THE BLOG
30/05/2018 14:22 SAST | Updated 30/05/2018 15:22 SAST

The Time Has Come For Ramaphosa To Throw JZ Under The Bus

There's no reason for President Cyril Ramaphosa to protect his predecessor any longer.

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At the end of South Africa's lost decade under Jacob Zuma, many started hankering back to the "good old days" of the Thabo Mbeki presidency.

What people forgot, amid the carnage wrought on government and society by the Zuma cabal, was that the era preceding him saw the initial creep of political interference in the criminal justice cluster, the disaster of HIV, and Mbeki's appeasement strategy towards Zimbabwe.

But Ramaphosa had been there from the beginning. He was omnipresent on the ANC's NEC for years, serving on the financial subcommittee and the national disciplinary committee.

Nobody is for a moment longing for the days of pillaging and wonder (to mangle Paul Simon) under Zuma, but when considering what President Cyril Ramaphosa knew about state capture and when he knew it, we should try to remember how constricted the political environment in the ANC became in the period between 2015 and 2018.

Last week, Ramaphosa told the SA National Editor's Forum (Sanef) that it was only after the publication of the leaked Gupta emails that he realised what the extent of state capture was. Before then, he said, the revelations came in piecemeal fashion, and he believed that reports about abuses at Eskom constituted a "wheel nut" that come loose.

Granted, before Ramaphosa's return to government in mid-2014 the state-capture project was already in full swing.

But Ramaphosa had been there from the beginning. He was omnipresent on the ANC's NEC for years, serving on the financial subcommittee and the national disciplinary committee even before he was elected the party's deputy president in 2012 and Zuma's deputy in government two years later. He was there with Zuma's rise, and part of the machinery that helped tighten Zuma's grip on power.

Granted, before Ramaphosa's return to government in mid-2014 the state-capture project was already in full swing (the landing at Air Force Base Waterkloof was in April 2013) and the NEC firmly in Zuma's grasp. And when he took his seat in Cabinet, the only show in town was the investigation into Nkandla.

By backing off and agreeing to to restore Gordhan to National Treasury, Zuma showed weakness.

We know he was one of the prime movers behind efforts to salvage the situation in December 2015, when the state-capture project burst into the open with the dismissal of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister and the dispatch of a coterie of Gupta-ites to National Treasury. We also know that some harsh words were spoken before Pravin Gordhan's reinstatement at finance.

Why did Ramaphosa not move then and there to force fundamental change? Some of his advisers later pinpointed that moment as the one at which Ramaphosa realised he would have to challenge Zuma and that he would have to lead a fightback campaign.

By backing off and agreeing to to restore Gordhan to National Treasury, Zuma showed weakness. There was broad disagreement in Cabinet and the ANC, with Jeff Radebe (then-minister in the presidency) and Zweli Mkhize (then-treasurer-general of the ANC) leading a delegation to meet with business leaders before Ramaphosa delivered an ultimatum to Zuma.

In August 2016, his advisors have said, Ramaphosa unofficially kicked off his campaign with a eulogy at the funeral of ANC leader Makhenkesi Stofile.

But 2015 turned into 2016, and with every passing day Zuma grew stronger. Gordhan and Treasury clearly were in the crosshairs of the state capture project — the finance minister said as much, on numerous occasions — but they were left exposed. It was also during this period that then-public protector Thuli Madonsela became the project's enemy number one, and all her efforts to investigate were thwarted.

In August 2016, his advisers have said, Ramaphosa unofficially kicked off his campaign with a eulogy at the funeral of ANC leader Makhenkesi Stofile, in which he urged leadership in service of the ANC, and not leadership in service of personal interests.

The brutal dismissal of Gordhan and the dramatic Cabinet reshuffle of April 30 2017 was another pivotal moment — before the release of the Gupta mails — which clearly and loudly signalled the intentions of the state-capture project. The reaction of Ramaphosa, Mkhize and Gwede Mantashe (then the ANC's secretary-general) showed that they, too, understood what was going on.

And he moved swiftly and stealthily to eject Zuma from office after his narrow Nasrec victory, something which he ticked off his to-do list by Valentine's Day this year.

Ramaphosa had by then actively started to mobilise ahead of the ANC's elective conference in December 2017 at Nasrec, with a political council (including Gordhan) helping to guide the campaign and a propaganda team launching their operations in January of that year.

And he moved swiftly and stealthily to eject Zuma from office after his narrow Nasrec victory, something which he ticked off his to-do list by Valentine's Day this year.

There is no doubt that Ramapahosa already knew by the time of the Nene dismissal what was afoot — also with the crazy assault on Treasury in 2016, Madonsela's investigation and the Cabinet reshuffle in March 2017. He knew better then the rest of South Africa, because he was in the middle.

Would a mass walkout from Cabinet after Gordhan's firing have forced things to come to a head sooner? Possibly.

Realpolitik dictated that he had to proceed in a calculated way, that if he wanted to salvage a functional governing party and state, he had to mobilise quietly and effectively.

Would a mass walkout from Cabinet after Gordhan's firing have forced things to come to a head sooner? Possibly.

Would more forceful and public action by Ramaphosa have prevented further damage to our constitutional construct and economy? Probably.

There is no need to protect Zuma anymore, or to play his games any longer. Rampahosa won the battle and can now be straight about what really happened in the final years of the lost decade — and how Zuma subverted the rule of law, Cabinet convention and the Constitution.

Ramaphosa can now, with a clear conscience, throw Zuma under the bus.