A news headline reads that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s allies believe “they [had] the numbers to mount a fight back” at the ANC NEC meeting, which had hardly started before being postponed. (https://www.news24.com/news24/politics/political-parties/just-in-ramaphosas-allies-believe-they-have-the-numbers-to-mount-a-fightback-at-nec-meeting-20221202). Some 80 odd people arrived for the meeting, most needing to be flown up from all parts of the country and accommodated in Johannesburg, but the president did not arrive. This wasted expenditure is at a time when the ANC cannot afford to pay its own staff.
Ramaphosa’s supporters believe he should not heed calls to resign. This is because they have “the numbers”. What they mean is that there is no need to engage with the findings of the Independent Panel headed by former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo. The Ramaphosa supporters focus on whether he can rally ANC leaders and others who “count” in his support.
The report may be open to challenge, as more than one legal scholar has indicated, but that the panel did not believe the president’s evidence -saying that he was not telling the truth and believed there was a case to answer, surely needs a response beyond whatever level of support he can rally in the ANC NEC? It is reported that Ramaphosa plans to take the report on review. Even if this report is flawed, there may be risks attached to investigations conducted by the South African Reserve Bank and South African Revenue Services and possibly others that have not yet been made public. Are these also not to be engaged if he has “the numbers”?
What these supporters of Ramaphosa are saying is that even though there may be these findings against him, the calls for his resignation ultimately depend for their power not on whether the findings are cogent, significant ethically, constitutionally, and in terms of loyalty to the state and even the integrity of the ANC. Power dynamics inside the ANC will determine what happens, irrespective of the law or reports of one or other kind.
The status of these findings at this time is determined by who and how many line up on one or other side in ANC internal politics. If most support Ramaphosa, that is all that is required, whether or not he is innocent or guilty of any wrongdoing. What level of validity the report has is by-the-by for these leaders, reported to be close to Ramaphosa. What matters to many or most of Ramaphosa’s supporters is his retaining internal support within the organisation and retaining his position. They fear losing theirs, if Ramaphosa were to resign. (I am not saying that this holds for all his supporters for there are some who believe in his remaining in office - in good faith - to save the country and its democracy.)
It's a question of supposedly twisting Ramaphosa’s arm not to resign. I'm not convinced that he was so keen on resigning. People are not pressurising him for ethical reasons, but because they fear that without him there, the ANC may have a very poor electoral showing and their own political futures and the wealth that comes with that will be endangered.
The only arguments coming close to ethical arguments are half-baked legal arguments which are not even articulated clearly, and suggestions that even if Ramaphosa has been tainted by this report, there are others who are far worse who will remain in leadership.
In other words, it becomes a question of who has done more wrong than others. Ramaphosa, it is claimed, has done less wrong than many others who are not being called upon to resign. For his supporters, quoted in media reports, that disposes of the ethical question – even if he has acted wrongfully - and it's unnecessary for him to resign. Mondli Makhanya points to this as a persisting phenomenon in post-apartheid South Africa:
“One of the terrible habits that the ANC cannot shake is the addiction to ‘whataboutism’, that practice of deflecting critiques or wrongs pointed out by referring to others’ flaws.
“This practice is usually the refuge of those who know they have a case to answer but also believe that their sins are lesser than those of their adversaries and others whose missteps have not been aired as much. It is one of the most classic forms of avoidance of responsibility.” (https://www.news24.com/citypress/voices/mondli-makhanya-what-about-what-about-20221204. Behind a paywall).
There's something very crude, especially in a constitutional democracy so carefully crafted as ours was, about having the numbers supporting Ramaphosa raised as a way of erasing any arguments there may be for President Ramaphosa to resign. Some are doubtful when I say the ANC was not always like this. But people like Chief Albert Luthuli, Lilian Ngoyi, Walter and Albertina Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Ruth First, Chris Hani and many other heroic figures would not have traded in their values for the prospect of wealth.
Amoral and decadent ANC
And it confirms the amoral character of the ANC of today. It confirms its decadent character, where people who are trying to dissuade Cyril Ramaphosa from resigning are only concerned about the effect that this will have on their re-election to high office in the ANC and in government. The state of the state does not concern them as it drifts into dangerous waters. I do not like the careless use of phrases like “failed state” or “state collapse” but there now seems a real danger of state institutions being denied the chance to function effectively and they may well collapse.
Free the man who stabbed Walus?
Only a day before the contents of this report were made known, Nomvula Mokonyane, a former minister who was fingered in the Zondo report for corrupt benefits received from Bosasa which she denies, but could potentially lead to her facing charges, made a statement on the stabbing of Janus Walus. (https://www.news24.com/news24/politics/political-parties/release-walus-attacker-says-nomvula-mokonyane-during-protest-outside-kgosi-mampuru-prison-202211300. ) (On her implication in wrongdoing by the Zondo report, see, inter alia https://ewn.co.za/2022/03/02/zondo-commission-says-nomvula-mokonyane-must-be-probed-for-bosasa-corruption).
Mokonyane is an employee in ANC headquarters, receiving a deputy minister's salary and being head of organising, which is at the coalface of deciding who attends the ANC conference at the end of the year.
Now Mokonyane said the man who “scratched” Janus Walus, that is, the man who attempted to murder or to grievously injure the murderer of Chris Hani, must be released, rather than release Walus.
No one has reprimanded Mokonyane for saying this, saying that a man who attempted to potentially murder or seriously assault Walus must go free - apparently as a reward for stabbing Walus. This is plain lawless demagoguery.
That no one in the ANC has dissociated the organisation from that statement means that it has been condoned by silence and is implicitly part of ANC official discourse. It confirms, if further confirmation is needed, that there is no longer any moral centre or leadership in South Africa.
From the nominations for the ANC national conference at the end of the year, the same Nomvula Mokonyane seems on the number of nominations that she has received for deputy secretary general to be in a very good position to be elected to one of the top six positions in the ANC leadership. (https://www.702.co.za/articles/460323/anc-announces-top-six-position-nominations-for-its-national-executive-committee). Again, this and many other tainted individuals who appear high up on the list of ANC NEC nominees, sends out alarm bells about the character of the collective morality of the existing leadership and potentially a substantial part of the future leadership of the country. It also signals their lack of respect for constitutionalism and legality.
The dangers to the country are much greater than the determination of Ramaphosa’s political future
It may be that Ramaphosa has made - very limited - steps to restore institutions to functionality and to recover legality and constitutionalism, while also doing little to stop the stealing by top ANC figures at all levels, some of whom remain at his side. It is a myth to speak of renewal that will be set back if he were to resign and be replaced by one of the supporters of “Radical Economic Transformation”.
Ramaphosa lacks resolve to deal with corruption and the Phala Phala scandal suggests that he may himself be operating illegally or on the margins between legality and criminality.
The ANC is too far down the road of decadence and criminality to be restored to “good health”. Those calling for Ramaphosa’s resignation count in their ranks many who are scoundrels who may well end up behind bars - but given the level of protection provided to scoundrels, whoever is president, it may not happen.
State is damaged
The situation is very serious, as recognised by the South African Council of Churches through a statement by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba mooting the possibility of a carefully constituted Government of National Unity if Ramaphosa resigns, as well as an “economic Codesa” to address persisting economic inequalities (https://ewn.co.za/2022/12/03/archbishop-makgoba-calls-for-government-of-national-unity-if-ramaphosa-resigns). (Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) refers to the negotiating forums for preparing the transition to a democratic order, before 1994).
It cannot be left to government, whatever that may now mean, to take such initiatives. It is good that the church is giving a lead. The idea and scope of such an “interim government” or similar idea needs to be fleshed out and tested against alternative ideas that may emerge if there is proper consultation and debate - as much as is possible given the urgency of the situation. It is important that a range of other sectors determined to save our constitutional order join together to articulate a path to defend our hard-won democracy.
Raymond Suttner is an emeritus professor at the University of South Africa. He served lengthy periods in prison and house arrest for underground and public anti-apartheid activities. His writings cover contemporary politics, history, and social questions, especially issues relating to identities, violence, gender and sexualities. His twitter handle is @raymondsuttner