OPINION: The final battle

Norman McFarlane

President Cyril Ramaphosa came out swinging in the most recent national executive committee (NEC) meeting, when he challenged his detractors to attempt to oust him at the ANC’s upcoming national general council next year.

His response has been a long time coming, with many suggesting he ought to have played hardball a long time ago, cracking down on the populist radical economic transformation (read Zuma) faction, that would drag the country back to the days of the nine-year-long feeding frenzy which endured under his predecessor.

Mr Ramaphosa’s increasingly criticised “long game” – allowing the law to take its course in dealing with those who have plundered the public purse – seems to have achieved little, what with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) struggling to reconstitute itself and proceed with prosecutions, and the Hawks seemingly paralysed in its investigative efforts.

Indeed, NPA head, Shamila Batohi, speaking at the Kader Asmal Memorial Lecture recently, noted that while the expectation of prosecutions in respect of state capture was understandable, it would take some time before any of the miscreants ended up “in orange overalls”.

The cases are complex, and it is vital that they are successfully investigated and prosecuted.

It is against this backdrop, that the final battle for the soul of the ANC is playing out, between Mr Ramaphosa’s reform agenda, and the populist faction headed by ANC secretary general, Ace Magashule. As murky as is ANC internal politics, the signs of this titanic struggle are clear for all to see.

With seeming impunity, Mr Magashgule issues statements that often contradict the trajectory of Mr Ramaphosa’s reform agenda.

A prime example is the fight over the future of the SA Reserve Bank (SARB).

No sooner has Mr Ramaphosa publicly assured the nation that the SARB’S independence is inviolate, than Mr Magashule issues a statement, that the Nasrec resolution to nationalise the bank will be implemented.

The enduring question is, of course, why does Mr Ramaphosa not rein in Mr Magashule and ensure that the ANC sings from the same hymn sheet? Because he does not have the authority to do so.

Mr Magashule’s position as secretary general, is the most powerful in the ANC, and not even the president can tell him what to do.

Mr Ramaphosa might have executive control over the state, but he does not exercise that extent of control over any ANC executive or decision-making bodies.

He might chair the NEC and the national working committee (NWC) when each body meets, but he does not have executive power over either.

The collective nature of ANC power dynamics means that Mr Ramaphosa needs to garner sufficient support in multiple ANC fora in order to advance his reform agenda, and the forces that are pushing back as the revelations of wrongdoing continue to emerge at the Zondo state capture commission, are determined to thwart him.

Despite frequent protestations that the ANC is not a house divided, it was Mr Magashule who released a post-NEC meeting statement that shocked the nation: that the ANC acknowledged that factional in-fighting has directly contributed to the collapse of the economy and the rising tide of unemployment, now sitting at 29%, with the expanded rate – including those who have stopped looking for work – estimated at 38.5%.

That the ANC would, for the first time in its history, publicly admit culpability for the calamitous state of the nation, means only one thing – that the endgame has commenced, and both sides believe they have the upper hand.

The frequent contradictions between Mr Ramaphosa’s public utterances and Mr Magashule’s subsequent responses, the relentless pursuit by the public protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, of Mr Ramaphosa and key figures aligned with him, Jacob Zuma’s bizarre accusation of multiple apartheid regime spies in the ANC, all point to the determination of the ANC populist faction to triumph at all costs, even if it means splitting the ANC down the middle.

And sitting on the side lines, tossing hand grenades into the fray – for example, the allegation that Derek Hanekom colluded with the EFF to oust Jacob Zuma – sits none other than Julius Malema, whose true home is the ANC, determined to return to the fold, and seize the presidency, even if it is of only the populist half that is left, if the ANC finally splits.

As Betrand Russell is believed to have said: war does not determine who is right – only who is left.