Ramaphosa, the ever-smiling ANC and caretaker SA president seven months into completing his predecessor’s term, looks a forlorn one.
He is today a long shot from the brimming, walking guy who had swag. It looks like his honeymoon was extremely short-lived. Given the conflicting and real pressures of leading SA, its caretaker president this week found himself having to shore up to convince ANC members and supporters that he was serious with the land debate. Don’t forget he became president by the slimmest of margins and internally appears not to be able to shake that.
Initially, with tons of selfies in commercial flights, morning walks on the Sea-Point beachfront with broad smiles it looked like he would have a long honeymoon. Ramaphosa finds himself today the scorn of those who loved him and saw him as the messiah of SA. Today he is pilloried with white fury, legitimate black anger, mistrust by some from a former era while his strategy and tactics are questioned even by the clever blacks.
But why are they angry with President Ramaphosa? Don’t they know Ramaphosa must win an election? Hitherto he has won no election and remains a caretaker president not endorsed by any ballot. It goes without saying that uppermost in Ramaphosa’s mind is the winning of an election. His very challenge emanates from the fact that his predecessors were all endorsed with a minimum of 62%+ vote. It is anticipated the ANC under his leadership faces the real threat of coalition politics.
Shall we then attempt to engage what drives Ramaphosa in this season in which his delivery of the lekgotla land statement is a microcosm? Here are my twelve reasons to understand and interpret Ramaphosa’s actions:
- Winning a maiden election is what drives this man. Nothing but the stark reality of an impending ballot stumble with key ANC provinces showing reluctant support sits front of mind. That’s what should drive any politician in his shoes. The threat of losing an election is very real and he does not have the backing in the ANC a normal or an elected president has. The personal challenge of having to contend with the fact that you may just become the face of defeat is enough to give anyone heart palpitations. It is a legitimate concern and for that, he has to pull all stops to ensure he and the ANC win decisively.
- Not only is Ramaphosa facing the challenge of legitimacy and the crisis of distrust he is also caught between the reality of a mountain of legitimate internal voices that have won the debate against those who do not want RET and land reform in the ANC. Their commitment does not entertain his smooth-talk dilly-dallying and purported playing games in marking time on this issue of land.
- At an external level to the ANC, Ramaphosa is under tremendous pressure to satisfy his white interest friends who all are demanding him to act according to them and not to endorse ANC policies. Those close to him proffer him advice on how to delay and manage the current situation at a political tactical level. We know this when we read among other, the tweet of Gavin Davis: “Ramaphosa has done more damage to the economy in his first six months in office than Zuma did in the same period. Time to get working on the 2019 ’Stop Cyril’ posters…” this tweet was responded to by Lood Louis with: “Bring back Zuma.”
- Unfortunately for Ramaphosa, his greatest supporters are outside the ANC and they cannot win him any elections because colonial and apartheid privileged identity (whites) don’t vote ANC, even if you are Nelson Mandela, that’s maybe a truth he is learning today.
- He has pressure from the Economic Freedom Fighters whom he needs to ensure his future coalition government works should the ANC fail to make the symbolic cut to lead alone. We know Gauteng is already lost and the saving grace for the ANC is a coalition, meaning it must lure the DA’s nyatsi the EFF away as its future bride with a wedding date set for next year, though not yet fixed. It has not always treated the proverbial lady it is after decently, we have heard how the EFF is complaining that Ramaphosa’s ANC is not serious, but wants to be a player when the EFF wants to settle in marriage on the land issue. (excuse the pun)
- Ramaphosa must contend with the reality that all attempts to obliterate RET and replace it with “inclusive growth” has found no traction where it matters most, that being inside the ANC. Seizing this inexplicable late-night post-lekgotla moment is also a clear sign he desperately wants to wrestle control from those who have until now without waiver or doubt led the battle cry on radical socio-economic transformation as the ANC flagship aim in this season.
- He knows the ever-lurking presence of his predecessor, who in a single court appearance registered over 30000 ANC supporters, remains the father of RET, free education and land redress. He also knows that this court case in all probability will end come November in a permanent stay. He has to weigh up what that may mean at a political level for someone who remains much more popular and more embraced by ANC supporters.
- The political ramifications of a defence team making a successful bid to end this case on the four outlined aspects SC Mike Hellens presented a week ago, must haunt Ramaphosa on another score. He also is aware that state capture, the easily used media-engineered crime, while a great campaign tool appears easier talked about than proved, particularly since Justice Zondo, who chairs the commission in his briefing last week, lamented the fact that public involvement appears truculent. Zondo also confirmed until now only 6-8 people have made themselves available to prove state capture. Will Zondo’s Commission sit until March 2020 on the evidence and claims of eight people to prove the elusive state capture?
- The economic conditions despite the claims of billions in pledged investments are not assisting him at all. With no clear economic policy direction and solutions, only a litany of planned summits framed in participative engagement, economic leadership remains a mirage. Remember, he was marketed as the best person to save SA economically. Until now with three subsequent petrol hikes, a VAT increase, unemployment slipping by another percent, job shedding and threats of more in a sunsetting mining sector among others, the prospects look glum. This and a cocktail of socio-economic challenges that continues to hurt the poor increasingly casts long shadows of doubt whether he is the answer.
- Even when Ramaphosa did what he did (staging the midnight address) he could not convince many he was sincere because this president has anchored his entire presidential life around public relations. We saw it when he was made to leave two international platforms in crisis mode to attend to domestic matters that were resolved much later than the few days earmarked for his international meetings.
- The attempt at fixing state-owned entities as led by his appointed Minister Pravin Gordhan – while a commendable effort at surface level, comes with additional baggage that makes Ramaphosa look weak when some like the EFF and even in the ANC are claiming Gordhan has carte blanche and acts as a lone ranger, second to a Prime Minister in SA. On another score, it is clear the narrative details SOEs as the primary crime scene for a claim of state capture. Hence the role of Gordhan to prove the media designed crime is important for those who seek to define the totality of SA economic woes with corruption as the cardinal aspect.
- He also has to contend with the fact that increasingly claims are levelled against him and his family associations, particularly with the blistering speed of the ESKOM REIPP’s R1,4-trillion venture with 27 companies was concluded. This process led by the new energy minister Jeff Radebe, his brother-in-law and with his other brother-in-law, the singular signpost of purported black collective economic freedom Patrice Motsepe, whose commercial interest in alternative energy sources stands to benefit, does not augur well for someone who sees himself the Messiah to rid SA of yet to be proven state capture claims. It was always anticipated that Ramaphosa’s business interests (though held in a blind trust for now) would follow him like a wet diaper in his political leadership of the ANC and SA.
- Glancing up north of the Limpopo where caretaker Emmerson Mnangagwa of ZANU-PF we are told narrowly won with 50,8% can provide on one level some comfort for him as a fellow caretaker president. Yet on another level, the margin of purported victory may just scare him since if that is to happen in his zone, his SA presidency would mirror his ANC presidency, that of the slimmest of margins, meaning he will face the same challenges he currently faces at an organisational level.
Honestly speaking, I would hate to be in Ramaphosa shoes – he has loads of pressure on him. Whatever he does he appears doomed because he essentially has no unique position but a mandated ANC one on land. His primary task is to honour the mandate of the ANC that voted him into ANC presidency. He has to resist the temptation of being seen as separate from the ANC as so often demanded by those who do not vote ANC.
In a nutshell, he does this land statement reluctantly, yet compelled to own up, because he does not necessarily share its radical sentiments at a personal level. If he had his way he would have never endorsed tampering with the constitution, after all, it is his major claim to fame for some.
President Ramaphosa in a strange twist of events is learning that being liked by apartheid-defined whites means absolutely nothing but a selfie moment. To win an election you must respond to the challenges of the constituency that made you president. Unless you are ready to have a short stay and be reduced like Motlanthe to an eternal caretaker president.
Ramaphosa finds himself hated and distrusted while we continue to keep the ANC leadership to their adopted resolutions and any diluting will be challenged. Not honouring and working, sleeping, dreaming and speaking ANC resolutions may render him unfit to lead the ANC.
I wish him all the best, while we know with this statement he has fewer supporters from those who make up the apartheid beneficiaries, a very challenging thing for someone who thrives on being liked. Welcome to the real world of politics Bra’ Cyril, white interest doesn’t vote ANC, they love separating ANC leaders from their organisation to benefit white privilege. Beware not to be hoodwinked into thinking they will vote for you if you have any hope of winning your maiden election please focus on those who mandated you to lead their organisation.
Political Commentator and Writer