22/01/2018 05:56 SAST | Updated 22/01/2018 07:40 SAST

The Transition: How The Political Tectonic Plates Are Shifting

We’re used to politics in South Africa being rough and tumble, but the last six days have been extraordinary, even by our standards. This is what it means.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC's national conference last month.
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Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC's national conference last month.


For almost two years, the ANC and government have sat hands folded as President Jacob Zuma helped enable the emergence of the shadow state, with the Gupta family and his son Duduzane as prime movers.

Former public protector Thuli Madonsela was labelled a stooge of the CIA, the media were accused of being handled by "white monopoly capital", and when Mcebisi Jonas revealed he had been offered the position of finance minister, ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa slammed news reports, saying the media "portrays the ANC leadership as collaborators to fit the fictitious narrative of a Gupta-controlled country".

The ANC's NEC met for four days in Irene, outside of Pretoria, where it seems Zuma's rapidly diminishing influence and power was dealt more body blows by the rise of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa's renewal and recovery agenda.

Well, the political tectonic plates have shifted and loudly crashed into each other over the last week, with the grand edifice constructed by the network of patronage and corruption cracking right at the very top. The ANC's NEC met for four days in Irene, outside of Pretoria, where it seems Zuma's rapidly diminishing influence and power were dealt more body blows by the rise of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa's renewal-and-recovery agenda.

This is what went down over the last week -- and why it matters.


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Future SA supporters picket outside the McKinsey offices on October 05, 2017 in Sandton, South Africa. The civil society group protested against the way in which the global company conducted itself in relation to its empowerment partner Trillian Capital and their business deals with Eskom. (Photo by Felix Dlangamandla/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) is located within the National Prosecuting Authority, where Shaun Abrahams has been in charge and steadfast in his refusal to act against either Zuma or state capture. The unit suddenly confirmed it will be seizing assets to the tune of R1.6-billion from global consultancy McKinsey and Gupta-linked company Trillian Capital Partners because of payments received from Eskom are believed to be "proceeds of crime". The AFU investigation -- which it later emerged was kept under wraps for fear of undue political interference -- is focusing on 17 cases hoping to recover R50-billion. It is the first hard and clear effort by any law enforcement agency to investigate state capture and comes more than 14 months after Madonsela's "State of Capture" report was issued.


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Suspended Crime Intelligence Head Richard Mdluli arrives at the Boksburg Magistrate's Court on June 24, 2011 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Hawks arrested the lieutenant general in March on charges including murder and kidnapping, a decade after the crime he allegedly covered up. (Photo by Bongiwe Gumede/Gallo Images)

Until the termination of his employment "by mutual consent", Mdluli was the suspended head of the police's crime intelligence unit. A career police member who is believed to be have received political protection from the very top, he has left a trail of destruction in his wake at both the police and the NPA. He has managed to escape prosecution for various alleged illegal activities at Crime Intelligence, which has all but become dysfunctional under his leadership and embroiled in fighting personal and political battles. He ingratiated himself with Zuma in 2011 when he penned an intelligence report flagging a conspiracy against the president and is believed to have been close to Zuma ever since. His sudden removal by police minister Fikile Mbalula could indicate shifting loyalties away from Zuma to the new leadership.


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Deputy President of South Africa, and newly elected African National Congress (ANC) President, Cyril Ramaphosa (C) and Minister of Finance, Malusi Gigaba (R) flanked by security and media leaves from the Pre-World Economic Forum (WEF) Breakfast, which takes place ahead of the WEF Annual meetings in Davos, at the Hilton Hotel in Sandton district of Johannesburg on January 18, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / GULSHAN KHAN (Photo credit should read GULSHAN KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The president-in-waiting gave a strong showing in his first outing delivering the ANC's January 8 statement days before, and continued fleshing out his themes of national recovery and renewal speaking to a gathering of businesspeople ahead of the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. As with his off-the-cuff remarks at the weekend, he was unafraid to repeatedly use the phrase "state capture". He told his audience he wants to see more action on corruption and state capture and that authorities "need to increase the tempo" of investigations and prosecutions. "We are deadly serious about this," Ramaphosa said. This is a massive change from Zuma's obstructionist (at worst) and indifferent (at best) approach to grand looting.


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South African National Prosecuting Authority Shaun Abrahams holds the appeal papers during a press conference on May 23, 2016 at the NPA Head Office in Pretoria, SOuth Africa. The National Prosecuting Authority will seek leave to appeal a court ruling that corruption charges must be reinstated against South African President Jacob Zuma. / AFP / GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

Abrahams, appointed by Zuma after he strong-armed the previous national head of public prosecutions into a severance deal, has been one of the president's most ardent keepers. He targeted former finance minister Pravin Gordhan in a malicious -- but ultimately embarrassing -- campaign and was Zuma's point-man in deflecting the corruption charges which the High Court found should be reinstated. But the court recently found that Abrahams should also be removed and a new national director of public prosecutions should be appointed, but not by Zuma. In his appeal, Abrahams, in an attempt to show his impartiality, revealed that all 218 witnesses previously identified in the Zuma investigation had been traced and were willing to testify. The wheels of justice might grind slowly, but they grind finely.


The balance of power on the NEC is uncertain, although it might be tipped ever so slightly in favour of Ramaphosa. The body met to elect the party's national working committee (NWC), which is a subcommittee of the NEC in charge of daily party management. Its election revealed the upper hand, though not by much, of Ramaphosa supporters, in that body too. Insiders say Ramaphosa's organisers will be manoeuvring key people into key subcommittee positions, which means even though he might have won a slim majority in the leadership contest, he will ensure that trusted lieutenants take charge of strategic bodies and committees. Debate at the NEC meeting centred on Zuma's future, with apparent agreement that his departure should happen expeditiously and graciously. It is a massive change of tack for a party that for years rallied around Zuma in spite of damning evidence of irregularities and poor leadership.


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Jacob Zuma, South Africa's president, looks on during a visit to the headquarters of Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. at Megawatt Park in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Friday, May 6, 2016.

Malusi Gigaba, the minister of finance who is believed to have been one of the Guptas' original enablers, said earlier in the week that government had no money to bail out the ailing parastatal, which has been at the centre of the Guptas' efforts to fleece the state. Eskom's precarious financial position poses a severe threat to the whole of the economy, but Zuma's Cabinet, with Lynne Brown (minister of public enterprises) at the forefront, has neglected to make the serious repairs needed to turn the company around. On Saturday, in his strongest show of force yet, Ramaphosa announced in a statement that a new board, chairperson and acting CEO had been appointed to lead the turnaround. And, what is more, both Gigaba and Brown will work under Ramaphosa to ensure the recovery of the corruption-riddled organisation. It came after a memorandum, signed by 400 Eskom managers, was directed at Ramaphosa imploring action. The memo wasn't directed at Zuma, the head of state, or Brown, to whom Eskom reports. It was directed at the new sheriff in town. All of this while the NEC was meeting. Everyone could see who was in charge.


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Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane.

NEC members arrived for the final day's deliberations on the governing party's plans for the year ahead to screaming headlines in the Sunday newspapers and damning detail about how Mosebenzi Zwane, the Gupta minister of mineral resources, channelled millions of rands to the Guptas through the Free State department of agriculture while he was MEC. According to affidavits by the AFU in the High Court, lodged in support of a preservation order application, Atul Gupta personally scored R10-million while R220-million in total was transferred from a dairy project meant to alleviate poverty to the Guptas and their linked entities. Zwane, of course, had his CV vetted by the Guptas before it was forwarded to the presidency. He was also the minister who rode to the Guptas defence when the banks closed their accounts. And who was premier of the Free State while all of this was happening? Well, Ace Magashule, the newly elected ANC secretary-general. This investigation will be the sharp end of the spear, and both Zwane and Magashule will feel its thrust.


Ramaphosa is in Davos this week selling three important messages: Zuma is on his way out, government is starting to fix state-owned enterprises and state capture and corruption are in the crosshairs.

The ANC will on Monday hold a press conference to discuss the outcomes of the four-day NEC meeting where details about Zuma's future will emerge. Magashule will surely also be probed about the Free State corruption.

We are less than three weeks away from the state of the nation address and five weeks away from the tabling of the budget. There is heavy lifting to be done if Ramaphosa wants to turbo-charge his renewal agenda, with the removal of Zuma and a Cabinet reshuffle the most important task.