South Africa

ANC succession: ‘Nice Guy’ Ramaphosa needs to rediscover the fiery activist original

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa appears to be finally dipping his toe in the presidential campaign pool, suggesting – albeit gingerly – what the priorities of a post-Zuma government might be. “We will not compromise on our fight against corruption, patronage or rent-seeking. We will also not allow the institutions of our state to be captured by anyone – be they individuals, be they families who are intent on narrow self-enrichment.” Everyone knows which family he means – dislodging the Gupta’s grip on the state would be essential to undoing the damage of the Zuma administration. But to get to that point, Ramaphosa needs to get into the game. That means dispensing with coded language and diplomacy, and taking the fight to the ANC. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

Cyril Ramaphosa is haunted by two things: the Marikana massacre and the buffalo he bid R18 million for. His extensive and formidable career has been tainted by his role in prompting “concomitant” action from the police during the 2012 Lonmin strike, which resulted in 34 mineworkers being shot dead. And in a country plagued by grinding poverty, his bid of for the buffalo made him seem callous and prone to excess.

People never speak about the fact that as general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Ramaphosa led one of the biggest strikes in South African history. He also grew the NUM membership from 6,000 to 300,000. To pull that off, Ramaphosa had to possess pretty impressive organisational and campaigning skills. In his youth, he was detained twice under the Terrorism Act – first for 11 months in 1974, then in 1976 for six months after the Soweto Uprising.

So somewhere underneath the aristocratic swathes, the activist and dynamic campaigner still exists. It is that Cyril Ramaphosa that needs to emerge and fight for the leadership of the ANC.

The deputy president is treading a cautious line, wary not to be caught in breach of the ANC tradition against campaigning for positions. Ramaphosa also does not want to defy the pronouncement by the national working committee (NWC) in January that ANC members should desist from raising people’s names for leadership positions or indicating their availability election. “Doing so is in transgression of the decisions of the NEC (national executive committee),” the NWC said.

But his chief opponent Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and her supporters have no such qualms. The ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) campaign for Dlamini-Zuma to be the party’s first woman leader has been in full swing since January. They have refused to back down despite the ANC’s declaration that lobbying could only start after the June policy conference. Dlamini-Zuma has wafted around from church gatherings to a Palestinian solidarity meeting to an ANC cadres’ forum to a free education discussion hosted by the ANC Youth League on Thursday night – basically any platform that will give her airtime.

It’s not as if she has used any of these platforms to make a strong case for why she should be the ANC’s next leader and the future president of South Africa. If anything, she has done quite the opposite – showing a penchant for meaningless statements, being splendidly disconnected from the crisis gripping the country and refusing to account for her elaborate security detail.

She has also made patently false statements, claiming that Model C schools were anti ANC and that universities such as Wits taught students that South Africa should not be referred to as a democracy. 

But Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign still remains the only show in town – even though there does not appear to be wild enthusiasm for her candidacy outside the pro-Zuma “premier league” faction.

If Kgalema Motlanthe was the reluctant contender for the ANC leadership in 2012, Ramaphosa remains the utterly languid candidate eight months before the ANC’s elective conference. His speaking out against President Jacob Zuma’s firing of former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas was the boldest thing he has done since his return to active politics five years ago. But Ramaphosa, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and treasurer general Zweli Mkhize were bullied into submission during an NWC meeting earlier this month and that matter is now seemingly closed.

On Wednesday, Ramaphosa spoke at a Black Business Council (BBC) dinner in Sandton and delivered what had the makings of a manifesto of a candidate for the presidency. The event was called an “Economic Recovery Engagement Dinner”, which meant the door was cranked wide open for Ramaphosa to walk through with a vision for a post-Zuma mop-up operation. Still, he opted for diplomacy and veiled references to Zuma’s surrender of the state to his friends.

“We must be honest enough to admit the depth of the political, economic and social challenges our country faces. And we must be courageous enough to recognise the domestic and global conditions that give rise to these challenges.” Ramaphosa said.

“We will not compromise on our fight against corruption, patronage or rent-seeking. We will also not allow the institutions of our state to be captured by anyone – be they individuals, be they families who are intent on narrow self-enrichment.”

This is not a conclusive enough pledge that Ramaphosa intends to “deGuptarise” the state. Saying “we will not allow the institutions of our state to be captured” in future does not necessarily mean Ramaphosa intends purging the Gupta contagion already infesting the state.   

He did expose one overused tactic in political campaigning:

“We will also not allow our policies to be appropriated in a pursuit of factional interests or in an attempt to hoodwink the public through revolutionary sounding slogans.”

With “radical economic transformation” being on trend, Ramaphosa walked the talk and explained what it would mean: “It is fundamentally about inclusive and shared growth; changing the ownership patterns of our economy and to do it at a faster rate.”

“Even as some people may want to deploy the concept to pursue selfish personal objectives or simply to cast aspersions on the revolutionary credentials of others, radical economic transformation has substance and meaning and relevance.”

He said those opposed to it needed to accept it would happen.

“They should sit down, listen, smell the coffee and realise that the economic transformation of our country is non-negotiable and it has to happen, and it is going to happen whether people like it or not.”

This was Ramaphosa’s first bite of the campaign cherry – hardly the stuff to fire up his campaign. At the weekend, he will speak at a Chris Hani memorial event hosted by the South African Communist Party (SACP) in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape. He will be sharing the podium with Mcebisi Jonas, who is now a contender for a senior leadership position in the province.

With the SACP leading the charge in the alliance for Zuma to step down and Jonas being the face of the anti-state capture resistance, the stars are aligned for Ramaphosa. This could be his breakout moment or he could continue to cool his heels while the earth spins around him.

The best strategy for Ramaphosa to win the presidency is for him to position himself to be contrary to everything Zuma has done to destroy the ANC and push the country into a state of decline. Up to now, Ramaphosa has had to play the role of the dutiful deputy, defending and applauding the president to keep their relationship functional.

But there are two things that Ramaphosa needs to realise. Firstly, he does not need to stay on Zuma’s good side because in a few months the president will no longer wield political power. Zuma serves no purpose to Ramaphosa’s campaign – other than that the president’s support for Dlamini-Zuma makes her already terrible candidacy look worse.

Secondly, few people in the ANC still care about its traditions. Ramaphosa is locking himself out of the race due to an out-dated custom that frowns on campaigning. The ANC has to modernise the way its election processes work and he cannot wait for the December national conference to decide on this.

Ramaphosa needs to engage his constituency now while there is still time for his campaign to take off and gain momentum. He does not need to do so overtly to breach the decisions of the NEC and NWC. He just needs to say the right things at the right places. 

Ramaphosa has to make a decision whether he wants to be president or waste away the crisis that points the way to the finish line. Playing the nice guy who does not want to offend anyone, fence sits on critical issues and waits to be invited into a high stakes leadership race will not win him the presidency.

Ramaphosa needs to rediscover the traits that made him one of the most powerful campaigners against Apartheid and an activist who could harness mass power.

If he is unable to grasp the nettle, the ANC will chew him up and spit him out. Marikana and the buffalo will then be the least of his problems. DM

Photo: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during the Education Awards ceremony held in Sandton, Johannesburg, 22 January 2016. (Photo: GCIS)

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