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… but it’s difficult to know who to back

Thank you Mail and Guardian for publishing the story we all wanted even though you have probably broken the whole cannon of ethics in journalism.

The story to which I refer, titled “Ramaphosa starts fight for top job”, was published in the print edition of the aforesaid newspaper on November 13, it was written by Mmanaledi Mataboge & Matuma Letsoalo and leads with that treasured line: “ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa has declared his intention to stand for the ruling party’s presidency in 2017, sources say.”

Yes, we all know that sources say “Space pumpkins stole my baby”, “Jesus was an astronaut” and “Jacob Zuma has no relationship whatsoever with SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni”, but in the M&G case referred to above I am prepared not only to forgive them because they took one on the chin for the team but I honour, respect and encourage them through the difficult times that lie ahead for them and other similarly esteemed organs.

So …   Cyril Ramaphosa is the presidential candidate for a slate including Gwede Mantashe, is (probably) backed by Gauteng and Eastern Cape provincial ANC’s, is also backed by Limpopo but unreliably and incoherently.  They (this camp) will fight on every terrain where votes are up for grabs in 2017 – which includes KwaZulu-Natal that they narrowly lost to the opposition at the provincial conference last weekend. They will obviously try to win Western Cape, Northern Cape and seem confident that the ‘premier league’ provinces (Free State, Mpumalanga and North West under the the charming patrons, Ace MagashuleDavid Mabuza, Supra Mahumapelo) should yield votes in their favour too.

The other camp, let’s call it the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Camp, is backed by the ‘premier league’, the ANC Women’s League, the ANC Youth League, the winning faction in Kwazulu-Natal (and that is big cheese in ANC internal national votes) and all the premier league provinces. So they are ahead, in case you missed that.

If that’s all plain sailing for you up till now, here comes the confusing bit: the SACP is under vigorous attack by most of the elements supporting the Dlamini-Zuma camp and we must assume the SACP is backing the Ramaphosa/Mantashe ticket.

I would prefer things to be neater. I haven’t argued this point in these pages in enough detail – or with enough vitriol –  but in my private pantheon of villains of South African post liberation politics the SACP has pride of place. In about 2005, facing a probable ousting from the ruling alliance by Mbeki, the SACP pulled off a tactically brilliant but deeply unprincipled counter stroke by riding the debauched, corrupt, amoral, untrustworthy, deceitful, disreputable, tribal, traditionalist, sexist, shameful and scandal-ridden – but still saleable to the populist masses – Jacob Zuma back to power in December 2007 – later ensuring Mbeki’s early removal from the presidency. (Can I say that on my blog? No, you’re fine. That’s all true. I took the illegal stuff out; it halved the length of the story – Ed).

The SACP was lavishly rewarded in the Judas coin of cabinet posts and general status and influence and continued to act as Jacob Zuma’s strength and shield through the myriad scandals that were to follow.

It is my belief that the impact this party’s control of industrial policy has had on our national economy has been little short of ruinous, and its top leadership has shown arrogance, contempt and self-aggrandisement on a scale I would never, ever, have predicted from the party I idealised throughout the 1980’s.

So what happened? Why did groups I assume are close to … or proxies for … Jacob Zuma begin attacking the SACP. (Lets leave the #FeesMustFall for the moment as a stroke of luck for those pushing this line … and get back to it when we are being more conspiratorial.)

Slight rumours of criticism of Jacob Zuma’s various excesses and the SACP’s culpability in its stance in relation to the president filtered into the public domain from discussions internal to the SACP in the lead up to its 3rd Special National Congress in July 2015. Perhaps that self criticism was a lot harsher and the party realised that sticking with Zuma, his policies, his patrimonial and clientelist style, his absence of a plan would lead the country, the ANC and the SACP towards catastrophe?

I do think the SACP has been a restraining hand on the worst excesses of corruption and patronage … so it is not inconceivable that in contrition (and lack of other choices) they have joined the good guys.

I have discussed in detail in the past why Ramaphosa will always be treated with caution by the exiles, Robben Islanders, and the those who worked primarily in the underground military and security apparatuses of the banned ANC. I will get back to this question as I think the conclusion I drew might be changing.

Three last small points

I think  both candidates would be more than adequate to fill the positions they are competing for. A significant portion of Dlamini-Zuma’s support is coming from groups that are characterised by the words I used to describe Jacob Zuma six paragraphs above this one. If there is a large centrist group of progressive Africanists, waiting to show their hand for Dlamini-Zuma, let them do so soon. And they should learn from the SACP that unprincipled alliances can end up doing you much harm.

The ‘woman for president’ argument is basically rubbish. Interestingly it was Thabo Mbeki in his struggle against the rise of Zuma that brought up this facile and distracting little trick. At least Mbeki had made the right noises about the role of women throughout his presidency so that when he suggested Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (then deputy president), alternatively Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, it could not as easily be dismissed as a dishonest ploy.

The argument being advanced in 2015 that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma should be president because it is time for a woman president, is being advanced by the most backward, traditionalist, dare I say misogynistic, elements of the ANC. Dismiss the argument out of hand – even if the appointment of a women president, perhaps of the highly experienced Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, might be something of which we could all be justifiably proud. The argument has been advanced purely for factional reasons – which doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t get support from those who believe it would be inherently a good thing.

Finally this is all being played out in the public realm (which basically means it is being cobbled together out of hints and rumours by analysts and journalists) extremely early.

Remember this is a contest that will only be formally resolved in 2017 (probably in December of that year) at the ANC elective National Conference and only lead to a change in the country’s government and president in 2019. I assume it is a sign of desperate desire for change (for the better) and fear of change (for the worse) that has caused these issues to assume such a central public focus so early.

 

 

 

 

 

I am an independent political analyst focusing on Southern Africa and I specialise in examining political and policy risks for financial markets.

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