaists had made progress in winning over some Zumaists in top ANC structures; in some provinces, the Zumaists were pushed out and new names are lining up for premier positions. But there is no guaranteed turnover.

In other places, provincial and national, the narrow constitutional rule of ineligibility for MP status only in the event of being found guilty by a court of law, and being sentenced to 12 months or longer without the option of a fine, became the killer bullet that honed in on Ramaphoria.

There is a difference between saying prematurely that people are guilty, and acknowledging through matching action that circa 2019 the ANC needs to prove its own scrupulousness and continuous worthiness of leading South Africa.

The ANC candidate’s list, as it stood upon its submission to the Electoral Commission, hinted at a Trojan horse.

It may carry back into Cabinet and provincial executives, into Parliament and South Africa’s nine legislatures, those exact persons who had been ousted at Nasrec, and shelved in Ramaphosa’s two 2018 Cabinet reshuffles… besides retaining those who would have been ousted from power had there not been a Nasrec compromise, and had they not been elected on to the NEC and National Working Committee, and had the ANC branches not endorsed top party leadership for government leadership.

Suddenly the 2019 ANC candidates’ lists threatened to undo the “New Dawn” in one foul and complicated swoop. The lists contain dozens of contaminated names.

Indeed, no court convictions, but Constitutional Court pronouncements, parliamentary findings of lying under oath, multiple mutually reinforcing evidential indictments in the Zondo Commission, sound investigative journalism evidence of being the lead men and women to facilitate the capture, of turning government departments (with or without capture) into failed personal empires.

At the other extreme the list is adorned by not just the murder-implicated accused in the case of Sindiso Magaqa, but multiple mayors implicated in the VBS bank looting spree.

Are these the apostles of the New Dawn, of a purportedly reborn ANC that has soared since the ascendance of Ramaphosa? Judged by the “list standard” the new ANC is the old ANC.

The lists are evidence of the poisoned Nasrec chalice, of the fact that Ramaphosa’s Nasrec unity mandate should have been read all along not as building a united ANC under the banner of a cleaned-up party, but rather of an ANC that cannot clean itself up.

It suggests the existence equally of an ANC that claims the Ramaphosaist public opinion poll ratings and then declares, in effect: Now that we have your support, have a reasonable assurance that you will grant us an outright majority come 8 May 2019, we shall revert to the pre-Nasrec status quo ante; there is a new president, yes, but this president is so compromised and perfectly held over a Bosasa barrel that he cannot move, and, indeed, the political earth will not move either. DM


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