THE BLOG

Dances With Devils: Ramaphosa’s Looming Dilemma

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has a potential dilemma, and he knows it.

11/12/2017 06:02 SAST | Updated 11/12/2017 11:22 SAST
Rogan Ward / Reuters
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

ANC branch delegates from around the country will begin the trek to Nasrec in the south of Johannesburg this week ahead of the governing party's 54th national conference which starts on Saturday. They will be armed with the mandates of their comrades back home and travelling with the knowledge that whatever decisions the party reaches the country will be a different place on Christmas Eve.

They will also be travelling to Johannesburg under immense pressure. Intimidation and vote-buying seems to be rife, with delegates being offered money and access to patronage should they vote for a certain slate. Rumours have it that some delegates are offered as little as R15,000 a cross in the voting booth, while others have allegedly been offered R70,000 a pop.

(The ANC) is riven with divisions and bitterness and has been unable to change course over the last couple of years, even as danger signs were blazing red with every movement on the political Richter scale.

The ANC has over the last decade become cancerous with corruption. Its tentacles have metastasised into every corner of government and its leader, President Jacob Zuma, has auctioned off the country to the highest bidders. But the party itself is in parlous state. It is riven with divisions and bitterness and has been unable to change course over the last few years, even as danger signs were blazing red with every movement on the political Richter scale.

Foto24 via Getty Images
ANC presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is congratulated by Sihle Zikalala at the party's KwaZulu-Natal provincial general council on December 05, 2017 in Durban.

Because of this Rampahosa might be forced to do a deal with elements in his party he normally wouldn't want to. The road to the ANC president's office in Luthuli House runs through KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. Without sizeable support from those constituencies, Ramaphosa is likely to struggle.

The recent provincial general councils, in which Ramaphosa emerged with the most nominations, can at best be considered a rough indication of broad trends. These trends show that he did okayish in KwaZulu-Natal, securing a large chunk of support (28%), although his team say they expected to do better.

This will mean the continuing undermining of crucial state institutions, the proliferation of corruption and the entrenchment of vested interests.

The challenge remains Mpumalanga, the province of David Mabuza, the questionable provincial leader. Mabuza has managed to manoeuvre himself and his province into a position where he can command big support and make serious demands. The province's branches have also, officially, not taken a position either way, with 48% not pronouncing on their preferred candidate.

Mabuza has historically been part of the so-called premier league, a faction of ANC provincial leaders aligned to the Zupta network of patronage and privilege. Mabuza, along with Supra Mahumapelo (North West), Sihle Zikalala (KwaZulu-Natal) and Ace Magashule (Free State) wants to see the status quo remain. This will mean the continuing undermining of crucial state institutions, the proliferation of corruption and the entrenchment of vested interests.

AFP/Getty Images
South African President Jacob Zuma (L), former African Union Chairperson and presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (C) and South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa (R) dance after the closing session of the ANC policy conference on July 5, 2017 in Johannesburg.

Ramaphosa has made it clear that he intends on running a positive campaign. His nomination of Naledi Pandor as his chosen deputy president (a move that hasn't gained any traction among branches) was a signal that he wants clean government. He hasn't, as many implored him to do, descended into gutter politics and he seemingly remains resolute to finish the campaign clean.

But realpolitik might force him to abandon the moral high ground by next Sunday if it looks like he might need the support of a character like Mabuza. Then a deal in which Mabuza is rewarded with some or other senior position (deputy president?) in exchange for his province's votes becomes a distinct possibility.

If Ramaphosa is serious, there needs to be a clean break with the past – that means no Mabuza, no Ace and no Nomvula Mokonyane, nominated by KwaZulu-Natal as treasurer.

Conventional wisdom has it that it is impossible to win the ANC presidency without enlisting the support of some dodgy cadres, especially given the strength of the premier league or Zupta provinces. But equally it will be impossible to clean up the ANC and start repairs to the state with those leaders and their patronage networks on board.

If Ramaphosa is serious, there needs to be a clean break with the past -- that means no Mabuza, no Ace and no Nomvula Mokonyane, nominated by KwaZulu-Natal as treasurer-general.

He'll only be able to do this if he is winning the ground war for the hearts and minds of delegates. It's a tall order.