Ramaphosa must rise above challenges to write own legacy

Outgoing Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at the 54th ANC National Elective Conference held at Nasrec.
Cyril Ramaphosa. Outgoing Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at the 54th ANC National Elective Conference held at Nasrec.
Image: Simphiwe NKwali

After years of waiting his turn, Cyril Ramaphosa has finally achieved his ambition of being the ANC's number one. But fate dealt him a bad hand.

He inherits the governing party at a time when there is greatest contestation over its legacy. The days of the ANC having the luxury of relying on its liberation dividend are, frankly, over.

If he is able to turn the ANC around, he will be counted among the likes of former presidents of the movement Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela who steered the ANC through difficult times.

This will take a courage that does not fear censure, a courage that Ramaphosa has yet been reluctant to display.

The ANC went into its 54th conference divided.

Heeding the call for unity, the delegates to the conference have produced a top-six compromise that could hinder rather than help his run as ANC president and as possible future president of SA.

He shares the top-six posting with key Jacob Zuma allies in Ace Magashule and David Mabuza who, together with North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, have come to be known as the Premier League.

These staunch supporters and defenders of Zuma will be stumbling blocks.

Ramaphosa ran on the ticket of dealing with state capture - the entrenchment of neopatrimonial tendencies and a parallel shadow state that exists alongside the constitutional state.

Because he is at the centre of this shadow state, dismantling it means dealing decisively with Zuma, beginning with securing his recall from office.

But this will not be easy. Not only will he meet with resistance from within the top six, but his ability to secure Zuma's resignation depends on the balance of forces in the new national executive committee (NEC).

Magashule's election as secretary-general poses another headache for Ramaphosa. Magashule will by virtue of his position run the organisation. He will have a significant influence on the administration of the ANC, from branch level to the national level.

Ramaphosa has the uphill battle of securing Magashule's backing for his vision for the organisation and for any attempts at modernising the party.

The disqualification of the Free State provincial elective committee from participating in the national conference is a poor reflection on Magashule and a bad omen for Ramaphosa.

If Ramaphosa is going to achieve his ambition of becoming president of South Africa through an election victory, he has to arrest the disintegration and waning credibility of the ANC as the country heads to general elections in 2019.

Unfortunately, Ramaphosa has his own credibility challenges to overcome.

He served as deputy president in Zuma's government

For much of this time he remained silent and defended the Zuma administration until it was politically expedient to oppose him.

The question then arises: What "smallernyana skeletons" does he have in his closet, given that he was part of Zuma's cabinet and of the NEC? President of the ANC Women's League Bathabile Dlamini could not have been excluding him when she made that telling statement about all NEC members having skeletons to conceal.

He may have the backing of the markets and big business. He may have the ANC's alliance partners firmly behind him. But he also has the task of shaking off the cloud of Marikana that continues to hang over him.

The Marikana Commission cleared him of wrongdoing. But the new ANC president's utterances and e-mails at the height of the Lonmin crisis revealed a bias towards capital.

At a country level, this diminishes his appeal as a candidate capable and suited to addressing the country's deepening inequality and poverty crisis. And this puts in question whether he has the wherewithal to ensure the country's medium- to long-term socioeconomic and political stability.

Depending on how he manages these thorny issues, he may yet be the ANC's second one-term president for the country. But his end will be far less glorious than Mandela's.

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