Cyril Ramaphosa (CR) is being strongly punted as the winner of the ANC presidency and the likeliest next president of South Africa. Whether he will beat the early front-runner, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma (NKZ), remains to be seen.
Many media commentators forget two things: Firstly, President Jacob Zuma is as wily as a fox at the political game and he will move heaven and earth to ensure – by fair means or foul – that his preferred candidate will win. And Ramaphosa is not his chosen successor; NKZ is.
Secondly, one of the iron laws of politics is that the candidate who is generally much more acceptable to those who do not vote for his party, is much less acceptable to those who do. Ramaphosa has the backing of business, of the intelligentsia and the middle class. He also has the support of the SACP and much of organised labour.
Time will tell if this axis is large enough to defeat the dumbed-down, lowest common-denominator appeal of the NDZ campaign, calculated to resonate with the poor, the unemployed, those in the rural areas and many of the current trough-feeders benefiting by the Zuma presidency. It may not occur to the millions in the NDZ camp that their financial plight is largely due to the failed economic policies pursued by the Zuma government over the past decade; the very policies that she is pledged to intensify.
For the purposes of argument, let us assume that Ramaphosa wins and becomes the new president of the ANC. Does he suddenly emerge as his own man, ready to slay the dragons or does he become another President Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe?
There is no doubt that a Ramaphosa victory would delight the Johannesburg Securities Exchange, raise the value of the Rand, increase business confidence and dramatically lift the spirits of many citizens. The question is: for how long?
A matter of a week or two ago, most Zimbabweans and much of the world media, together with almost every political commentator, were relieved to see the end of President and Mrs Mugabe. They were enthralled at the prospect of new leadership, even if it was in the form of the 75-year-old Emmerson Mnangagwa, known universally in his country as the “Crocodile.”
Most of them were prepared to overlook his decidedly dodgy past and ignore the fact that he was one of President Mugabe’s closest allies for many decades. He was co-responsible for the appalling human rights record of Zimbabwe and for the reckless and destructive policies that ruined the economy of a once prosperous country, sending millions of its brightest and best to look for a new life elsewhere.
President Mnangagwa still has some rosy glow about him with people hoping against hope that at the very least he will be better than Mugabe. But the euphoria has passed as the realisation dawns that Mnangagwa is only in office by courtesy of the generals and the same corrupt old Mugabe crew.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, biding his time and waiting his turn, saw fit to throw in his lot with Jacob Zuma at Mangaung. He helped to defeat the brave and principled campaign of former President Motlanthe and to re-elect Zuma when it was already clear that Zuma was not the person to lead a clean government, or to put the economy right, or to set an example of responsible and dignified behaviour as befits a head of state.
Ramaphosa then proceeded to sit quietly by, seldom putting a foot wrong, but also seldom if ever putting his foot down. The looting, the state capture, the undermining of the constitution and the Chapter 9 institutions all happened under his nose. He was biding his time, hoping to succeed Zuma in 2017.
If he wins now, he too will be surrounded by many of the same lot who have been so bad for our country. He will have to compromise with many for whom he may have a private distaste and there is no doubt that in order to restore the unity he will have to re- appoint and then tolerate many of the incompetents and the dishonest people whom Zuma put in office. If CR does this, there will be a deep, damaging disillusionment with him and the ANC’s “new beginning.”
If he wants to avoid being dismissed as another Mnangagwa, he will have to announce that he will request President Jacob Zuma to retire immediately, or face a forced retirement after a motion of no confidence in Parliament. He will also have to make it clear that he will be remorseless in pursuing, right into jail if needs be, those politicians and officials who have looted our country and stolen the people’s money.
He will also have to be seen to be supporting the constitution and the courts; clearing out the detritus in the cabinet and in the boards of the state-owned enterprises; and junking the current failed policies while introducing new business-friendly policies that will lead to growth of the economy and jobs for our people.
No-one can be sure at this stage who will win the leadership of the ANC. Comparing the two leading candidates, however, it is clear that CR would be by far the preferable choice because NDZ, with all her ability, has sold herself short and surrounded herself with the same tainted people that South Africa needs to be rid of.
Whoever wins must ensure that the interval between now and the general election in 2019 is not seen as a failure. If the new president of the ANC is merely an Emmerson Mnangagwa, the chances are good that either CR or NDZ will be the leader of the opposition after 2019 when the voters decide that it is a change of government that the country needs.
Douglas Gibson is a former Opposition chief whip and former ambassador to Thailand. This article first appeared in The Star.