In the fullness of time

The speculation preceeding President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet shuffle on Thursday was typical of a society that expects significantly more than it is likely to get from our chief executive.

The enduring narrative that Mr Ramaphosa must fire the likes of Nomvula Mokonyane and Bathabile Dlamini is wearing thin, as is the expectation that he is likely to react to these exhortations, most of which emerge from the opposition.

Aside from the obvious reason – a party in government never takes advice from a party in opposition – there is the matter of the political knife edge upon which Mr Ramaphosa teeters, despite his apparent sense of command and control whenever he appears or speaks in public.

That he won the presidency of the ANC with a razor-thin margin is well known, as is the understanding that he consequently does not have the extent of support which he needs in the NEC, to take the scalpel to the executive which he inherited from his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, and take out the trash.

In typical fashion, he has played his cards close to his chest, but on both occasions since his ascendancy to the presidency, when he has announced cabinet changes, he has missed the deadline for the announcement.

This is uncharacteristic of the man, considering he made a public undertaking that in future, the ANC would do things on time. Chances are, the delays we have seen in both of these instances have come about because of last minute behind-the-scenes wrangling over his planned cabinet changes, with the inevitable compromises that he’s had to reach, in order to retain the tenuous control that he has over the party.

Two recent press articles by well-known political commentators have bluntly suggested that it is in the best interests of the country that in the coming election, Mr Ramaphosa’s reform initiative be given solid support by the electorate, including from that sector of the electorate which typically votes for the opposition. The self-righteous shrieks of outrage and Chicken Little “the sky is falling on our heads” prognostications from the opposition, have been little short of comical.

The thinking seems to be that if the ANC polls less than 50% in the national election next year, the most likely outcomes will be an ANC/EFF coalition government, or an ANC minority government. (The DA’s posturing to the contrary notwithstanding, the likelihood of a DA-led coalition government in such circumstances, is little short of zero.)

Neither of these electoral outcomes would be particularly good for the country going forward, and both may well result in Mr Ramaphosa not winning a second term in office at the ANC’s elective conference in 2022.

With the likes of Deputy President David Mabuza and recently resigned Malusi Gigaba having presidential ambitions, not to mention Mr Ramaphosa’s erstwhile opponent in the presidential stakes, Nkosasana Dlamini Zuma, waiting in the wings, the portents are not good.

Mr Ramaphosa is painfully aware that he needs the support of the Zuma faction that opposes his attempts at clean governance, in order to win convincingly in next year’s election.

It is largely for this reason that he retains Bathabile Dlamini and Nomvula Mokonyane in his cabinet, despite the Constitutional Court having found Ms Dlamini to have been constitutionally delinquent in the SASSA social grants debacle. Mr Gigaba was a fortunate self-inflicted casualty, but Ms Dlamini is unlikely to fall on her own sword, and since she is the president of the ANC Women’s League, the support of which he needs on the campaign trail, Mr Ramaphosa is not going to fire her.

This conclusion is rein-forced by his decision to oppose the DA’s court action
to compel him to fire her, because to not do so, would send the wrong message to his enemies – and they are many – in the ANC.

Mr Ramaphosa’s much-criticised long game is postulated on allowing the law to take its course, which means that rather than allowing the DA to force him to remove Ms Dlamini from office through court action, he would rather that the NPA press charges against her for perjury, and that matter is currently before the prosecutors.

Were she to be charged, found guilty and sentenced for perjury, Mr Ramaphosa would have no choice but to remove her from his cabinet, without significant pushback from the Zuma faction that remains a thorn in his side in the ANC.

With the evidence that is emerging at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture, an increasing number of ANC luminaries are being directly implicated in state capture, and the pushback has already begun.

Although Mr Zuma is actively engaged in campaigning for the ANC in the lead-up to next year’s election, it is worth noting that he has chosen to file an affidavit in support of disgraced SARS commissioner Tom Moyane’s court action to force Mr Ramaphosa to reinstate him.

Once Mr Ramaphosa has appointed a new national director of public prosecutions, who should set about getting that organisation back on track, his expectation must be that where evidence of state capture malfeasance exists, it will be investigated by the Hawks and prosecuted by the NPA. Irrespective of who the accused might be, Mr Ramaphosa will simply allow the law to take its course without any justifiable pushback from his enemies in the party.

Whereas it is right and proper for the opposition to continually call for Mr Ramaphosa to gut his cabinet and staff it with competent honest people, those pleas are doomed to fail, because in order for him to do so, he needs to have a solid electoral mandate to avoid the possibility of not getting a second term as ANC president at the next elective conference.

When he announced his most recent cabinet changes, Mr Ramaphosa stated that a cabinet revision is on the cards, but only after the national election in May, and the nature and extent of that revision depends on the mandate he gets from the electorate on polling day.

It has nothing to do with what the opposition, or for that matter, the electorate at large, wants.