Somewhere there is a photograph of Cyril Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer taking a break during the constitutional negotiations, seemingly relaxed sans neck-ties.
The picture belies the mammoth task with which they were engaged. It was essentially a task to make something out of nothing. For the Constitution represents South Africa’s dual attempts to overcome its past and deal with its present.
Theirs was an unusual friendship forged around our transition to democracy and the drafting of a new Constitution. In between their love of fly-fishing, they got the job done. The Constitution bears testimony to the optimism of those early years of our democracy.
Rampahosa, ANC secretary general in 1991 was always considered a potential president but had to give way to Thabo Mbeki in a rather unseemly “broederstwis” in 1997.
Thereafter Ramaphosa, who had cut his teeth as a unionist and leader within the Mass Democratic Movement, resigned from politics and went into the private sector. Now the “nearly man” has come full circle and is president of the ANC.
In a sense, Cyril Ramaphosa’s victory at Nasrec yesterday may well be a Pyrrhic one. Pyrrhus the Greek defeated the Romans at Asculum in 279BC. However, his losses were so heavy, that it seemed tantamount to a defeat.
The Top Six of the ANC are split precisely in half. On the one hand, here are those Ramaphosa would be able to work with – Gwede Mantashe and Paul Mashatile. Yet on the other side, he finds Jessie Duarte, Ace Magashule and David Mabuza, a trio of deplorables, if ever there was one.
And so, as with everything in South Africa, nothing is ever simple and the way in which one reads this result depends greatly on whether one generally sees the glass half-empty or half-full. The results announcement topped off a weekend at Nasrec which indicated how divided the ANC actually is.
The interminable back and forth regarding credentials took up much of the weekend. That in and of itself was an indicator of exactly how dysfunctional the ANC is regarding its internal processes.
When the voting finally began, it went on throughout the night. Ahead of voting, Jacob Zuma delivered his Political Report for the very last time. It was a small-minded speech from a man who, more than anyone else has wrecked South Africa’s economy, undermined the rule of law and filled his Cabinet with corrupt, captured individuals.
He himself has looted the state for private benefit, formed unhealthy associations with the Guptas and others and breached the Constitution several times. Yet, his speech reflected none of that as he sought to blame every sector of society for his personal failings.
True to his unprincipled playbook, Zuma announced free tertiary education as of 2018, without providing any details about where the money would come from. This has been and is the true danger of Zuma; he has yet again circumvented due process and in this case, the National Treasury.
In doing so, he has created both chaos in the state and expectation among students. It was an act of crass populism.
And so, Ramaphosa, has, to put it plainly, inherited a mess. The question is how does he cleans it up with a deputy like David Mabuza and Ace Magashule as secretary-general of the ANC, both of whom have links to the Guptas and along with Jessie Duarte are fierce Zumarites?
Who makes it on to the NEC will be important if Ramaphosa wants to shore up his power within the party.
Given the invidious position he is now in, Ramaphosa will need to be content with change around the edges of our more intractable challenges. His “clean up” operation will need to skillfully navigate around Zuma and his backers within the party and the state.
The way the voting has gone has probably tempered high expectations but the real question now is whether there is political support within the ANC for Zuma to be recalled. South Africa cannot afford to have Zuma in power for a minute longer really. His capacity for self-enrichment and his recklessness with power will drive us further into economic ruin.
Zuma and his side-kick, Energy Minister David Mahlobo, are clearly seeking to enter an unaffordable nuclear deal for instance. To add to this, SoEs are bleeding public money as a direct result of corruption.
If Rampahosa wanted to show broader society that he has the stomach for the job and if he wants to provide the ANC with a decent platform for the 2019 national elections, he would need to broker consensus regarding the recall of Zuma.
After Polokwane, justice was meted out swiftly and brutally to Thabo Mbeki. But then the balance of forces was different. Someone like new Chairperson Gwede Mantashe will know this better than anyone.
If Zuma is recalled, there will be an opportunity for Ramaphosa to start fixing our finances and say, axe Malusi Gigaba as Finance Minister, Gigaba is weak and out of his depth for this moment of economic crisis we are in. A qualified, honest finance minister might be able to lure competent public servants back to National Treasury and in so doing, it could pave the way for the exit of the deeply compromised and corrupt Tom Moyane at SARS.
One could continue to daydream about Ramaphosa similarly axing Faith Muthambi, Lynne Brown and Bathabile Dlamini, Lindiwe Zulu (to name a few) and appointing a new National Director of Public Prosecutions. That might remove the need for a Commission of Enquiry into State Capture.
Surely, an independent-minded NDPP would see that there is ample evidence in the Public Protector’s report and in the public domain via #Guptaleaks to seek prosecutions?
But we must not get ahead of ourselves. Rampahosa has a window of opportunity now to win our trust and if a recall is possible, to start ridding the state of some of the most obvious rot.
If the Great Negotiator can do all that ahead of 2019, he would have done very well indeed.
This article was published in Daily Maverick. To view the article on their website click here.