Rob Rose Editor: Financial Mail
Cyril Ramaphosa and Jacob Zuma. Picture: KOPANO TLAPE/ GCIS
Cyril Ramaphosa and Jacob Zuma. Picture: KOPANO TLAPE/ GCIS

If, understandably, you’ve cooled on the idea of President Cyril Ramaphosa as the messiah delivering SA from evil, you’ll still hardly be heartened by the looterati now lining up with a guillotine calling for his head.

There is, at least, pleasing symmetry in the identity of those first to respond to Ramaphosa’s letter last week calling for the ANC to end corruption in its ranks. Indeed, had he been less diplomatic, these were the people he’d have written to personally.

Still, their sheer chutzpah is hard to beat.

First up, 4x4 enthusiast and ex-con Tony Yengeni called on Ramaphosa to resign, eagerly supported by the periodically orphaned Carl Niehaus. Close behind were Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina, embroiled in a R1.9bn toilet tender scandal, and ANC councillor Andile Lungisa, convicted of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm in 2018.

Finally, on Friday, the kingpin of state capture himself weighed in.

SA’s former president, a man facing 18 criminal charges — including fraud and corruption — wrote a letter to Ramaphosa, accusing him of betraying the ANC and selling out.

“You write for your own desires, to plead for white validation and approval … I view your letter as a diversion, a public relations exercise in which you accuse the entire ANC in order to save your own skin,” writes Jacob Zuma.

Yet Zuma’s letter itself is a hodgepodge of conspiracies, pre-emptive strikes at the judiciary, and straw-man arguments, in which he mischaracterises Ramaphosa’s argument only to attack that false picture.

“By stating that the ANC stands as ‘Accused No 1’ in respect of the charge of corruption, you implicate thousands of innocent members of the ANC who … have never benefited from corruption,” he writes.

Zuma, vastly skilled in the dark art of reframing the debate, surely knew that Ramaphosa wasn’t accusing every member of corruption, but rather speaking of the institution itself.

More damagingly, Zuma then accuses Ramaphosa of hiding the truth of the R1bn supposedly donated to his CR17 ANC electoral campaign, money he claimed was donated by white monopoly capital (WMC) to entrench its influence.

Ahead of this past weekend’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting, Zuma’s letter had at least energised the faction loyal to ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule. But, as Stephen Grootes writes in the Daily Maverick, it’s unlikely to sink Ramaphosa this time around.

It’s a view shared by political analyst Ralph Mathekga, who tells the FM that Zuma’s letter will change nothing.

“It was sent simply to neutralise Ramaphosa’s anticorruption [drive]. I don’t think much will come out of it. At the end of the day, Cyril raised expectations that he’d do something, then Zuma’s letter strengthened one faction, so the ANC will balance back again,” he says.

Maybe. Or maybe this is the moment for Ramaphosa to finally slay the political dragon that is the Zuma/Magashule faction. As Adam Habib, vice-chancellor of Wits University, put it on Twitter: “If you don’t do it now, you’re politically finished.”

Perhaps Ramaphosa has taken the first step to doing this, by volunteering to submit himself, and his 2017 election campaign, to scrutiny by the ANC’s integrity commission. As Qaanitah Hunter wrote in News24, it means the other contenders for the ANC leadership — including Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma — should also be required to be scrutinised.

Just imagine, however, what sort of conspiracies will be brewed up by the Zuma faction if Ramaphosa’s campaign is cleared by the commission.

As Habib puts it: “You’ve got to feel for Zuma’s acolytes — they’re not the brightest, so their argument is imbecilic, peppered with the normal racism [about] Indians and whites … and the customary WMC and RET [radical economic transformation] coined by Bell Pottinger.”

He’s not wrong. Besides Zuma’s references to WMC, Lungisa also accused Ramaphosa of being “a Trojan horse of the white neo-settler usurper owning class”.

As the inestimable Max du Preez writes in a smart analysis of the shootout at the ANC corral in Vrye Weekblad: “Lungisa’s use of language is an indication of the political temperature in the party — and it is unlikely that he wrote it on his own. He is often used as a kind of battering ram by Magashule.”

Du Preez says that while Ramaphosa’s donors were mainly white businessmen, Dlamini Zuma’s donors were most likely crooks like the Gupta brothers.

Still, he says: “In the current culture in the ANC, there is no greater shame than getting money from white monopoly capital.”

A taste for Influence

For a refresher course in how WMC assumed the position of public enemy No 1 in the party, you really ought to make a plan to watch Influence, the fantastic documentary from journalists Richard Poplak and Diana Neille, which deconstructs Bell Pottinger.

For a behind-the-scenes look at what it took to make it, read Neille’s account of interviewing Lord Tim Bell on Daily Maverick. She describes how she battled to hide her personal distaste for Bell as she listened to him describing Duduzane Zuma as “charming” and Tony Gupta as “boring”, while waxing on about “immorality versus amorality”.

The film documents “the rise and fall of the world’s most dangerous public relations company” and was picked as an official selection for the Sundance Film Festival in January.

Finally, on Ramaphosa’s admittedly disturbing travails in the ANC, there is, of course, another critical point to be made. Which is that the internal battles he is facing shouldn’t distract us from demanding better than what he’s given us so far.

This is a point made with characteristic eloquence by Eusebius McKaiser in the Mail & Guardian. “What no voter should do is to let Ramaphosa off the hook just because he has a tough time inside the NEC. The bottom line is that he is turning out to not be sufficiently fit for turning around the ANC and the state,” he writes.

The organisational weaknesses of the ANC are too many, too serious and too deep, he writes. Perhaps Ramaphosa, however intensely he desired reform, didn’t realise how deep the rot went. And if he can’t do it, maybe the party really is unsalvageable.

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