POLITICS
19/12/2017 11:53 SAST | Updated 19/12/2017 11:53 SAST

Ramaphosa's Moment: But Who Will Be His Street Fighters?

The new ANC president is going to need all his smarts and skills if he is going to do what he has promised.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Deputy president of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa looks on during the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa December 17, 2017.

At 5.25pm on Monday, Cyril Ramaphosa walked into the cavernous plenary hall of a Johannesburg showgrounds, sat down and grinned. And grinned. And grinned. And while the official results would only be announced an hour or so later, the cat was out of the bag with that Cheshire smile.

While we waited, Ramaphosa got up from his seat and went to greet his fellow ANC leaders who were all dressed in party colours on the stage festooned in green, black and gold ribbons. It was an early victory lap.

Energy Minister David Mahlobo used his tablet to shoot selfies with Ramaphosa, while Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba chatted, first with Ramaphosa and then with losing candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The young finance minister has always known how to play both sides of a political contest.

Loyalties shifted quickly to Ramaphosa in that moment and the North West strongman Premier Supra Mahumapelo walked past Ramaphosa's table, genuflecting in greeting and saying "leadership, leadership, leadership" as he greeted the top table.

Before the announcement, Dlamini-Zuma was a contrast. She sat looking pensive; twiddling with her phone and staring vacantly around her.

Position confers power and Ramaphosa now has that in spades, but is it sufficient to guarantee authority over a severely divided ANC leadership?

The Nasrec venue where he had failed to become the heir to the first democratic president Nelson Mandela in the 1990s was now a charmed one for him. The man who led NUM, South Africa's iconic mine workers' union, who did the first big black empowerment deals and who negotiated South Africa's Constitution was about to be king.

Gallo Images via Getty Images
SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA DECEMBER 18: (SOUTH AFRICA OUT): New president of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa during the announcement of new party leadership at the 5th African National Congress (ANC) national conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre on December 18, 2017 in Soweto, South Africa. As ANC delegates supporters of the two presidential candidates were equally confident that their preferred choice will be announced as the new president of the ANC. The race was between Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa the only two nominees for the party's top position. (Photo by Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The hall wasn't a sweet spot for everyone.

Before the announcement, Dlamini-Zuma was a contrast. She sat looking pensive; twiddling with her phone and staring vacantly around her. Her supporters in the ANC Women's League surrounded her as the organisation's leader, Bathabile Dlamini, walked around the stage looking upset. It was pretty clear what had happened.

Ramaphosa needed a deeper win for the amputations he must carry out to get South Africa back on track.

The results announcement revealed just how tough a race it had been. Ramaphosa, who had left the stage by then, beat his opponent Dlamini-Zuma by only 179 votes and he was escorted back, this time in a different role. That slim majority was a sweet victory but it contains the seeds of his difficulties.

Ramaphosa needed a deeper win for the amputations he must carry out to get South Africa back on track. The symbol of his campaign was the rolling hand substitution sign that Zuma's people had used at the Polokwane conference to get rid of then president Thabo Mbeki.

JOY ERUPTS

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
ANC members celebrate after South African Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa was elected president of the ANC during the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

But Cyril Ramaphosa was finally ANC president after a gruelling year-long campaign. The watching nation, or its digitally enabled parts, erupted on social media as it got an early Christmas gift in the form of a new leader who marks a sea-change to the scandal-prone Jacob Zuma, who completed his term just as the results were announced.

Twitter soon exploded in celebration and with a presidential to-do list for Ramaphosa: recall Zuma; appoint a new head of the National Prosecuting Authority (and make sure it's former public protector Thuli Madonsela) and a commission of inquiry into state capture; get the stuttering economy started...

Soon, his grin turned to pensiveness on the stage, perhaps as he realised the scale of the challenge before him.

South Africa is a nation of presidents-in-waiting and they all start issuing lists of what this new son of hope should do to fix the beloved country.

News24 was up quickly with "10 things Cyril Ramaphosa must do now" and HuffPost SA followed with "5 urgent tasks for the new President".

The markets take a joyful leap north on the charts. Nedbank CEO Mike Brown has got a letter to Ramaphosa ready and he fires it off for publication.

A lot rests on Ramaphosa.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Oh, what a feeling!

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Uhm . . . DD, Ace? This might be a tad difficult, no?

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Yes, this is going to be difficult.

Soon, his grin turned to pensiveness on the stage, perhaps as he realised the scale of the challenge before him. Ramaphosa ran a campaign that started as a response to state capture. He was persuaded to run for the ANC top job after former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was fired. Since then, his candidature has pivoted on good governance and uprooting corruption. Will he be able to implement his mission?

A DEAL WITH DAVID

As electoral officer Bontle Mpakanyane announced the ANC deputy president, many at the front took in a sharp breath, surprised. Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza won with a bigger mandate than Ramaphosa's in that he received more votes from delegates.

Sometime on Sunday night or before dawn on Monday, Mabuza threw in his lot with Ramaphosa. Many stalwart supporters of the new ANC president did not like it and they warned against a deal.

Ever the assiduous schemer, Mabuza had bolstered ANC Mpumalanga party branches and ballooned its numbers to such an extent that the province displaced the Eastern Cape to become home to the second largest number of ANC members. That fuelled his meteoric ride to the top.

Sometime on Sunday night or before dawn on Monday, Mabuza threw in his lot with Ramaphosa. Many stalwart supporters of the new ANC president did not like it and they warned against a deal. To do the deal, his team had to abandon Lindiwe Sisulu who entered late as his deputy president candidate.

But without Mabuza's crew, there would have been no win for Ramaphosa. The race was run on a razor's edge. Now Ramaphosa's ill-fitting deputy president sat next to him. It looked like the worst of forced marriages.

Mabuza wrote the state capture playbook long before the Gupta family came on the scene to perfect the art. In Mpumalanga, they say, no deals get done without him. And Mabuza's home, called State House, as well as his farm, called The Farm, are centres of patronage power.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Deputy president of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa greets an ANC member during the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

No doubt, Mabuza wants a national job to expand his political and commercial empire whereas Ramaphosa has promised an order that is the antidote to the kind of rent-seeking Mabuza represents.

The new president sits, already, on the horns of a dilemma, balanced between his deputy and a nation expecting a fresh take and a return to respectability. Mabuza sat to Ramaphosa's left and to his right sat another fireball that had landed in his executive.

THEY CALL HIM AAAACCCEEEEEEE!

Ace Magashule is now ANC secretary-general. Throughout the conference, thousands of delegates sang his name "Aaaaaccceee" every time they saw him.

Ramaphosa has no real allies in his top six leaders in the ANC, except for the national chairman Gwede Mantashe who may or may not be able to function as Ramaphosa's enforcer as he manages through his awkward alliance to make the changes he has promised.

The chairperson of the ANC in the Free State and the province's long-serving premier also wants a tilt at the big time.

He is a populist politician who cultivates patronage politics rather than modern democratic practices.

He will now run the ANC with deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte who was an open campaigner for Dlamini-Zuma.

Ramaphosa has no real allies in his top six leaders in the ANC, except for the national chairman Gwede Mantashe who may or may not be able to function as Ramaphosa's enforcer as he manages through his awkward alliance to make the changes he has promised.

Ramaphosa's election on Monday was a fillip for a nation drained by a year's revelations of how deeply entrenched corruption is. But the elections also revealed a trend that was at odds with the promise of Ramaphosa's new deal and a return to the rule of law. The provincial strongmen triumphed in their gambit for national power. The party's treasurer-general is now Paul Mashatile from Gauteng.

He is a Ramaphosa ally, but he is also tight with Mabuza and Magashule as part of a provincial brotherhood (or mafia, if you want to be unkind).

The three could prove to be Ramaphosa's biggest challenge rather than the set of lieutenants he needs to aggressively and immediately push a reform agenda. Ideally, Ramaphosa wanted to recall Zuma, but that is now unlikely. So is quick movement on a commission of inquiry into state capture because Magashule could stymy it.

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa's deputy president and newly elected president of the African National Congress party (ANC), right, embraces David Mabuza, newly appointed deputy president of the African National Congress party (ANC), on stage during the 54th national conference of the African National Congress party in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. With his election as leader of the ruling African National Congress on Monday, Ramaphosa, 65, will be the party's presidential candidate in 2019 and may take over running the country from�Jacob Zuma�sooner than that if he's ousted before the end of his second term. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

He is a confidante and supporter of the Gupta family and they are his patrons: Magashule's sons are stamped all over the #Guptaleaks emails for having benefited from their Dubai largesse. Did Ramaphosa enter a necessary unity deal with his new executive or a Faustian pact that will frustrate his every dream and in the process, our aspirations too?

WHO WILL BE RAMAPHOSA'S FIGHTERS?

Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan wore a green ANC golf shirt as he watched the unfolding results announcements from the stage with Derek Hanekom wearing a yellow ANC shirt. Gordhan looked cautious; Hanekom looked optimistic.

Magashule and Mabuza are Machiavellian actors of the twenty-first century. They play power games and practice a politics of state capture

In the row in front of them, the former national police commissioner Bheki Cele looked out from under a white cap. The party's chief whip at Parliament, Jackson Mthembu, strutted about the stage, like a peacock in the right camp. The four are going to be Ramaphosa's bulwark in the ANC's top ranks. With others, they won the race for him.

Ramaphosa is king of a divided kingdom and he will need princes to fight his corner and ensure that his mandate of renewal of the ANC and of the country is kept. Magashule and Mabuza are Machiavellian actors of the 21st century. They play power games and practise a politics of state capture that has been invisible because it happened in the provinces and not at national level.

There is a fundamental tension at the heart of the ANC Ramaphosa now leads and he will need all his negotiating nous as well as a posse of street fighters to make good on the promise of this big moment.

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