Making deals, through securing a meeting of minds, always bears the danger that one celebrates negotiating skills and deal making rather than carefully scrutinising what is agreed. We know that Cyril Ramaphosa wanted to be president of the ANC and did not have the numbers. Carol Paton describes what happened in the context of Jacob Zuma remaining in power: “The miracle of the ANC conference, [Cyril Ramaphosa] told us, was that while two warring factions went to conference, ‘the branches’ wisely voted for unity, choosing the optimal mix of both factions. This was a sign that the membership wanted the leadership to work together and this they would do.
“Like all of us, he knows that is not actually what happened. What happened was that Gauteng leader Paul Mashatile and Mpumalanga leader DD Mabuza had always hoped to cut a deal that would see them both voted into the top six. When Ramaphosa realised, on the eve of voting, that he did not have the numbers without Mabuza, he bought in.” (https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2018-01-30-carol-paton-attitudes-harden-as-pro-zuma-camp-digs-in-heels-again/) Mabuza, who has recently been served with an interim protection order and has a range of allegations of violence and corruption surrounding him, and Mashatile were elected, Mabuza receiving more votes than any other candidate, amongst the top six. One of the results of this deal is that Ace Magashule, a strong Zuma supporter, was also part of the “winning slate”, elected Secretary General (SG) of the ANC, together with re-election of Jesse Duarte, also a Zuma supporter as his deputy. There are very many people who have serious misgivings about Magashule’s election to this vital position, sometimes described as the “engine room” of the ANC.
He is linked with corruption and state capture and other allegations of wrongdoing, not just now, but going back very many years. He is bold and unabashed as he deals with the media, without any attempt to win them over. He is accustomed to acting as he wishes, without any attempt to convince people of the correctness of what he does. He exercises power without explanation. There is something to be said for not pandering to the media and saying things as they are. But that is not the same as arrogance and aggression, that Magashule displays.
Magashule is accustomed to dealing with the Free State, where he has been ANC Chair and Premier, as his fiefdom and he now appears to see the national ANC as that. It does not seem that the Ramaphosa-led ANC has worked out how to arrest this trend, which is in many ways, openly challenging Ramaphosa’s authority as president. Indeed, Magashule is acting in a manner that suggests that there are “two centres of power” -in the ANC. The only question is to resolve it and at this point of time, it seems to be Magashule who has the upper hand -within organisational developments in key parts of the country.
Even in a period of the ANC’s decline, which we are witnessing despite the joy greeting the election of Ramaphosa, the SG still wields considerable authority on a day to day basis. In many ways, the president of the ANC cannot stop the SG from making important decisions because the president is not in ANC HQ all the time as Magashule will be, (with Deputy Secretary-General, Jesse Duarte) even if he is lingering periodically in the Free State in order to safeguard or tie up various deals which we have come to expect may skate close to the borderline of illegality.
Already, Magashule, possibly acting with Duarte, has appointed interim structures of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Free State to prepare for fresh elections, which appear to favour those who campaigned for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who were incumbents of the Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) and whose election to leadership was found to be illegal by the courts, that ordered fresh elections. The teams that have been selected appear to represent crass partisanship towards those who campaigned against Ramaphosa. But the Ramaphosa-led ANC through the National Executive Committee (NEC)/National Working Committee (NWC), do not appear to have been able to stop this. Even if Magashule has come in for criticism, according to some reports, the structures are still in place and have started working.
Some of Magashule’s statements, and also that of Duarte have run contrary to that of Ramaphosa and, it is claimed, leadership decisions in relation to the transition from Jacob Zuma’s state presidency to Ramaphosa taking over. Both Duarte and Magashule have denied that this is on the agenda, while Ramaphosa trying to phrase the matter in a delicate way, seems to allude directly to Zuma’s departure. Paul Mashatile, ANC Treasurer General, has been very clear that Zuma must leave the post, creating the impression that there is an organisational decision relating to this transition, though its interpretation is being contested. (https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/zuma-must-exit-mashatile-20180203).
At the time of writing the “top six” office-bearers are scheduled to meet Zuma, apparently to discuss his stepping down, though statements of Magashule deny this. It is also reported that the delegation is to be led by Mabuza (because Ramaphosa is said to have a “conflict of interest” as the potential incoming president). Given the clouds surrounding Mabuza, that he leads what many see as a step towards renewing the ANC, does not send promising signals.
Beyond whatever happens with Zuma as state president, Magashule is involved in other efforts, undermining the Ramaphosa leadership. When speaking in KZN, Magashule sang a song about “sell outs” and suggested that those who had lost in the 2017 ANC elections should prepare to recover “the ANC we know” in 2022. (Paddy Harper, “Ace strikes a blow to ANC unity in KZN”, Mail& Guardian, February 2 to 8 2018). This is a thinly disguised attack on Ramaphosa and his followers.
It may be, however, that Magashule is overplaying his hand in that the ANC at a national level is much harder to control than a province. There are supporters of Ramaphosa, Gwede Mantashe and others allied to them in every province, including the Free State. It may be that attempts to “capture” the ANC, for anti-Ramaphosa/pro Zuma supporters will rebound and impact negatively on Magashule’s capacity as SG.
By installing primarily those found to have been elected illegally in interim structures to oversee fresh elections in KwaZulu-Natal and Free State, Magashule leaves a significant body of people in these provinces, possibly the majority given the level of irregularity, who will be filled with resentment. It may not even be so easy for Magashule to run or influence the Free State remotely and even those who have been loyal to him may not be so dependable now that he is in ANC headquarters. That depends on how they see the power of Ramaphosa, whether he is able to assert his leadership in the organisation and beyond, and whether this works for them, providing the best option for advancing their careers in this time.
But has Ramaphosa got a plan to arrest the undermining or attempt to undermine his leadership? Ramaphosa cannot be full time in the ANC. If he does not find a way of acting, the notion of “two centres of power” may take on this new meaning, with the ANC HQ out of the control of the ANC President, who sooner or later may become president of the country.
There is a countervailing force operating against divisive actions of any grouping within the ANC, that is the desire of all its members and leaders, to ensure that the ANC retains power in 2019. It is clear at this point that Ramaphosa is a key factor in securing electoral success and the machinations of Magashule may be seen as potentially rebounding, even by some of his supporters. If they see that the future, in the broadest sense of electoral results, lies with Ramaphosa they may abandon Magashule.
Inheriting an organisation in decline
The new leadership of the ANC which comprises many of its old leaders has inherited an organisation that is in bad shape, that is dissolute and suffused with practices that suggest decadence, for example buying of branches, killing of members and especially councillors or candidates for local government elections and similar individuals -primarily but not exclusively in KZN. Many of these leaders contributed towards this decline and may well, in their own way and wherever they are located, continue to do so. What counterforce can arrest this?
The corruption that has been noted in the highest echelons in the country has become embedded in ANC structures, all the way down to its branches. While the stakes are very high for senior positions that may lead to government office with access to and control over huge projects and sums of money, this depoliticisation and criminalisation is found at every level. In a time when poverty is widespread and actual unemployment over 40% the ANC is seen as providing access to a job at a lower level, on a council that secures some form of subsistence.
This is an ANC where what are called factional battles, are not over ideas or strategic directions but over access to positions that provide resources and camouflage what is done under broad ideological labels like opposing “white monopoly capital” and advancing “radical economic transformation.” The Magashules and Duartes are quite at home in this ANC and although Ramaphosa was not involved in a clean-up in his five years as Deputy President, his election as ANC president was linked with claims to restoring the ANC to what some refer to as its “former greatness”, partly through cleaning up.
If the Ramaphosa-led ANC is to cleanse the organisation it will mean mobilising and organising members around values and political understandings. Ramaphosa has addressed this in relation to regularising the economy and restoring legality. This reassures not only business but the public at large, including the ANC membership. But in order to directly address the ANC more is needed to revive the organisation.
Thus far Ramaphosa has not advanced a values-driven perspective of the ANC’s future. There needs to be real compassion towards the poor and the vulnerable. There also needs to be passion directed towards implementing a plan to remove the yoke under which they still live.
Finally, there needs to be rethinking of ideas that supposedly drive the ANC leadership and organisation as a whole. It is unconvincing to have rote-like references to the Freedom Charter and “National Democratic Revolution” (NDR). If these aspirations and strategies still have meaning they need to be seriously analysed, debated and reinterpreted in order to have a bearing in people’s lives today. To date, there is little sign that the newly elected ANC leadership is offering this.
Raymond Suttner is a scholar and political analyst. He is a strategic advisor to the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, University of Johannesburg, a professor attached to UNISA and (until the end of March) Rhodes University. He served lengthy periods in prison and house arrest for underground and public anti-apartheid activities. His most recent book Inside Apartheid’s prison was reissued in 2017. He blogs at raymondsuttner.com and his twitter handle is @raymondsuttner