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2020: Ramaphosa has everything to win — and everything to lose


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

Will 2020 be the year in which Cyril Ramaphosa musters enough support within the ANC to turn South Africa around, or will the ‘fightback’ pseudo-revolutionaries win the next battle?

As the debates rage on as to whether the ANC’s 8 January speech will give us as a country a real sense of purpose and direction, I am wearier of the dark clouds gathering with regard to the showdown with the public sector unions and the inevitable arrests of high-profile political types this year.

After what we observed as a very clever strategy by the government with regards to the SAA showdown with the unions, we can safely assume that organised labour will be more ready and prepared for such a showdown at some of the other state-owned enterprises (SoEs), especially Eskom. Placing Eskom under business rescue might in the end not be a bad strategy, but unions will have much more leverage this time around unlike their counterparts at the national carrier. After all, we could do without the national airline but from what we have seen, as citizens we cannot do without electricity, as my good friend Richard Calland so aptly reminds us in his article in the last week of 2019.

Another approach he suggests could be that back-room negotiations resolve such differences and the government and labour find a common solution and approach going forward. I submit to you, that with the economy stagnating, jobs not being created and the cost of living exponentially increasing daily, such a proposition becomes less possible. The unions will not back down and will demand more for their members regardless of the fiscal cliff faced by the entire country, regardless of the unmanageable debt levels and regardless of the overall suffering of the poor.

We were informed late last year by the investigative unit of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) that sufficient evidence has now been gathered as far as the Estina Dairy Farm saga is concerned and they are now finally ready to act on it and take a second bite at the cherry in our courts. Coupled with this are rumours that the Hawks will be making a request to the Secretary-General of the ANC, Ace Magashule, to avail himself for the submission of a “warning statement” in this regard. As you know, this is merely an opportunity afforded to a suspect to give his or her side of the story. It remains optional and is in a way a warning to a suspect that they have the right to remain silent.

Others face similar prospects as the noose tightens around the necks of perpetrators of State Capture. These are particularly the ones that wanted Cyril Ramaphosa to not win at the all-important Nasrec elective conference of the ANC in December 2017. Calland again puts it so aptly when he states that, “we must remember that exactly two years ago South Africa stood on the edge of a different precipice. In December 2017, Zuma was still in power and the ANC had to choose between two candidates to succeed him as ANC president – reform-minded Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, who headed a ‘coalition of scoundrels and nationalists’ ”.

It was the “ultimate fork in the roads”, he said. The arrests of the Eastern Cape group involved in the toilet saga and now the latest arrest of Eskom management types will continue unabated, I’m sure, sending a very clear message that if you were corrupt these last few years and took advantage of the confusion sowed by the Zuptas, best get ready for your impending arrest, my friend. Captains of the industry should take note, the buck is not only going to stop with leaders in the public sector; the Hawks will come for you too. For far too long have you equally been getting away with colluding practices at the expense of the citizenry. Fraud and corruption even in the private sector will have to face the music. This is how we restore the moral fibre of our country, something the fightback people don’t want by hook or by crook.

And so, there’s talk of retaliation against the president of the country at the National General Council (NGC) of the ANC to be held in June 2020. To beat CR into a political pulp and begin to plant a seed that says he is not fit for the highest office in the land. That he has not adhered to the Nasrec Conference resolutions and that therefore he supposedly serves the interests of white monopoly capital. Off with his head, will become the popular chant.

There will be about 3,000 delegates and it will become ground zero for the factions in the ANC. Who will prevail, I hear you ask? For as long as CR and his deputy DD Mabuza sing from the same hymn sheet, the fightback scoundrels will not stand a chance at this NGC. Inasmuch as the Western Cape has succumbed to the allure of the SG and hence is now in his camp, Sihle Zikalala from KwaZulu-Natal has made it abundantly clear that KZN as a province supports the leadership that was elected at the Nasrec Conference and hence will not tolerate any talk or action of divisions and factionalism.

So, as you can see, the ANC is preoccupied with power battles internally, and yet we should ready ourselves for the upcoming local government elections. We should be debating government debt and how best we can resolve this impasse. The crisis in the energy sector and why we are not moving faster on the implementation of independent energy providers and alternative energy methods. This is what we should be concerned about – but alas.

We should concern ourselves with the fact that the South African polity is essentially a stable one, with the Constitution accepted across the board as the broad framework for the regulation of sociopolitical relations. Its articulation of different generations of rights lends it a progressive character for the pursuit of speedier transformation. Instead, we quibble over the mandate of the Reserve Bank. Seriously?

I’m sure you will all agree, a worrying trend in the recent period has been the tendency for leaders of various sectors of society, especially in the political arena, to seek judicial resolution for matters that can be managed through other channels.

On the one hand, such “lawfare” can suck the judiciary into the maelstrom of day-to-day societal management and thus unnecessarily splatter it with mud. On the other, repeated attempts of this kind, into which huge resources are thrown, do suggest that some privileged sectors of society seek to undermine the popular electoral mandate.

Furthermore, a popular protest has been part of South Africa’s body politic for many years in the post-1994 period. The levels of poverty and inequality will certainly inflame passions, even as progress is made to deal with these challenges. This is the flammable social tinder that the democratic state has to manage, through practical action and by continuously infusing the hope that tomorrow will be better than today.

Civil society in South Africa has historically been among the most vocal and active. From community to sector-based organisations, these have added to the legitimacy of the system as they provide a platform for pursuing specific aspirations. May it long still continue.

Even with regard to concrete instances of corruption at any level of government, the sense that there is clear intent and serious action to deal with these matters does give confidence to society about the ethical foundations of our state.

Related to the above is the very question of the capacity of state institutions to meet their mandates. When the general impression referred to above can be directly linked to poor capacity within state agencies which is also a consequence of high turnover in the management echelons; poor decision-making that suggests patronage and cover-ups; and appointments that defy any rational logic, the state as a whole starts progressively to lose the confidence of the people.

It is precisely this state of affairs that emboldens forces opposed to transformation to seek to challenge the very legality and legitimacy of the system and to disrupt its stability. They find courage also from the fact that self-declared “revolutionary” elements are adventurously seeking to set the social tinder alight and to assail the legality and legitimacy of the system.

These are the critical issues that must preoccupy us all, including the ANC, and yet captains of industry are constantly trying to find ways to get their money out of the country, hence confidence levels are so low and political foes in all our political parties are playing football with each other wanting to see who will ultimately be in charge of a failed state if we are to continue on this current trajectory.

So, strike if you must but think of the long-term consequences please, run, hide and cajole all you like to stay out of prison, but in the end, wrongdoers must be held accountable for their criminal actions, and finally, the time has arrived, Mr President, for bold decision-making. It won’t be popular, but it might just be what the country needs.

As I make explicit in my upcoming book dealing with the outcome of the Nasrec ANC conference, Two minutes to midnight – can 179 votes guarantee our survival, I concur with Calland:

“If South Africa, in time, finds that it is well on the road to recovery, the upturn in fortunes will be traced back to the decision to elect Ramaphosa.” DM


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