I got an honourable, but gentle, mention on the radio this week from the host of the Eusebius McKaiser show. Apparently I am way too starry-eyed about Cyril Ramaphosa winning the presidency of the ANC. I’m a liberal kumbaya columnist.
I just don’t appreciate how complex it all is. I don’t get the nuances. I don’t appreciate that while Ramaphosa is the new party president, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s slate won the election. I don’t appreciate how hemmed in he is. I don’t appreciate how hard it’s going to be if the new national executive committee (NEC) reflects the same successes for Dlamini-Zuma’s slate as the leadership election did.
I don’t appreciate how hard it is going to be to recall President Jacob Zuma.
There’s a lot of complexity about. Some real, some not so real. There are even stories emerging from experts about how Ramaphosa might be "recalled" by the party that just elected him.
How? He has to be head of state before he can be recalled.
In South African politics, leaders matter. People flock to them and obey them. Zuma’s ability to ruin a strong economy is proof of it. They are the dispensers of patronage and power, which is why people become politicians
As I write, the NEC election result has not been announced.
A wrangle over whether or not to rerun the count for the position of secretary-general, controversially won by just 24 votes by a close Zuma and Gupta ally, Free State Premier Ace Magashule, was resolved in his favour. He keeps the job.
But let’s slow down. There’s complication and there’s overcomplication.
In South African politics, leaders matter. People flock to them and obey them. Zuma’s ability to ruin a strong economy is proof of it. They are the dispensers of patronage and power, which is why people become politicians.
First, the top six. It is inaccurate to suggest it is split down the middle between the Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma factions. ANC deputy president David Mabuza backed Ramaphosa at the conference, where it matters.
Jesse Duarte, returned as deputy secretary-general, whispered to Ramaphosa as he rose to embrace her after her victory was announced: "I am very grateful."
For what? And even if she might have preferred another winner for the top job, it can’t seriously be argued that she will now plot Ramaphosa’s removal or that she will stand in his way.
And if she does, who does she stand with? Magashule?
No way. Magashule is unlikely to see out his term, or will spend much of it in court.
He will fall foul of either a judicial commission on state capture because of his close rapport with the Guptas, or will simply be arrested.
Ramaphosa won’t have to ask the top six or the NEC for permission to institute a judicial inquiry into state capture. He won’t have to ask them if they mind terribly if he replaces Shaun Abrahams as head of the National Prosecuting Authority.
He has already been instructed to do this by a judge president — and he isn’t yet head of state. Or the head of the Hawks. Or the chairman of Eskom, South African Airways or Denel.
Neither will he have to ask permission to build a unifying Cabinet, which he will.
It may even include Dlamini-Zuma, Malusi Gigaba and Fikile Mbalula.
The only big question is how long it will take Ramaphosa to persuade Zuma to leave the Union Buildings early, or to persuade the new ANC leadership to recall him, or persuade the parliamentary caucus to pass a motion of no confidence in him. Zuma knows this.
Had she had won, my information is that Dlamini-Zuma would have faced a similar quandary. Zuma is now a political liability to the ANC. There’s no doubt in my mind he will go quickly. If he does stay, the ANC would be fatally weakened when going into an election in 18 months.
Largely because Ramaphosa has bided his time and not railed against Zuma as much as people might have liked, his critics underestimate his strength of character and the clarity of his vision about what he wants to do with SA.
Whether the vision is credible or not is open to question. He has already spelled it out, first in the National Development Plan and again in a recent speech in Soweto. It is not radically different to what Dlamini-Zuma had in mind — except that he, not she, probably has a better idea about how to get it done without alienating business and foreign investors, the country’s main sources of capital. Like Dlamini-Zuma, he is an admirer of the way the Chinese run their state-owned companies.
So I don’t understand the scepticism. Ramaphosa has new ANC chairman Gwede Mantashe, his deputy Mabuza and treasurer-general Paul Mashatile on side.
My guess is that Duarte will quickly become an ally. Even Magashule will soon recognise, if he hasn’t already, that Zuma cannot help him.
For the moment, the factions that have characterised the ANC for the past two years no longer exist in any useful form. What would be the point now of a Dlamini-Zuma faction? To get her elected? As what?
Other factions will no doubt emerge in this divided party but they will not look like the ones we have just seen the back of.
After the conference ended on Wednesday, Ramaphosa held most, if not all, of the cards.
That will become clearer in the next few weeks.
He will chart a way forward in the ANC’s annual January 8 statement and if I’m right and the ANC is not suicidal, he’ll open Parliament with a state of the nation address in February.