South Africa

ANC Leadership Race: Rumour mill in overdrive, Ramaphosa lives to fight another day

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Thursday morning started with rumours doing the rounds that he’d be axed and replaced by ANC MP Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma before the week is out. His performance in the National Assembly later in the day, however, showed why it would be a bad idea for President Jacob Zuma to touch him. For now, Ramaphosa appears to be sitting pretty. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

In the hurly-burly that has been a week of Cabinet reshuffles, new appointments to the boards of South African Airways and the SABC, and the erection of a giant statue of President Jacob Zuma by Imo State in Nigeria, even obviously fake news warrants checking.

There were also the allegations by businessman and veteran trade unionist James Motlatsi, a close ally of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, hours after the Cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday, that Ramaphosa’s way out was being paved by a supposed intelligence report alleging he’s a “spy of Western capitalists”.

What’s more is that Zuma left open the possibility of another reshuffle by not filling the position of deputy minister in the Presidency after Buti Manamela was moved sideways to higher education.

On Thursday morning, rumours of Ramaphosa’s removal gained steam, apparently on the back of a WhatsApp message from one of his fans in the ANC, Lynn Abrahams, on Wednesday night, which went viral:

[20:30, 2017/10/18] Lyne Abrahams: Comrades, Nkosazane Zuma will Replace Cde Cyril as Deputy President before December 2017. Please prepare yourself for such reality!

[20:30, 2017/10/18] Lyne Abrahams: The intelligence report is already cooked. Now they are planning the timing of its release. Its rumoured that it will be released in November. Then CR will be relieved of his duties as DP and charged with treason so that he cannot stand for election as president.”

This scenario seems very unlikely, not least because prosecutions boss Shaun Abrahams would actually have to show his face for this. Dlamini Zuma herself would probably much rather be left free to campaign than be limited by the trappings of a new office. Ramaphosa supporters and campaigners contacted on Thursday gave more credence to this WhatsApp rumour than Zuma supporters. Thursday midnight passed without South Africa getting a new deputy president.

Zuma (who was axed as deputy president in 2005) would know well that firing Ramaphosa now would free him up to campaign on the ground for the presidency full-time ahead of the ANC’s December conference. Also, ANC members love an underdog.

Theo Venter from the School of Business and Governance at North West University put it succinctly, saying Zuma’s firing of Ramaphosa would only remove him from the Cabinet but not from the ANC. Zuma was in this position in 2005. “[This will mean] greater freedom of movement for CR and a lot of political sympathy flowing towards him. Zuma has been here too. It’s better [for Zuma] to keep CR where he is, and for JZ to continue with his patronage politics, because that leaves CR politically castrated the way he was this afternoon in Parliament.”

Ramaphosa, although he was full of jokes and twice accidentally referred to by MPs as “president”, didn’t have the best of times in the National Assembly on Thursday afternoon. The ministerial benches behind him were empty (his colleagues must have had better things to do) while the opposition benches were packed.

On top of that, Ramaphosa was grilled by opposition and ANC MPs alike.

Democratic Alliance chief whip John Steenhuisen snidely remarked that it could be Ramaphosa’s last question and answer session: “Deputy President, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to put questions to you today because if the briefings from within your own party are to be believed, this could be your last oral question session as deputy president. Sounds like the only buckling down you’re going to get to is packing your office.”

Steenhuisen also criticised Ramaphosa, who is the head of government business in Parliament, for not having done much in the past two-and-a-half years when ministers disregarded Parliament.

Ramaphosa, who up to that point had already thrice responded to MPs’ questions on his possible sacking by saying he served at the President’s pleasure and could be removed at his pleasure too, had enough good cheer to joke about it. “If that eventful day ever happens, that I need to pack my office and vacate, honourable Speaker, I hope you will allow me to engage the services of Mr Steenhuisen to come and pack up in my office. I will lay out the boxes and he will pack up my books,” he said.

I hope he will be ready and willing to carry them out and load them on a van and drive me away.”

Economic Freedom Fighters MP Floyd Shivambu was the first to ask Ramaphosa about the reshuffle rumours. “It is the President’s prerogative to appoint or remove me and if the decision is to remove me, I will accept it and I will continue to serve the people of South Africa in one shape or another,” Ramaphosa responded.

African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe came obliquely at Ramaphosa, suggesting that rumours that he was to be axed were aggravating the climate of political instability in the country. Seeing that Ramaphosa’s campaign itself was spreading these rumours, it was a low blow.

A lower blow, however, came from Ramaphosa’s own caucus. Public enterprises portfolio committee acting chairperson Zukiswa Rantho wanted to know why Ramaphosa, who heads Cabinet’s inter-ministerial committee on state-owned entities, hadn’t done much to root out corruption in these entities.

Her committee is currently doing an inquiry into state capture at Eskom, and everyone knows Ramaphosa is running his presidential campaign on an anti-corruption ticket.

Ramaphosa, clearly off-balance, laughed before replying: “These incidents of corruption are only now spewing out in the manner that all of us have become aware of them.”

MPs didn’t look like they bought that.

Still, despite the fighting, it’s not been a bad week for Ramaphosa. Pre-empting the spy report smear took the sting out of this a little. In the past week he also drew decent crowds at meetings in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State, considered strongholds of Dlamini Zuma.

It doesn’t really matter that these crowds aren’t all ANC branch members. A mere flexing of muscles in front of the cameras counts for a lot right now, too. DM

Photo: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa signs the pledge at an event where he led the 2017 Grade 12 signing of the pledge ceremony at Albert Moroka Secondary School in Thaba Nchu, Free State. 13 Octber 2017 (GCIS)

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