ANC's change of guard
With Zuma out of the way, President Ramaphosa must unite all factions
South Africa's African National Congress has, in giving Jacob Zuma his marching orders on February 15 and replacing him with Cyril Ramaphosa, shown a capacity for decisive action that many feared was beyond it. Ramaphosa's narrow victory over Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the ANC presidency, his supporters' failure to win a clean sweep of the top six positions and the national executive committee's knife-edge division into apparently clear pro and anti-Zuma camps, foretold confusion and indecision.
Similarly, Zuma's initial efforts to string out negotiations over retirement encouraged speculation that he might brazen it out, relying on ANC loyalties to thwart opposition no-confidence motions. He has rapidly been disabused of such notions, with even erstwhile Zuma supporters acknowledging the need for change and falling in behind the ANC president. Zuma has had to accept the ANC discipline, as his predecessor Thabo Mbeki did previously when the demand for Zuma to take over became deafening.
Mbeki was accused of improper use of state intelligence services in legal proceedings against his then deputy Zuma. He had also built a high-level of criticism within the revolutionary alliance for supporting his health secretary's nonsensical and deadly recommendation of beetroot and garlic rather than anti-retroviral medication for HIV/Aids patients and for also making public attacks on his party's Communist Party (SACP) allies.
Zuma built an initially close relationship with the SACP, accepting that the identity and role of communist ministers would be agreed with the SACP leadership rather than solely by presidential decision, as Mbeki had done. That close relationship has broken down as the SACP moved gradually — some might think too gradually — from supporting Zuma to demanding his resignation or removal by the ANC. Zuma's decision last year to sack SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande from his higher education ministerial post sparked renewed demands from the SACP and Cosatu-affiliated trade unions that he should go. The ex-president's assertions that he has done nothing wrong, that the ANC failed to itemise concerns over his actions and that he should be allowed to complete his second five-year term while Ramaphosa learns the state presidency ropes and concentrates on winning next year's elections are breathtaking.
Zuma's name has become a byword for corruption over public money spent on his Nkandla compound, his relationship with the Gupta family that prompted allegations of state corporate capture and countless charges of bungs paid to him or family members through dodgy business deals. The ANC's share of polls in general elections has fallen steadily since the euphoric days of the country's first democratic elections in 1994. Voters' impatience to see the emergence of the advances envisaged in the ANC Freedom Charter is one factor, but more striking is the popular awareness that the belt-tightening and self-restraint prescribed for them by their governments have not been applied equally to those in office.
Capitalist interests, both domestic and overseas, took the political demise of their former apartheid regime allies in their stride, reaching out to the new rulers even before the transition to democracy. Citing the Soviet Union's self-induced disappearance to pronounce that socialism was off the agenda and a market economy was the only game in town, the ANC leaders' new-found friends offered assistance of all kinds to woo them into compliance and against radical change. The policy of black economic empowerment (BEE) transformed comrades of modest means almost overnight into multimillionaires.
When Mandela, who had favoured miners' union leader Ramaphosa as his successor, was persuaded to back Mbeki by, among others, his close comrade Oliver Tambo, Ramaphosa took the BEE route, hovering up directorships and becoming, by repute, the second-richest African in the country. Ramaphosa, who was backed strongly by the trade unions in Cosatu for the presidency against Zuma's estranged wife Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, is viewed by them as honest in comparison to former President Zuma.
ANC campaigning for next year's general election wouldn't have got off the ground with Zuma holding on to the presidency. His subsequent corruption trials might well tarnish the party's efforts in any case. Ramaphosa's greatest asset in his new post is that he is not Zuma, but that will not be enough in itself. The Cosatu trade union movement, which Ramaphosa played a leading role in building, has wasted no time in reiterating demands that his presidency should provide for a developmental state that creates a million new decent jobs a year. It insists on an end to corporate corruption and privatisation and the sacking of ministers seen in the pockets of big business.
The future of the ANC government lies in Ramaphosa's readiness to involve all sections of the revolutionary alliance and civil society in mapping a route away from greed and division to achieve the goals of the ANC Freedom Charter.
(The author is the Political Editor of London-based Morning Star. The views expressed are strictly personal.)