South Africa

Zuma and Ramaphosa: the truth beneath the Cheshire Cat grins

Not even a week since former president Jacob Zuma’s grudging resignation speech, President Cyril Ramaphosa threw him a warm farewell party on Tuesday night in the official residence in Cape Town that Zuma has been vacating. This time it was all smiles, at least on the carefully selected pictures issued, but it’s probably the last time you will see the team like this. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

There is a picture on minister in the presidency Jeff Radabe’s Twitter timeline showing former president Jacob Zuma’s bloated cabinet and their deputies in all their glory. Zuma himself is in the front row and next to him, in what appears to have been a bromantically colour-coded tie, is the man who inherited this executive, President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Photo: This photo was accompanied by the words: “Former president Jacob Zuma had an opportunity to say goodbyes to his Cabinet ministers and their deputies.” Photo: @radebe_jeff/Twitter.

It almost looks like the bad old days, when Zuma was still boss and Ramaphosa a demure deputy, except that Zuma is currently busy vacating the building behind them, which is Tuynhuys, the SA president’s official residence, and that Ramaphosa is about to reshuffle that cabinet and trim it. This has been another long week in South African politics, from last Wednesday when Zuma had the nation on tenterhooks by first, in an SABC exclusive, declaring that he’d done nothing wrong and then, a few hours later, delivering a roller-coaster resignation speech. He didn’t want to go, but in the end he had played all his cards and he was out.

Zuma did not attend Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address two days later, unlike former presidents Thabo Mbeki and FW de Klerk (who was only acknowledged by Ramaphosa as the deputy president he was in the 1994 cabinet). It’s unclear why Zuma was absent, but it’s said that he was with family in KwaZulu-Natal at the time.

Journalists were not invited to Tuesday night’s presidential cocktails. In the past, these cocktails took place right after the president’s reply to the debate on the State of the Nation Address and always presented journalists, diplomats and opposition leaders with an opportunity to shake hands and snap a few selfies with the president. In the past three years, however, as the parliamentary openings turned increasingly nasty and noisy with the arrival of the EFF, these cocktails dried up.

This year the function was revived, but there was a difference. It was only open to ministers and deputy ministers, and before that, Zuma paid a visit to some Presidency officials and Tuynhuys staffers and posed for pictures with them. Perhaps journos were given the cold shoulder because space in Tuynhuys was limited, but judging from the pictures put out on social media where the current and former presidents are grinning like Cheshire Cats, it was also a carefully controlled PR opportunity to send out a message to the general public and ANC supporters that there were no hard feelings.

Ramaphosa has already signalled his intent to get on with the business of dismantling much of Zuma’s legacy of mismanagement, corrupt practices and broken government. He will soon have to reshuffle Zuma’s cabinet too in order to get on with this, and to weed out those at least who could prove to be obstacles to government moving forward.

With the cocktail party, Ramaphosa probably intended to portray the image of a smooth handover, as if what happened last week was totally par for the course, as much as he must be hoping to appease pockets of malcontent in KwaZulu-Natal. Some in the province over the weekend even said they wanted Zuma to return home to become ANC provincial leader, seeing that they will soon have to hold another conference to fix the 2015 one which has been declared void by a court. That’s not quite the unity Ramaphosa’s ANC team had been talking about.

Earlier in the day Ramaphosa defended the ministers after EFF and DA MPs laid in to them, calling for the heads of some by name. These included finance minister Malusi Gigaba, social development minister Bathabile Dlamini, and mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane. 

Ramaphosa said: “I have noted several comments made about a number of members of the executive. This does not justify in any way whatsoever the type of character assassination and insults.” He said the restructuring of government would only take place after extensive consultations. The fact that he didn’t reshuffle over the weekend as many expected, indicates that Ramaphosa is intent on taking his time, and on taking even those who disagree, along with him. 

Zuma’s aide, Lakela Kaunda, posted her account of the event on Facebook, painting a picture of democratic normality and of a “wonderful event, relaxed, emotional and extremely helpful towards healing”.

She wrote: “At the staff event President (sic) Zuma thanked them for their dedication, commitment and hard work and reminded them to be professional at all times and serve government and not individuals. ‘Presidents will come and go. Don’t personalise the relationship so that you can be ready to serve the next president when one leaves. Serve government and the country. Serve President Ramaphosa as efficiently and as well as you served me and make him succeed,’ he said.”

She further posted that he thanked ministers and their deputies for their support, and he reminded them of “how wonderful South Africa is and the need for them to continue working hard to improve the lives of the people and enhance the country’s standing in the continent and beyond”.

Ramaphosa thanked Zuma and Zuma said he was willing to be “sent anywhere and perform any task in his retirement to serve his country”.

He even quipped that he was “now ready to be deployed as councillor or mayor of Nkandla”. That is, if his party manages to oust the IFP in his municipality, and if the long arm of the law doesn’t catch up with him.

Kaunda wrote that those in attendance generally agreed that “we needed this”.

The party didn’t end too late, as Minister for Small Business Development, Lindiwe Zulu, made her appearance at a European Union function just after 7pm.

Tuesday generally was a day in which Ramaphosa reached out, from his early morning walk in Gugulethu and Athlone, to the victims of the Marikana massacre during his speech in the afternoon, and then, in the evening, to his predecessor.

On Wednesday, as soon as what is expected to be a tough Budget Speech is delivered, the real work will begin. Even though Ramaphosa would still need to be sufficiently charming to win a popular mandate for his presidency in the 2019 general elections, he’s likely to have to take a few brutal steps soon to make good on Friday night’s promises. DM

Main Photo: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and former president Jacob Zuma at Tuynhuys on Tuesday night. Photo: @presidencyZA/(Twitter).