JOHANNESBURG - The clues to the outcome of leadership mix elected by the ANC at its 54th conference are to be found in the clumsy and cumbersome wording of its theme: “Towards Unity, Renewal and Radical Socio-Economic Transformation”.
If words and language, as linguists suggest, both construct & reflect reality then the ANC emerges out of its #ANC54 conference confounded and confused.
Melding within its top six leadership a veritable gallery of rogues, at least at the level of deputy-president & secretary-general. With a capricious and manipulative Deputy in the form of DD Mabuza and a corrupted rank incompetent in the form of the Ace ‘joker in the pack’ Magashule as Secretary-General, Ramaphosa’s intentions for renewal appear a dim prospect. Coupled with a Deputy-Secretary General, Jessie Duarte, who embodies the institutional memory and legacy of Zuma’s meddlesome and muddled corruption of the ANC and via the ANC, The State - Rampashosa is left with potentially only two offices he might trust. The fair-weather friend, the wholly unreliable and untrustworthy Treasurer-General Paul Mashatile (who for months cut an artificial “unity” deal with DD Mabuza, along with Ace Magashule and Supra Mahumapelo), and perhaps Gwede Mantashe, The Chairperson – who as the immediate past secretary general, is compromised by a legacy of unresolved organisational morass that beset the ANC since at least 2002. Granted, Mantashe inherited many of the ANC’s organisational problems – but they intensified since he took over a decade ago, and have since entrenched themselves as seemingly irresolvable.
Consequently, even recognising the mythical power, authority and influence ANC Presidents enjoy while in office, Ramaphosa will be unlikely to be able to drive through an agenda of renewal without the unequivocal and unqualified support of at least a half of the top six of the ANC leaders. As things stand, he stands alone in his quest. Mantashe may be on his side – but his new position of chairperson is not full time. This explains why the 68 votes cast but not counted for Secretary-General and why it is important for Ramaphosa to have those votes tilt the count of votes turn against Ace Magashule to remain the incumbent Secretary-General. He, after all, was unable to convene a legitimate provincial executive council in the Free State where he is the ANC chairperson. What hope is there of him doing a proper job at the national level? It also explains why the Ramaphosa will want an 80 member National Executive Committee (NEC) stacked with sympathisers. Without a supportive NEC efforts and renewal in the ANC and stabilisation of the state and the economy will be impossible.
With all of these problems, in addition, Ramaphosa is confronted with three centers of power. While he is now ANC President, he still does not command the instruments of state power, to which as President of the Republic, Zuma remains in charge. In addition, Ramaphosa has to reign in the third locus of power situated at, of all places, the Saxonwold Shebeen. At least two of his fellow top six leaders are controlled and influenced from here. Without a massive majority on the NEC, Ramaphosa will find it hard to reign in this third, informal centre of power.
Much has been made of Ramaphosa’s legendary negotiating skills, forged within the tough mining industry as a union leader and refined during the negotiations for South Africa’s transition from racist apartheid authoritarianism to non-racial, cosmopolitan democracy. But those were fundamentally different contexts and very different times. It is possible to negotiate with your enemies when you have the coincidence of four features present: “moral right”, the wise counsel & leadership of proper elders, global goodwill and the supportive intellectual & organisational infrastructure of the ANC, its alliance partners and the mass democratic movement - on your side. These features were present for Ramaphosa, both when negotiating for mineworkers and when negotiating for South Africans.
In this context, Ramaphosa is not negotiating and dealing with enemies or opponents, but with comrades. Any compromises he has to make will erode his own credibility, either with his comrades or with his compatriots, the broader South African public. In persisting with artificial unity, Rampahosa will win the ANC unity, but lose the confidence of the country, he may hold the party and fragment the society.
At present of all of the four features that were necessary conditions for Ramaphosa’s negotiating success, none are present. Ramaphosa can hardly claim “moral right”, when he deputised in the party and the State, for Zuma all through the Nkandla scandal, corruption and state capture, and the evisceration of an independent Parliament capable of exercising oversight and extracting accountability. There is very little global goodwill left, save for Ramaphosa’s pious pronouncements about renewal and cleaning up the ANC. The wise counsel of ANC elders are long gone and the stalwarts such as they are, are marginalised & ignored. And there is no certainty, given the fragmented and fractious nature of the ANC, of relying on its organisational apparatus, especially given that it will be controlled by those who don’t share his vision.
With competing ideas and contradictory visions, the ANC is likely to be a party that will be filled with the fear, paranoia & vilification that characterised President Zuma’s last political report. But unlike Zuma’s final political report as president of the ANC, which blames all and sundry - except the ANC for its ills - the paranoia, fear and suspicion that is likely to emanate from the ANC may witness its cannibalisation from within. Ramaphosa’s tenure may well be characterised by the evil of two “Ps”: paranoia and paralysis.