The entropy of factionalism

Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: BHEKI RADEBE

It is 133 days since Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in as South Africa’s fifth president.

The euphoria that greeted his ascension, coming as it did after he so spectacularly slew the albatross who had ruled as if by decree for nine years, earned the sobriquet “Ramaphoria”.

For a short time the nation was transported back to those heady days following the first democratic election in April 1994, and the swearing in on May 10 of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela as the first democratically elected president of the republic.

It was as if the Rainbow Nation was reborn, and hope was once more on the table.

But it couldn’t last, and as the days dragged by and the anticipated changes so craved by the nation faltered and died on the reef of factionalism that bedevils the ANC, the halo effect of Ramaphoria began to wear off.

Like any drowning person who comes upon and grasps a piece of driftwood, the nation was imbued with a new – and as it turned out, disproportionate – sense of hope, believing that salvation was at hand.

Who can blame the country for being optimistic after what it had endured for the preceding nine years?

The condemned person, told that there is one last avenue of appeal before execution, will grasp frantically at the straw, however insubstantial it might be.

But it should come as no surprise that hope is on some measure stillborn, because the portents were always there.

The warning bells, although muted, began to chime during the closing stages of the ANC’s December elective conference at Nasrec.

Despite being elected president of the ANC, Mr Ramaphosa was blind-sided in a late-night coup by the Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma faction – narrowly deprived of the ANC presidency – when it successfully proposed a populist motion which committed the ANC to the expropriation of land without compensation.

The bells grew louder when there was so much to-ing and fro-ing between Mr Ramaphosa, the ANC Top Six and the presidential residence in the lead up to then President Jacob Zuma’s somewhat unexpected eventual resignation.

The nation could be forgiven for believing that once Mr Zuma was removed from power, that all would be well, that the much-needed changes in the administration would be made, and that the work of undoing nine years of wrecking-ball destruction would proceed apace under Mr Ramaphosa’s guiding hand.

Even the markets, locally and internationally, were fooled. The rand firmed and the rating agencies cautiously made encouraging noises.

But it was too good to last. The tolling of the bells once more grew louder when Mr Ramaphosa was so uncharacteristically late in announcing his much anticipated new cabinet shortly after being sworn in by the National Assembly.

Grey-faced, pale and evidently exhausted, Mr Ramaphosa had clearly been through a harrowing last minute bargaining session.

He announced his cabinet without fanfare, and it was evident in who was axed and who stayed, that he did not have the measure of power and support in the ANC Top Six, the National Executive Committee or the National Working Committee that he needed to clean out the dross that had bedevilled the administration’s efforts to deliver a better life for all during his predecessor’s tenure.

The recent meltdown in the North West Province, with Supra Mahumapelo – an ardent Zuma supporter – choosing the nature and manner of his exit, despite sustained and often violent protests calling for his removal from office, is perhaps the most cogent example of how power is distributed in the ANC and how constrained is Mr Ramaphosa’s hand in progressing his clean-up agenda.

So, although Mr Zuma no longer holds the levers of power, he still exercises a great deal of influence within the ANC.

It came as something of a shock to many, to see the extent of support he enjoyed during his two court appearances in Durban. The gallery was packed on both occasions by his fans, most all wearing ANC regalia, despite the party stating explicitly that any support for Mr Zuma during his court appearances must not be in the name of the ANC.

On both occasions, the Ethekwini Municipality had to implement a traffic control plan, as Mr Zuma’s court appearance threatened to literally bring Durban to a standstill.

As Mr Ramaphosa struggles to progress his agenda, the inevitable question arises: who in the ANC holds the real power?