December 2017 marks an elective year for the African National Congress. A practice and tradition that occurs every five years to determine its leadership, as elected by its branches and structures.
I start today, as in 2012, with a series of opinions on those who are in the race for high office. Whilst the official announcement of an election is not yet made, and will in all likelihood only occur much later following the June policy conference, we would be fooled to assume candidates are not in subliminal campaign mode.
For this first installment we will look at someone who has lifted his hand to lead, namely the deputy president of the ANC and South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa is an old hand with an illustrious career with many celebrated and significant markers for his candidacy.
Some of these include, the former NUM general secretary office, contributor to the constitutional reality of SA, an attorney by profession, later Secretary General of the ANC, wealthy businessman, peace broker in a few African Countries. Now in his second coming as deputy president of the ANC he appears in the pound seat to tick the right boxess. He is a very measured and toned public speaker.
He seldom shows his personal emotions and is known for sporting a huge welcoming smile. Beyond 60 he perhaps brings together the fullness of the liberation struggle in its many facets and descriptions. He in many ways appears to have a made a smooth transition from organised labour leader to corporate leader and high-level politician.
Despite the fact that Ramaphosa has an almost natural claim to high office (considering the above and what some claim to be a natural progression in the ANC from deputy president to president) Ramaphosa’s path to Mahlamba Ndlopfu however appears strewn with thistles if not land mines he will have to navigate, and definite hurdles he will have to overcome.
I can almost hear you ask so why would it not be easy for Ramaphosa to make it to the ultimate seat of political power? I will in this musing attempt to show how his constituency challenge, his recent strategy, message and means for attaining high office may set him up for failure come December 2017.
- Ramaphosa is a billionaire businessman:
In an American election set up this may have counted in his favour, yet our political system and the reality of unemployment, inequality and poverty places him as the confirmation of that inequality and poverty realities.
He is the signpost of empowerment, one who has grossly benefited from the days of NAIL, one of the first black empowerment companies and deals at the dawn of democracy. Cyril the former union leader became super wealthy in a perpetual ocean of black poverty. He can afford the buy a bull at an auction for R18-million without batting an eyelid.
His wealth has another dimension to it. His wealth underscores the nagging reality of a colossal inequality gap between the rich and poor: our society remains one plagued by the triple enemies of unemployment, inequality and poverty.
His wealth in another sense pits him as one whose business interests often follow his political work. Weekly Xpose ran a confirmed story on the Lesotho Government, Bidvest’s lucrative fleet management contract and accusations of the SADC facilitator being in the middle of this saga, despite him having divested his shares in Bidvest in November 2013, and giving up his directorship in 2014. This very deal later cost former Prime Minister Pakhatile Mosisili his job, and is the reason for Lesotho’s upcoming elections.
This business interest is not new because how can we forget Lonmin and the lives tragically lost in Marikana in which Ramaphosa was active with communications evidenced in emails that, at least, are questionable? Granted, the Farlam Commission did not find against Ramaphosa in an overt sense but he continues to be associated with the Marikana tragedy for his shareholding and role in the dastardly and dark period in our democratic sojourn.
On the day Weekly Xpose broke the story on Lesotho, Ramaphosa was in parliament under attack from the EFF who questioned him on his claimed vested interest in deals with SAA. Whilst the latter is still not concluded in confirmation, a case can be made as I much earlier advanced that Ramaphosa’s business interests and deals follow him as proverbial wet diapers in a political environment where business remains untrusted, and perceived as the currency of the enemy.
- Ramaphosa’s constituency challenge:
It is argued Ramaphosa has no true constituency in the ANC. Let us not forget that Ramaphosa was a union leader. It delivered him into the powerful position of Secretary General in the Thabo Mbeki era. Whilst NUM leaders mostly became multi-millionaires, its power base in the world of organised labour has dwindled and appears to be completely upstaged by the emergence of AMCU. NUM remains blindsided by how AMCU outfoxed them.
Ramaphosa therefore cannot claim organised labour as his partner in his quest for high office, because his original base of NUM is eroded, with Cosatu also much weaker, if not disheveled with a threat of more unions leaving it for the new organised formation.
Organised labour, therefore in the ANC context and its role of determining ANC leadership, is thus not as straightforward as in another era.
So who then makes up Ramaphosa’s new base? Surprisingly he is heavily supported by business. The reality is that no matter how powerful business pretends to be, business has never determined ANC leadership. It appears that interest falls outside the normal definition of the ANC as an organisation. Whilst it is influenced by it, it is not a conclusive determining base or constituency that can see a candidate make it to high office.
- Mangaung 2012 versus Gauteng 2017:
Some will argue that he scored very high in votes at Mangaung in 2012. This claim is not refuted but must be contextualised against the backdrop of a Zuma constituency. It is generally and rightfully accepted that Zuma and his constituency brought Ramaphosa back to politics in extending him the Zuma constituency base in that era.
The political plateau and dimension has vastly shifted from 2012, and the same rules simply don’t apply now. If Ramaphosa will stand at December 2017, it will be because a constituency trusted him to lead, that constituency at present is hazy and not simply defined. It appears he will not be able to count on the Zuma constituency, which is mumbled to be placed somewhere else. Mangaung’s election results will not necessarily define the canvas of the December 2017 conference and Ramaphosa over the next 8 months will have to find his constituency foothold, which until now appears difficult to analyse.
- Ramaphosa is not ANCYL preferred candidate:
The role of the ANCYL and ANCWL as structures of the ANC cannot be underestimated. Throughout the length of the ANC in freedom these structures played a pivotal role in electing its leadership. The most recent elections of Mbeki and Zuma underscore this undeniable reality. Mbeki’s candidacy stood on the back of these structures; it also failed at the hand of the same at Polokwane.
The Youth League has not endorsed or welcomed Ramaphosa as its candidate; instead it has hosted several events where Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma appeared as guest, pointing us to their preferred candidate. It does not appear that Ramaphosa will be able to convince this constituency and base to alter its mind to support his candidacy.
- Ramaphosa is not the Women’s League candidate:
As in the case of the Youth League, the Woman’s League remains an important cog to consider in an elective conference. All indications at this earlier stage show that the Women’s League feels the time has come to break with the paternalistic tendencies of the ANC when it elects presidents. As far back as 2015 we heard the first mutterings of a woman candidacy come 2017. The League has not changed its mind and it appears to be supporting Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Ramaphosa, it appears, will make no inroads in this constituency base. This is clearly a hurdle that he may not be able to cross.
- Ramaphosa’s veteran support is sketchy:
It would appear the veterans, as a structure however defined, is not necessarily sympathetic towards Ramaphosa’s candidacy. The veterans as an official structure may have their own differences as the 101 voices versus others in recent months have come to show. Those as led by the MKVA are not supportive of Ramaphosa. However the 101 voices assimilated in claims of veterans and stalwarts have their own challenges. Some in that group cannot see Ramaphosa distinct from the current national leadership of the ANC. We know for example that Kgalema Motlanthe leads his own campaign to have all national office bearers and NEC members step down, since to him these are all as tainted as the president of the ANC.
It can be argued his recent personal and public denial of consultation (when others claim lengthy deliberations) on the Cabinet reshuffle was an attempt to win over this group of Mbeki supporters who have never been able to move on from Polokwane. Clearly this is not an easy assignment for Ramaphosa and thus remains another hurdle in his path to assume SA’s leadership.
- Ramaphosa’s SACP support may lack grit:
The SACP has a long history of ideological influence on architecture of what ultimately became ANC policy. Yet the SACP is finding itself in a crisis of irrelevance. It in recent months adopted the interests of its leaders as central in Cabinet positions as opposed to being the vanguard for the workers and the poor. They regularly have long press statements on ANC political leadership, when their own relevance is questioned from all sides of the political divide.
The SACP therefore is hardly a significant presidential decider in 2017, and has in some ways broken the trust of its tripartite partners with its public oppositional stance. We all know the SACP cannot attempt to go to the polls alone and needs the ANC much more than the ANC needs it.
Hence if the case is made that Ramaphosa may find comfort here as a partner, it would be challenging to see how it plays out. Yet in politics where capital plays an undeniable role, the current SACP appears more natural capitalists than true communists in defending its cabinet members.
- Ramaphosa and organised labour’s endorsement:
Cosatu, a member of the tripartite alliance, recently came out to confirm their support for his candidacy. We may argue in this season what that means when Cosatu is in the state it finds itself.
We may also ask what relevance that has in an elective conference of ANC. We may equally ask if Cosatu does this out of a history of NUM involvement, though the dotted lines are blurry.
- Ramaphosa appears not supported by all provinces:
While Ramaphosa’s candidacy has the backing of Gauteng and Northern Cape, if the two respective leadership’s statements are anything to go by with, the support from the other provinces is not a guarantee. An early indication shows that Free State, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, KZN, Limpopo, and North West are not leaning in favour of Ramaphosa.
His Gauteng province backing is not strange because Gauteng is the signpost for ANC-led empowerment and its black middle class has shown its truculence to make the ANC count in recent national and municipal elections. Gauteng, whilst a visible component of the ANC, is often not the reason for ANC securing elections at national level, hence it is argued they often claim a form of exceptionalism of being the super province that fails to deliver for the ANC the elections equal to many others. Northern Cape and Western Cape’s support for Ramaphosa also may not have bearing since the numbers for these provinces appear small.
- Ramaphosa has the support of the elite:
What is indisputable about Ramaphosa is that he has the support of the middle and upper class. These groups resonate with him for their definite reasons. His support extends beyond the racial barriers, as many white South Africans find comfort in him for his resume and for the definite role he has played in our recent 25-year history. He spells no threat to anyone specific, least not to white monopoly capital. They will find in him a reasonable mind that is also vested in the untransformed apartheid economy that confirms the undeniable disparities that militates our collective economic freedom.
- Ramaphosa’s campaign perhaps lacks a coherent theme:
Every campaign needs a core theme and message, while it is early days we may ask what will be the rallying point of a Ramaphosa campaign for high office? Every campaign must show an alternative to the current. The challenge is the ANC decides on policy as a collective and its political direction is not unilaterally dictated or decided by any individual.
Judging by recent comments it appears Ramaphosa wants to make radical economic transformation his mantra. That would not be wrong, since it is ANC policy since 2014, and building onto it makes sense. The challenge is what does the content of radical economic transformation mean, how is it understood beyond rhetoric in practical every day life? Also how will it stand in the presence of the advocated fiscal discipline measures that have defined our economic governance hitherto which by extension have manacled radical economic transformation?
- Perhaps Ramaphosa’s biggest drawback:
Perhaps the biggest drawback for Ramaphosa is his recent shown willingness to assume the responsibility to lead SA. With eight months to go, Ramaphosa has more and more shown an appetite to be willing to have Zuma unseated as SA president when the challenge of Zuma as ANC president is less clear and dealt with. It appears his willingness is to lead SA, not necessarily the ANC. This by itself in our current party-based political system is problematic.
If Ramaphosa is willing to lead SA he must first be willing to contest an election of the ANC leadership, win that and then lead. It cannot be that he has his eye on the SA presidency prize when he has not found a means to cross the true hurdle of an ANC presidency.
Anything short of a contest in December 2017 will result in a Motlanthe repeat: warming the seat for less than a year. I think Ramaphosa would do better to avoid being seen as impatient and obsessed to enter Mahlamba Ndlopfu early and by any means possible. My unsolicited advise to Ramaphosa is don’t attempt to support the removal of the incumbent as SA president as it will simply not work for your candidacy come December 2017.
I do not regard him a bad candidate and I hold he has a right to contest. He has to be significant if he was able to become secretary general and later deputy president of the ANC and SA, no different from his predecessors. He will have to show he is ready to fight and not flinch and draw back into his business corner when the heat is on, a behaviour some have accused him of, particularly during earlier attempts at ultimate political power. I wish him luck for the contest. It is clear there is a fight on for the ANC leadership and no favours are extended. The disarming smile is great, but he will need more than a smile and a roar of laughter as his attributes.
Clyde N. Ramalaine