10 Mmusi Maimane is playing a risky game over Cyril Ramaphosa
In an article last week the leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), Mmusi Maimane, claimed that Cyril Ramaphosa had given a lengthy speech setting out the DA's economic policy. It was "wonderful", said Mr Maimane, that there was "growing consensus" at the centre of South African politics around the DA's approach to economic policy and growth.
Mr Maimane went on to suggest that the most important difference between the DA and the African National Congress (ANC) was that the DA "will be able to actually implement these policies". He has got this exactly back to front. In the event that he becomes the next leader of the ANC, Mr Ramaphosa is far more likely to be able to implement growth (and other) policies than the DA. This is for the simple reason that an ANC led by Mr Ramaphosa is much more likely to win the 2019 national election than is the DA.
Mr Maimane may be poking a bit of fun at Mr Ramaphosa. But he is at the same time endorsing his supposed "new deal for jobs, growth, and transformation". Why should anyone vote for the DA if they can get such a new deal from an ANC under Mr Ramaphosa's leadership?
Referring to Mr Ramaphosa's "10-point plan", Mr Maimane said that he could not agree more with the statement in that plan that it was "necessary to take immediate steps" to deal with corruption and state capture.
The trouble is that there quite a few other things in that plan. It promises "decent jobs", which is hardly surprising given that Mr Ramaphosa is responsible for the introduction next year of a national minimum wage despite the risk that this may well destroy jobs. The 10-point plan further promises import substitution, accelerated land redistribution, and accelerated transfer of ownership and control of the economy to black South Africans. It also promises that state-owned enterprises will be restored as "drivers of economic growth and social development".
Mr Maimane pooh-poohed a denial by a former finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, that there was any common ground between ANC and DA policy. Mr Gordhan, he said, was unable to point out "major differences" between ANC and DA policy. What are we to make of this? That the DA goes along with the rest of the 10-point plan, including not only its sound points but these others as well?
Some months ago, in a speech in Boksburg which most of the media as usual carefully airbrushed out of their reports, Mr Ramaphosa repeatedly endorsed the "national democratic revolution", the ANC's long-standing blueprint for socialism and black nationalism. Accelerated land redistribution, along with transfer of ownership and control of the economy to blacks, are in line with this revolutionary agenda. So is the use of state-owned enterprises to drive economic growth and social development.
Mr Ramaphosa has a lot going for him already. He is opposing the Jacob Zuma faction, he has been in business, he demonstrated leadership both as a trade unionist and in the constitutional negotiations leading to the handover of power in 1994, and he has a reputation for pragmatism and reasonableness. Should he be the leader of the ANC in the 2019 election, he can expect plenty of support (and money) from people who would not normally vote for his party. The ANC has successfully beguiled people in the past. It may yet do so again under the leadership of a man promising to stamp out the corruption and state capture that daily dominate the headlines.
The DA may think it is being clever in taunting Mr Ramaphosa with having supposedly adopted the official opposition's policies. But Mr Ramaphosa may have the last laugh. If he becomes president of the ANC later this month and then of the country in 2019, Mr Ramaphosa will be able to thank the leader of the opposition for having swung to the ANC votes that might otherwise have gone to the DA.
* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom.