A Reduced ANC Majority Could Be The Undoing Of Ramaphosa

By Musa Mdunge

On 08 May more than 17 million South Africans took to the polls to elect the 6th Parliament and provincial legislatures. These elections came at a time where the dust of the Zuma era was still in the process of clearing. Since the resignation of former President Jacob Zuma, South Africans have had to come to grips with the uncomfortable truth that the once glorious movement, the African National Congress, had turned into the biggest poison this country had faced since the end of Apartheid. Countless allegations of corruption, looting of state owned entities (SOEs), the weakening of institutions, whose purpose was to keep the executive in check and the failure to implement policies that would not only reform the economy but quicken the country’s ability to create new jobs, have left South Africa bleeding economically, to the detriment of most vulnerable of our people. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa took up the mantle of leadership in this context.  Moreover, Ramaphosa was elected by the ANC as its leader following the most contested elective conference since the 2007 Polokwane elective conference where for the first-time references to various camps were made. What is interesting is unlike his predecessors, Ramaphosa was elected by a low base majority, 51.9%. No ANC president has ever been elected by so low a majority and this has various consequences for Ramaphosa and the ANC. 

Ramaphosa was elected on the promise that he could stop the expected electoral bleeding the ANC would face in 2019 as a result of Zuma’s mediocre presidency. The CR17 campaign sold the narrative that Ramaphosa’s business experience, the fact that he came from Soweto and that in many ways he was untouched by the corruption allegations that swamped the ANC under Zuma, meant that he was the man who could save the ANC from itself and ensure it stays on for another five years. His story was bought by just over half of the ANC delegates as they were sold by the fact that a Dlamini-Zuma presidency under the watchful eye of Jacob Zuma, would be deemed persona non grata by the South African electorate. 

However, he, Ramaphosa would preside over a party ravaged by factionalism and a party who regardless of its talk about unity, did not universally agree on the economic policy tune the ANC must adopt in the coming 5 years. Moreover, he leads a party, where half of the National Executive Committee and the top 6 opposed his ascension to power. Moreover, unlike previously elected presidents, he did not enjoy the support of the ANC’s largest province in terms of membership, KwaZulu Natal. Lastly, Ramaphosa, unlike his predecessors, has had to live with the reality that his predecessor, Zuma, will not go into the sunset and let him govern in peace. Zuma has been hellbent on being active within ANC structures to the point of presenting himself as the second pole of power within the ruling party. In many ways, while Ramaphosa may have beaten Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at Nasrec, he is still waging a war against his former principal, Zuma.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and Former President Jacob Zuma

This war has seen the formation of political parties that are aligned to Zuma such as the African Transformation Movement (ATM), Black First Land First (BLF) and the African Content Movement (ACM). While Zuma has been sure to solidify his power in KwaZulu Natal and has used social media platforms to attack his political detractors, both within and outside the ANC. Moreover, close Zuma ally, Ace Magashule, the Secretary-General of the ANC has used his platform to play down Ramaphosa role and to influence the listing process. It is hard to see how the ANC can truly speak of unity when the SG, who is practically the COO of the ANC and the CEO, Ramaphosa don’t get along! 

While the ANC in the past has managed to cover up the cracks left by factionalism, the on-going pursuit to clean up corruption means that those who have the most to lose (Zuma aligned-state capture implicated leaders) will do the most to maintain their grip on power even if it means further destabilizing the ANC. 

As a result, it mattered what percentage the ANC got in this election and as I have stated in times past through the Joburg Post platform and other media forms, an electoral victory under 60% would place in jeopardy the Ramaphosa project of “renewal” within the ANC and the country. We see this by how within 24 hours of the official results of the elections the Zuma faction pinned the electoral result of the ANC on the ANC and not Ramaphosa with Magashule stating that 

“The ANC would be where it is today. People have voted the ANC. People are not voting any person.” 

While on the other side of the political debate Fikile Mbalula stated that 

"If the elections result at Nasrec was not reflective of change - you know, the way it did and the policy we adopted at Nasrec - if we did not actually take that direction, we would have actually sunk as the ANC.”

The battle of words between the two leaders and Dlamini-Zuma’s on opinion that Mbalula’s comments are “divisive” indicate that the gloves are already off, especially given the fact that the party will have a special, sitting of the NEC not only to discuss the drop in support for the ANC but also discuss a new cabinet, a reconfigured parliamentary list and the choice of Premiers in the eight provinces the ANC won. Should the view that Ramaphosa led the ANC to victory hold, then we can expect him to reign supreme in passing the much-needed reforms in government but should the pushback by Magashule and co stand, Ramaphosa will have to compromise on his cabinet picks and all other key appointments in order to include the Zuma brigade. 

However, any compromise might be viewed as weakness on his side and may signal an opening to challenge his leadership and the possibility of him running for a second term as President of the ANC in 2022. Ramaphosa has a bad hand, elected with the lowest percentage of any ANC president at an ANC conference and elected with the lowest percentage of any President in democratic South Africa, he has little room to maneuver and may be at the mercy of at least 31 MPs not moving against him should another secret ballot no-confidence motion be raised by opposition parties. 

Basically, Ramaphosa is doomed if he governs with every resolve to clean up shop and is doomed if he doesn’t. What we wait to see is if he will fall by an ANC sword or 2024 electoral defeat. Either way, Nelson Mandela’s favourite son will have to bleed to make real the new dawn!


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