Ramaphosa may not be the tonic South Africa needs

File: A handout photograph made available by the South African Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) shows Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at the AIDS 2016 Conference in Durban on 18 July 2016. Photo: EPA/Siyasanga Mbambani / GCIS / HANDOUT

The cat is out of the bag and the two main contenders for the ANC presidency in December 2017 have been identified.

In the one corner sits Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and in the other Cyril Ramaphosa.

Each haven’t directly said they are keen to pursue the job, but as endorsements roll in and veiled snipes at the current leadership are made: The fight is officially on.

Who will emerge victorious and is the scene set for another bruising battle reminiscent of Polokwane? Will it split the ANC as it did in 2007?

Well, as the age old journalism adage goes: Only time will tell.

For now, let’s closer inspect the candidacy of the politician-turned-billionaire-businessman-only-to-be -later-revived-as-a-politician guy.

While much has been said of Dlamini-Zuma’s shortcomings based on her previous nuptials with the scandal ridden incumbent, Ramaphosa’s candidacy is yet to be equally scrutinized.

On the face of it, Ramaphosa could be the man who could rescue the economy with his commercial acumen, possibly crafting a class contract between the three main role-players: Government, Business and Labour.

Moreover, it’s argued that the man Nelson Mandela once wanted to be his successor will be able to unite South Africa as never before. Stoking the dying embers of the rainbow nation flame. Uniting the country behind a common vision of unity in diversity.

But the fact that he was once Madiba’s man and showered himself in riches and glory in corporate South Africa doesn’t count for much in an ANC leadership contest.Party branches decide who to send to an elective conference. Those delegates vote for their preferred choice.

So without a meaningful constituency any candidacy will be stillborn before the starting gun fires in mid-December.

And therein lies his problem. So far the deputy president has received a firm endorsement only from Cosatu – the federation he once helped build and a few whispers of support but nothing official yet from the ANC in Limpopo, Gauteng, the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and parts of Kwazulu-Natal.

Cosatu and its affiliates like to think their clout in the tripartite alliance automatically translates into influence in an ANC elective contest, but it’s not that simple.

Yet the devil is in the detail of this labour endorsement. Two of the biggest Ramaphosa proponents are the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU). And it’s the latter’s endorsement that should worry South Africans the most.

Since November 2015, SADTU has consistently said Cyril is their man. And if a Ramaphosa presidency is conceivable it will be largely off the back of his supporters within the labour movement, who hope to convince their members within the ANC to swing his way.

So if Ramaphosa ascends the steps of the Union Buildings he will owe his seat largely to SADTU and others. He will then be free to get about fixing the most pressing problems facing South Africa. Only he won’t be able to.

For SADTU has been one of the main impediments to progress in the education sector. To truly fix South Africa we need better education outcomes but SADTU won’t let that happen without a fight.

South Africa spends more GDP on education than the average of the European Union, but the results are still a shambles.

South Africa consistently ranks below the majority of our African counterparts when it comes to state education. Tanzania, Rwanda and even Zimbabwe produce government matriculants more equipped to find employment and help grow an economy than South Africa.

And a lot of the blame for the current malaise in the public school system can be laid at SADTU’s door.

A 2016 report by the Department of Basic Education laid bare widespread corruption and abuse by SADTU members, teachers having to pay for principal posts or offer their bodies to land a job.

SADTU has also crushed the idea of a standardised test to gauge state teachers’ efficacy. School inspectors can’t simply pitch up at a school to see if teachers are teaching and learners are learning; they need to give several months’ notice first.

Any attempts to breathe life into the woeful state education system have effectively been neutered by SADTU’s influence.

Apartheid's education legacy certainly destroyed the education prospects of the black child for several generations, but SADTU’s insistence on archaic practices are exacerbating a truly desperate situation.

Understandably, education isn’t South Africa’s only problem. It is arguably the most critical and remains connected to, if not the source of, the majority of the country’s other ills.
If South Africa continues the cycle of providing sub-standard education to our youth, the country will never reach its full potential.

Thus Cyril Ramaphosa needs to do some thinking.

Can he break the back of mediocrity in South Africa’s education system - even if that means betraying his initial backers and ostensibly biting the hand the first fed his presidential ambitions?

More importantly: would he?

As the saying goes: Time will tell.

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