ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

It was a long night.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s allies were careful to keep the focus largely on ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule himself, rather than open a broader front against the whole Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction – a move I expect Ramaphosa and his cohorts to embark upon in the next several weeks. 

In the end, the party’s NEC decided that those people who have been criminally charged (including Magashule) have 30 days to step aside, or they’ll be suspended.

Magashule and his camp appeared to have gone to the meeting with the expectation of stronger support, but it appears they underestimated the ability of the group around Ramaphosa to undercut and isolate him and encourage support for the president. 

They also underestimated the efficacy of Ramaphosa’s painstakingly inclusive approach to state and party governance. 

In effect, when the proposal for Magashule and others implicated by the integrity commission was raised, there was little incentive for nonaligned members and those whose interests are not directly tied to Magashule’s position to stick their necks out for him. 

Whether it was due to manoeuvring by Ramaphosa’s camp (as implied here), or a simple calculation of who can promise more, Magashule’s allies were in the (furious) minority.

So what now?

Markets should view this development, even with the month-long delay, as credit-positive — though they are likely to take a wait-and-see approach, having given the ANC the benefit of the doubt just once too often. 

I do think that having the RET on the back foot will probably allow the Ramaphosa-aligned group to implement more growth-friendly policies. However, they have their traditional Left allies in Cosatu and the SACP to keep them close to traditional statist policies, but probably with a softening or speeding up with regard to energy and the spectrum auction.

Certainly, Ramaphosa will now have a stronger hold on the party. This is probably the first NEC meeting at which Ramaphosa has come out having won basically all the political battles on offer. 

A more neutral or even pro-Ramaphosa replacement ANC secretary-general — probably an upgrade of Magashule’s current deputy, Jessie Duarte – will boost his chances of a second term. 

Magashule was never a realistic competitor for the presidency, and opposition is far more likely to come from “third way” candidates like Paul Mashatile or Zweli Mkhize.

In a linked move, Ramaphosa has savvily managed to get the impeccable Kgalema Motlanthe appointed as the head of the ANC electoral committee, which will effectively oversee the election and selection processes of the party. This committee provides Ramaphosa with a measure of insurance, as it diminishes the hold of the secretary-general’s office on the conference process.

Paths to power

What next for Ramaphosa? Assuming he has won this battle and Magashule goes, he will be keen to consolidate his power. 

A cabinet reshuffle seems likely for almost opposing reasons: Ramaphosa probably wants to at least shuffle a few low-performing portfolios, and maybe get rid of a few people he no longer needs to keep happy. In addition, the moment of Magashule’s departure presents an opportunity for Ramaphosa to buy the loyalty of some floating elites through political patronage in the form of cabinet posts.

Leading the ANC and the country always requires horse-trading, and the president still needs to balance the needs of aligned and opposed elites while creating an internal party environment in which his opposition prefers to stay under his umbrella and fight from within rather than seek an exit to the wild fringes of the party or the actual wilderness outside the ANC itself. Good factional management will soften the blow to his opponents and provide incentives for co-operation rather than competition.

The implementation of Ramaphosa’s policy agenda, amorphous as it may be, will rest on how he uses the state and party to control political heads. In his time, Mbeki directly controlled the appointments of ministerial directors-general, and used a strong presidency and its policy co-ordination and advisory services (headed by Joel Netshitenzhe) to marshal ministers who had been appointed for political expediency. 

Ramaphosa has a much weaker hold on policy-making and implementation in the party and the state, though Operation Vulindlela represents a limited approach to increasing the presidency’s hold on policy.


  • Borain is an independent political analyst. Subscribe to his blog here.


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