Donwald Pressly: Balancing presidential succession – Ramaphosa’s double act

The role of presidential succession may have taken a higher road following the Constitutional Court judgement yesterday. And while the presidency said it respects and will review what’s been said, there is no real response on a possible recall. But what happens if Zuma goes, and who’ll fill his shoes? The two key candidates are Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma. Below Donwald Pressly looks at how Cyril Ramaphosa is playing his hand, and it’s a classic case of a poker game and playing two hands. – Stuart Lowman

By Donwald Pressly*

Donwald Pressly
Donwald Pressly

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is playing a double act. He has to keep the confidence of President Jacob Zuma until the crunch time comes, which is probably the end of 2017. He also has to keep the doves and hawks on board in the ANC if he has any chance of winning the South African presidency.

He also has to keep in with black business, while appearing – in public at least – to be antagonistic to white “monopoly” business. For liberals and the free marketeers who believe that Ramaphosa is the best bet for leader of the ANC to take over from Jacob Zuma, get ready to be repeatedly kicked in the teeth. He has gone out of his way to demonstrate he doesn’t need their support – or affirmation. Ramaphosa has repeatedly called for the end of white monopoly control of the economy, pretty rich coming from someone who had built up vast business interests before he re-entered politics. He does this while repeatedly calling for respect of President Zuma; someone who has lost the respect of most South Africans.

We will probably never know why he was brought in to be deputy president of the ANC in 2012. It clearly put him in a strong position to take over from Zuma. At least one commentator believes that treasurer general Zweli Mkhize, who nominated Ramaphosa at the ANC conference in 2012, wants him to be a stop-gap president so that he himself can take the mantle a little later.  It seems like a plausible theory.

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (L), who is also the president of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), gestures next to his Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa during the party's 104th anniversary celebrations in Rustenburg January 9, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma (L), who is also the president of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), gestures next to his Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa during the party’s 104th anniversary celebrations in Rustenburg January 9, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Not much love lost between Zuma and Ramaphosa

One can safely say that Zuma never really wanted Ramaphosa as his Number Two. Clearly there is not much love lost now between them today, whatever Ramaphosa says to the contrary. Just coincidentally, there is much dust being kicked up around Ramaphosa’s name now, most likely from the Zuma factionalists. Suddenly there are a run of negative stories about Ramaphosa. First it was a (repeat of a) report about Ramaphosa using a Gupta aircraft to fly to a state job in Japan (as carried on eNCA). Then the president himself has allegedly said that an offending “official” met Remgro CEO Johan Rupert, former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and Absa bank CEO Maria Ramos over the firing of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene last December. Zuma, according to sources in the ANC national executive committee, had Ramaphosa in mind. This is according to Media24 accounts.  Watch this space: More dirt about Ramaphosa is likely to flow from ANC circles in coming weeks.

While these allegations about a meeting between the four reached a crescendo, there was a veritable outcry about Rupert calling for Jacob Zuma to resign “for the sake of our kids”. This was fanned by ANN7, the Gupta- family’s tv channel. Rupert, in turn, was accused by ANC commentators for “looting” the state during apartheid era.

Read also: Moeletsi Mbeki: Zuma won’t fall – he will serve out full term until 2019

Arrogant white racist

He was also accused of not having the right to make comments about internal ANC matters as he was not part of the ANC structures. President Zuma’s eldest son Edward Zuma, who is taking Rupert to court for alleged corruption, described Rupert as, according to BDlive, “an arrogant white racist who has been looting unabated”. This was after Rupert said: “Yes, for the sake of the children, you (President Zuma) should resign, please.”  The reaction to Rupert is such Stalinist claptrap, but this has become part of the political narrative of the psychophantic news media houses. Note it is not Rupert taking ANC officials – or Edward Zuma – to court for defamation. This is all part of the ascendancy battle playing out in public spats conjured by Ramaphosa-ites and the Zuma-ites. These factions are pulling the strings from behind the stage in their attempts to control the governing party and its future.

It is clear that the Zuma faction is trying to cast Ramaphosa as the agent for “Big White Monopoly” capital. Hence Ramaphosa’s attack on white business influence at an ANC event last week.  It is clearly an attempt to distance himself from being tainted in this way. Added to this President Zuma has blamed former President Thabo Mbeki for bringing one of the Guptas in as an economic adviser.

Ramaphosa also bizarrely issued a statement saying he played no role in meeting business leaders after Nhlanhla Nene was booted as Finance Minister. He was only there – with President Jacob Zuma – when decisions were taken by the ANC top six (which is Zuma, Ramaphosa, Gwede Mantashe, Jessie Duarte, Zweli Mkhize and Baleka Mbete) to appoint Pravin Gordhan as minister in Des van Rooyen’s place. One wonders why he is so emphatic about the Rupert meeting. He described reports as “wholly incorrect, mischievous and misleading”. He, like former Prime Minister John Vorster, “categorically denies ever having such a meeting with Johann (sic) Rupert, Trevor Manuel and Maria Ramos or (notably) any other businesspersons to discuss cabinet appointments.” It beggars the question why he views it as such a sin to have such talks. Surely the Number Two is capable of independent thought and independent talks about public matters of deep concern? But clearly Ramaphosa doesn’t want to be seen as a tool of white business as represented by Ramos and also be the present day “Hoggenheimer”, Rupert. He does so, of course, in the context of the president is trying to turn the narrative to a defence that it is not only the Guptas but the Hoggenheimers, representing white capital, that had captured – read corrupted – the state.

Read also: Paul Whelan: ANC to shelve & smoother ‘Zuma Capture’ dilemma. Breakpoint elections.

Zuma offers to resign

Meanwhile Jacob Zuma has allegedly offered to resign to the full field of the NEC over the Gupta-gate state capture scandal. Whether this happened or not is purely speculation, but if true, this is just posing anyway. He knew that the NEC meeting was a loaded dice: Most would be simply mad to challenge him.

Steven Friedman, of the Centre for Democracy at the University of Johannesburg, has made the point that it is too early to determine who will win the Zuma-Ramaphosa battle (he refers to an urban/rural factionalism actually). It may lead to a split in the party. Whether the Ramaphosa faction with others like Gwede Mantashe and Zweli Mkhize split away or win outright, remains to be seen. My gut feeling is that the Zuma faction may win in the end – and then the party will, indeed, split. There will be a lot of posing, denials, deceit, lies and brazen hypocrisy in this battle. It is really hard to tell whether Ramaphosa will make a better president than Zuma. Glibly it would be hard to repeat such a dastardly performance. But what he doesn’t seem to realise that the world’s investment community – white, Asian, Arab and black – are all watching. What he is saying about white business monopolies is hypocritical at worst, posing for the cameras at best. News24 reported Ramaphosa as saying that the timeof white business monopolies was over. “For too long this economy has been owned and controlled by white people. That must come to an end,” he was quoted as saying.

If Ramaphosa does indeed win the battle for the ANC presidency – and ultimately South Africa’s presidency – we can only live in hope that he will grow into a unifying force. Unfortunately there is not much evidence of that at the moment.

*Donwald Pressly is Editor of Cape Messenger. 

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