ANC NEC – ‘Step-a-Side’ announcement: A month is a VERY long time in ANC politics

By: Clyde Ramalaine

A week is a very long time in politics. I see some excitement with Ramaphosa at the end of the most unruly, ill-managed even extended NEC announcing the original decision to have people that are criminally charged step aside in 7 days extended to 30 days. It is here I wish to postulate if a week is long in politics a month is very long. I see this as another round in a boxing heavyweight contest. Nobody won yet. Don’t pop your cheap champagne corks yet.

We must engage what happened at this NEC and not become star-struck by what I called a “kicked into touch” take the hear off- I am doing something deferred decision.

The NEC had an attempt of historical first-time vote as initiated by Pravin Gordhan. The NEC showed more than the chasms of factions in divided lines. This NEC showed that the ANC is hopelessly fragile and wholly in conflict with itself suggesting visionless.

To assume this as the beginning of renewal or unity, choice themes often bandied around is to fail to appreciate the true extent of the divide. The ANC is not caught up in a fight between good and evil in which some naturally represent good and others evil, no it’s not caught in the crucible of a contestation for higher morality choices but it’s intrinsically strangled in self-interest, capital-directed and in total obedience to the handlers of capital power that geographically sits outside but have long acquired the ANC at a cheap price in buying its leaders from Nelson Mandela to Cyril Ramaphosa into colonial and apartheid spoils measurable in deals and at the expense of the masses it purports to represent. This capital power long determined it needs a weak neoliberal, malleable ANC for its intentions.

So, even if Ace are to step aside it will be an 18 month period of intense victim grassroots campaigning that takes his group and interest to the next elective conference. We have been here before though not in ANC but in State context meaning when Mbeki offloaded Zuma he misread and miscalculated the support for Zuma the victim. Zuma went to the grassroots and all he did was show his wounds and scars caused by Mbeki.

While we are tempted to look at an individual in maximum symbol of Ace we must keep one eye on the background vibrations of a pending Constitutional Court ruling in the request of the Commission to punish former President Jacob Zuma. Either way what the CC may rule for this unprecedented two years jail sentence of punishment request as the commission argued we may comfortably assume it will work for the Magashule faction in constituency solidification. Should the CC rule in favour of the Commission the political crisis for Ramaphosa is more than intensified. If it rules to extend him a fine – the more sensible punishment for the crime he would be able to claim he was right on the malicious intentions of the Chair of the Commission hence vindicated. That too will again embolden the Zuma presence as beneficial for Magashule.

On another level we must not forget the role and influence of the ‘international sentiment’ as represented by the Neo-liberal hegemony. This dimension has a manifold expressions for its layered approach of actors and structures such as the new pseudo civil society movement formations better known in labels of Save-SA or individuals that from time to time reinvent themselves and morph 101 Veterans or the more recent Defenders of Democracy frames.

It is important to appreciate that the idea for 30 days didn’t come in a vacuum. It’s is highly likely that Ace never wilted on his stance of not stepping aside and that only branches can call him to step down. It is perhaps better to see that there was a deadlock in the NOB meeting which resulted in Ramaphosa wilting and suggesting the 30 days period. As announced there will be consultation with elders. The latter undeniably so becomes another process conforming there is no conclusion on this step aside policy in actualised reality. This makes it then a negotiated arrangement that Ramaphosa proposed immanent in 30 days as agreed in the NOB setting. Negotiated agreements of this nature is hardly an authentic good gesture but a deep acknowledgement that the other party has a significant presence and is more than a threat. This becomes a trade-off. Usually, the apparent losers gain more than what is perceived they lost as we saw with the 92-94 Negotiated Pact, Whites gained much more than what was with the naked eye perceived.

Can the case be made of victimhood again in 2021? Yes, it can because more than 21 members of the ANC is conflicted in claims, charges, rulings and findings. These span across the factional divide.

These span across the real and pseudo ideological divides. This straddles the liberal and radical arches meaning it becomes natural mobilisation. ANC politics thrive on victimhood and Ace now is the symbol of that victimhood. Not for the data-laden chattering class but for the masses a victim.  Ace the Free State constituent ANC politician with this decision becomes Ace the national constituent ANC politician.

While the issue of step aside in narrow frames of Ace as individual became the bases for the NEC another key event was finalisation of the new National Task Team that would now become an important cog in moving forward. It’s left to be seen how this new approved Task Team will reshape constituency politics in the ANC in a space that is vey factional. If I may advance an opinion it’s more likely that this younger group of members may become a new force to aid Magashule in constituency context.

No publicity is bad publicity as the saying goes. May I add no victim remains empty of representing a larger cause of the aggrieved? Those who interpret this as ACE misreads the Group. Ace when this decision is given effect becomes in his own right robed in martyrdom.

The Ace faction knew they would not have the 51% majority numbers if it ever had to come to vote. Their strategy was to agitate and expose the CR faction as hardly clean, equally contaminated from Cyril himself including the entire NOB’s. The intention was to show CR is directed from outside the ANC by the Rupert Empire. That money was flowing in the NEC to achieve political That state institutions are used to fight political proxy wars in which some are prosecuted and charged while it’s non-existent for some of the friends of Cyril. On all the above even the staunchest CR supporter must concede an undeniable case exists.

At a more ANC macro level, some shifts also are noticeable. In my assessment, the Mbeki and Zuma era factions that dominated from 2005 the internal body politic of the ANC and a wider SA is now plausibly eclipsed as having matured into a Ramaphosa and Magashule factional divide.  Just as the Mbeki supporters including Mbeki in this NEC found comfort in now supporting Ramaphosa despite grave fundamental contradictions so the Zuma group despite whatever fears now will support Magashule.

ANC politics loves a comeback kid. Zuma was for a long time that comeback kid after the firing in 2005. The clearest demonstration of comeback status was when won at Polokwane against all apparent sane reason.

Ramaphosa made his comeback at Mangaung back from a business wilderness when he left politics abruptly because he could not become Mandela’s deputy. In case you don’t know Ramaphosa’s return to politics and ANC high office in deputy presidency was facilitated by none other than Magashule among others.

Magashule’s oversight criminal case currently before the court unless truly doctored will go nowhere and he will be contending in December 2022. He will be the new comeback kid.

So, did the ANC win this weekend? Did renewal or even the elusive unity win? Did organisational strength win? In all the aforementioned which we at a later stage should engage in intersectional sense individually the unfortunate answer is a resounding no.

What is more certain is the ANC under Ramaphosa is and remains rudderless but heavily capitalised from outside not to pay salaries but to buy votes of its leaders if and when it matters. Just as we saw from Nasrec give effect to the politics of the stomach by literally paying elected NEC leaders to vote a certain way. Capital, with agenda won, somebody after this NEC has little money to pay his/her debt or to incur more debt.

Again, I say a month is a long time in politics. Who knows how things may change until we a month from now will in less an emotional climate hear of  another decision to defer for another 30 days since the CR faction realised the ground is shifted.

We will await the month to see if Ramaphosa is going to kick the ball again into touch, when the plausible team of elders advise realise the ground has shifted.

Meaning what Ramaphosa announced last night was in no sense a victory while it sounded for some time it was. Ramaphosa and his crowd knows the truth. While this NEC pretended being his finest to show stealth he caved in and suggested this 30 days because he had no choice. Magashule with only a half-hearted DD Mabuza support, long betrayed by Paul Mashatile betraying and a Jessie Duarte who arguably is enthralled with the idea of probably becoming the one to suspend him, simply didn’t budge.

This fight is long from over so, park your bubbly bottles a tad longer in the ice box you may have need something stronger to soothe your sorrows.

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
A Lifelong Social Justice Activist Political Commentator & Writer is a SARChi D. Phil candidate in Political Science with the University of Johannesburg. Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA