🔒 Dirk Hartford: Unveiling the fractured foundations – Ramaphosa’s tightrope walk amid ANC’s internal strife

In the heart of South African politics, President Ramaphosa walks a precarious tightrope, juggling personal power, factional battles, and the looming spectre of an election year. In this sequel to last week’s article, we delve into the intricate web of internal struggles within the ANC, where Ramaphosa’s organisational acumen clashes with a party haunted by factionalism, corruption, and regional divides. As allegations of corruption continue to swirl and the ANC grapples with its post-apartheid identity, the country stands at a crossroads. Will Ramaphosa’s strategic manoeuvres hold the party together, or is the ANC destined for further fragmentation?

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By Dirk Hartford

President Ramaphosa’s raison d’etre is personal power and wealth. He has achieved both as the President of the ANC and South Africa and the point man for arguably the wealthiest clan in Africa.

But what has he achieved for the ANC and, by implication, the country? Little frankly, besides holding both more-or-less together in extremely fractious circumstances. He is not a visionary leader; he’s a skilled organisational operator.

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This is his great strength and one many South Africans might still be grateful for, considering the absence of leaders in and outside the ANC. Only the EFF’s Julius Malema is giving him a serious run for his money. It’s too ghastly to contemplate the type of future that might yet come to haunt if the ANC falls apart.

Given that the future will be determined by the leaders and government in power after the elections in 2024 and that the ANC will have been in power for 30 years next year, it’s prudent to take a closer look at what it is Ramaphosa is holding together in the ANC.

Here’s how the Deputy Minister of Finance, deputy general secretary of the SACP, and recently appointed head of the ANC’s OR Tambo political school, David Masondo, described it last week.

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“The ANC-led movement is riven with destructive factionalism, tribalism, regionalism, clientelism, rank consciousness, elitism, demagoguery and moneyocracy”. Eish, there’s more to be sure, but let’s start there.

The major factional split is between the so-called RET (read Zuma) brigade and the Ramaphosaites. At the ANC’s highest decision-making national conference in 2017, Ramaphosa beat the RET’s Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma by just 179 votes out of a total of nearly 5000 delegates. In 2022, he beat the disgraced Zweli Mkhize by 578 votes.

The ANC’s top leaders were elected alongside him then. They now included the likes of Ace Magashule, David Mabuza, Paul Mashatile, Gwede Mantashe, Jessie Duarte, Fikile Mbalula, Nomvula Mokonyane….need I go on? The point is that this factional division virtually splits every structure of the ANC from the very top to the bottom of the organisation.

Key leaders from both factions have been fingered for severe corruption. Only Magashule has been shown the plank so far. It’s a truism, but it needs to sink in – the ANC is a criminal organisation from top to bottom, with corruption, greed, entitlement and malfeasance in its very DNA.

Ramaphosa has not moved against any of this, despite Zondo’s findings, because he basically can’t or won’t. Both sides throw the same dirt at the other. There is no moral high ground. Everyone is feeding where they can (“It’s our turn to eat” might as well be the movement’s mantra).

The latest allegations surrounding Deputy President Mashatile and the UIF R500m bribery scandal allegedly involving senior cabinet ministers and party officials are just more of the same.

As WB Yeats wrote succinctly, “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” That is the ANC today.

Ramaphosa, by holding onto power and the centre, is basically trying to prevent the RET faction from teaming up with the EFF. But this is already happening in critical regions and metros. The ailing KZN region, once the biggest in the ANC, is firmly in the RET’s hands, with Zuma being rolled out to help them campaign for next year’s election.

The glue holding the whole ANC together, as well as the majority of voters, is money. No one wants to jump ship when they have ministerial salaries, houses, perks and blue lights, or when they are one of the 55,000 civil servants earning over R1 million a year, or when they have any job in the civil service, or even when they are among the 19 million receiving social grants.

It has been rumoured, and there is substance to the rumour, that the Ramaphosa camp is exploring some governing alliance with the DA where the ANC will effectively have legislative power and the DA and its allies executive power.

Already, Ramaphosa is effectively trying to run the country with a team of about 100 super professionals around him and the help of top figures in big business (Martin Kingston, Neal Froneman, etc) in various task groups tackling the extensive crisis areas (transport, safety and security, mining, Eskom etc.)

Read more: Premium – Dirk Hartford: Malema’s instructions to EFF ‘ground forces’ on the road to 2024

The problem is the “gap” between his cabinet ministers and their departments, these high-level interventions, and how this all trickles down to the ground.

As if the factional problems weren’t enough, there is also what Masondo called “regionalism” and “tribalism”.

He said, “The ANC-led movement has replaced ethnic-based homelands with post-apartheid ethnic-based districts and, in certain instances, ethnic-based provinces. This has created an entitlement to access the state and leadership based purely on ethnic majoritarianism or minorities. As a result, districts and provinces, except Gauteng, are largely politically led and bureaucratically administered based on the ethnic and geographic origins of office bearers.”

The trappings of the apartheid Bantustan policy are finally coming home to roost. The idea of the ANC as a non-racial democratic organisation has long gone. No Indians are on the 90-strong NEC, and only one white and two coloureds. The ANC is now a thoroughly African nationalist organisation uneasily holding together a bunch of “separate but equal” ethnic identities still firmly rooted in the Bantustan past.

Some whites, citing farm murders and high crime rates, like to cry wolf about an impending racial apocalypse. Not to make light of these fears at all, but the truth is – and this is backed up by what is happening on the ground – that foreigners (amakwerekwere) from Africa are on the front line of attacks and murders and projections by South Africans.

When the xenophobia of amakwerekwere being the cause of all our suffering doesn’t suffice, next in line tend to be fellow black South Africans “othered” because they come from the rural areas or speak another language. So people monitor this situation on the ground, especially in social media.

Despite Malema’s exhortations, white and brown people have not been signalled out to the extent that others have. Regionalism and tribalism were meant to be buried by Mandela’s ANC, but they have never been and are now yet another axis for the organisation and country to fracture around.

The Ramaphosa factions’ “base” is primarily in big business and Cosatu (representing mainly the public sector), while the SACP, as always, works away behind the scenes to store up support for him and themselves.

Lastly, Masondo references the ANC being riven by “clientelism, rank consciousness, elitism, and moneyocracy”, which all speak to the class issues sharpening in the ANC itself in the most unequal society in the world. Envy and resentment are rife as comrades get rich either through insider access to BEE deals or favourable tenderpreneurialism or through outright rent-seeking and corruption.

There is only so much to go around via these routes, and the competition within the ANC itself to get in on the inside tracks is intense and riddled with opportunism and mutual back-scratching or backstabbing. When things start to unravel, comrades could turn on one another in a flash, especially under the increasingly keen gaze of both the DA and EFF.

The one “success” of the past 30 years has been the creation of a significant black middle class who identify with and aspire to precisely the same lifestyles of their parent’s oppressors. Many of these people, especially in the private sector, are already profoundly disillusioned with the ANC, but where do they go, and what would the consequences be?

That is the question both the DA and EFF will be seeking to answer as the ANC ship slowly fractures and lists. Where and how Ramaphosa’s grouping and the RET faction lean in this process will be critical to life after next year’s elections.

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