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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. REUTERS/Maja Smiejkowska


Ramaphosa will pay a heavy policy price for his victory




CYRIL Ramaphosa (pictured) may have won the presidency of the African National Congress (ANC), but it is clear from the behaviour of delegates at the conference that the political culture of the organisation is toxic.

The depth of the party’s leadership is shallow and divisions between his faction and that of the radical economic transformation (RET) group deepened at the conference.

The divisions may be unbridgeable, beyond the conference. It is clear from the conference that Ramaphosa’s renewal project of the ANC has been firmly rejected by delegates.

His party leadership strategy so far of uniting opposing groups within the ANC — by appointing representatives to all groups to cabinet, key positions in parliament and the state, and giving patronage equally to all groups, has not only promoted incompetence, allowed corruption to thrive and caused policy paralysis. It has also failed to keep the party united. 

Although the president’s “Ankole” faction is evenly represented in the top seven leadership of the ANC, the party’s national executive committee (NEC), from which the cabinet is appointed, parliamentary caucus is picked and which provides the party leadership between national conferences, is dominated by the RET faction. 

Ramaphosa will pay a heavy policy price for his victory. He will be required to reward the key ANC leaders who enforced his re-election, such as re-elected ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe and newly elected ANC general secretary Fikile Mbalula. Neither of  them are even close to decent administrators, but Ramaphosa will have to reward them with senior positions in cabinet and indulgence for their policy preferences. 

Mantashe, for example, is opposed to renewable energy as a solution to South Africa’s power crisis, ideologically defends coal and chases unsustainable energy solutions for the energy crisis such as creating a second state-owned power company and using power ships. Ramaphosa will be forced to give Mantashe what he wants. 

With exceptions, the party has largely recycled older leaders, from the top seven to the NEC. Younger leaders such as Justice Minister Ronald Lamola and deputy Finance minister David Masondo have been pushed to the margins.

What is clear is that the ANC is now becoming a party that is trading on its past to get voters to vote for it based on its struggle legacy, rather than its current performance. Furthermore, the ANC has essentially become a shell, only used to allow party members and leaders access to state resources.

Renewal of the toxic political culture of the ANC will necessitate banning the theatrics: the heckling, sloganeering and the defamatory statements masquerading as debate. It will also have to ban thugs, the corrupt and the violent from all structures of the ANC.

It will also mean suspending many of the RET leaders, such as Lindiwe Sisulu and Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, who have openly attacked the president. The question is: now that he has been re-elected will he garner the strength to do that, or will he continue with his clearly failed pre-conference unity strategy of tolerating leaders who are corrupt, incompetent, and deliberately destructive, just to keep the factions together?

Although having won the presidential battle, Ramaphosa’s own political battles have just started. Parliament may have opted not to start impeachment over the Phala Phala scandal, and the ANC’s NEC may have given him the green light and the national conference itself may have passed over a decision on how to deal with it, but Phala Phala is unlikely to go away.

Former president Jacob Zuma has initiated a private prosecution against him.

Ramaphosa’s opponents are also likely to continue to press him on Phala Phala, which will distract him from governing effectively, introducing party renewal reforms and from tackling corruption in the party and the state. Failing to do so may mean that while Ramaphosa may have won the party presidential election, it will cause the ANC to lose the 2024 national elections.

About the writer: William Gumede is associate professor at the School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand, and author of Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times (Tafelberg).–Mail&Guardian.

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