By Ebrahim Fakir
The perception that Cyril Ramaphosa’s problem is that he is weak, ineffectual and powerless is gaining popularity. That it is popular doesn’t mean that it is true. Ramaphosa’s real problem is of an altogether different sort. It is that he has taken on the unenviable and onerous responsibility of fixing both the ANC and the country, while being near complicit in the festering mess that both have become.
Therein lies his quandary.
Fixing the one comes at the cost of the other. So fixing the ANC comes at the cost of damaging the country. Fixing South Africa comes at the cost of damaging the ANC. Doing both is impossible. He cannot do the one without inflicting damage on the other.
It is the ANC that got itself, and us, into this hot mess. This fester is entirely of the ANC’s own making. Sadly, as deputy president of the party and deputy president of the country, Ramaphosa has been near complicit in all of this. It is therefore unsurprising that all public statements, whether verbally in media interviews or through statements released by the ANC, or in Ramaphosa's name, have been characterised by silences, vagaries, platitudes and nonsensical, ambiguous imprecise guff.
We are all aware of the subjective and objective constraints that Ramaphosa is faced with in trying to fix the ANC and ensure a smooth transition between what he calls the 5th and 6th administrations. But why is this transition necessary and why should President Jacob Zuma vacate office?
Surely if, as the ANC claims, there are not two centres of power, only one, the ANC, then it must either instruct its deployee that it no longer wants him in office and he, as a disciplined cadre of the ANC, must voluntarily resign. Or if he refuses, the ANC must invoke and support the opposition's motion of no confidence to deal with a recalcitrant cadre. Or it must allow an impeachment motion to proceed.
This ought to be unnecessary anyway, considering that for near on a decade, the ANC’s deployee Zuma was trusted to rule the roost in both party and state. So if he was good enough for a decade, why isn’t he sufficient for now? Zuma is entitled, as per the constitution and his election through the National Assembly in 2014, to remain in office until 2019 when his term ends. Should the ANC want him to go before then, it is entitled to ask him, as its deployee, to go, but we are entitled to know why? Short of his voluntary resignation, he can be removed legally only through a motion-of-no-confidence vote or impeachment.
It cannot be that the ANC won’t tolerate two centres of power. In any event, Ramaphosa remains deputy president of the country – not an entirely powerless position - and therefore the excuse that two centres of power is intolerable is moot, and a flimsy excuse for why Zuma should be removed. So it is not the real reason this transition is necessary. The ANC should tell us the real reason. The trouble is that no one in the ANC, including Ramaphosa, is prepared to tell us plainly and unequivocally why it is necessary. Obviously, that is because it requires acknowledging the monumental stuff-up that the ANC has made of itself and of South Africa.
Ordinarily, if Zuma refused to go it should simply require the enforcement of a three-line whip in support of an opposition-sponsored or self-motivated motion of no confidence. But neither Ramaphosa nor Zuma will take a chance on that, or on an impeachment motion, because neither is sure how much loyalty within the ANC caucus they still command.
Rampahosa knows that in the top six he can rely on the unqualified support of only one person, Gwede Mantashe. The national executive and working committees are both split. Though some ersthwile Zuma supporters will eventually jump ship and start, like rats, to turn on each other, Ramaphosa cannot make a rough calculation of how many of them will swing to his side just yet. And within this framework, Ramaphosa is faced with the impossible demands made by Zuma, for himself and his complicit proxies, for concessions, such as legal protection and immunity from prosecution. This would compromise the entire edifice of the rule of law and the constitutional architecture of the contemporary South African state. Quite apart from it being a constitutional and legal non-starter, if Ramaphosa’s desire is to fix the country, it will be foolish to relent to these demands. It would delay the construction of a culture of consequence in our society and suggest to citizens that criminality and egregious misdemeanours can be negotiated away – if you are in the ANC or connected to powerful interests.
So the uncertainties and vagaries of the past week are unsurprising. No one in the ANC, not even Ramaphosa, is prepared to tell us why there is a need for a transition from the 5th administration to the 6th. No one is prepared to tell us what problems the “fruitful and productive” discussions are aimed at finding a solution to. After all, the fact that there are solutions being discussed must mean that there must be a problem. But no one is prepared to enunciate and articulate what the problem is.
Ramaphosa’s problem is not that he is weak or ineffectual. It is simply that he is vague and imprecise and, more worryingly, complicit. Acknowledging the problems openly and unequivocally means acknowledging the ANC's (and his) decade-long incubation, festering and defence of the problems and misdemeanours, illegalities and corruption. Sadly, the ANC has brought itself to this quagmire and is (deservedly the) loser of societal trust. Ramaphosa – late in the day – has decided to take on the onus of fixing both the ANC and South Africa. He cannot do both. He must choose one. Party or country?
Ebrahim Fakir is director of programmes at ASRI, the Auwal Socio-economic Research Institute, and is a part-time lecturer at the Wits School of Governance. He serves on the board of directors of Afesis-Corplan. Follow him on Twitter @EbrahimFakir