By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Just days to the elective conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party on 16 December, Jacob Zuma, the South African president suffered a slight setback. That is an understatement, actually. A Pretoria High Court ruled he should implement the recommendations of the Public Protector (PP), the South African anti-corruption watchdog; who had asked him to set up an inquiry into what is now widely referred to as “State Capture.” In its simplest form, it means corruption. A wider interpretation would be to refer to it as the use of state resources by private elements for private gain with the active collaboration of public officials. Many revelations suggest President Zuma could be culpable of state capture. Naturally, Mr Zuma had wanted the court to tell him if the PP’s directives were binding on him. It was a time-wasting gimmick. And the court told him so punitively. Just before, he got some reprieve from the chief prosecutor, Shaun Abrahams – widely believed to be a Zuma loyalist – who gave him until the end of January next year to make representations as to why almost 800 previously dropped corruption charges should not now be instituted against him; after a court ruled sometime ago it was wrong to have dropped them in the first place. Incidentally, the judge who ruled the PP’s directives were binding on Mr Zuma also nullified his appointment of Mr Abrahams as chief prosecutor. Furthermore, the court ruled he could not appoint his replacement because he was clearly conflicted. That task it assigned to his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, the leading candidate to replace him as ANC president. Although Mr Zuma’s tenure as South Africa’s president would not expire until 2019, he could be recalled by the ANC if someone not favourably disposed to him wins the party’s presidency. With the only shield Mr Zuma would have thereafter being that offered by his position as president of The Republic, there is no gainsaying how highly motivated he must be to ensure that the person that emerges as the ANC president this weekend is someone that would protect him from what are clearly imminent troubles. Only one candidate can do this: former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, his ex-wife. And even though ahead of the conference, Mr Ramaphosa is leading with nominations from the party branches, it is not definite. What matters more are the number of delegates he has in his pocket. And that is where Mr Zuma has an advantage. Oops! I meant Ms Dlamini-Zuma. Well, maybe I meant both of them. Mr Ramaphosa is nominally in battle with Ms Dlamini-Zuma but effectively at war with Mr Zuma.
Fight to finish
Despite being embattled, Mr Zuma still has the power to dish out patronage. Mr Ramaphosa is rich too. But Mr Zuma can offer much more than money. He can offer positions, contracts, and so on. It is not impossible that more cadres might decide it best to pitch their tents with the person that everyone seems to want to succeed Mr Zuma. Market participants want Mr Ramaphosa to win, at least. One actually estimated as much as US$10 billion in capital flight in the aftermath of an almost certain rating downgrade to junk status by Moody’s if Ms Dlamini-Zuma wins instead. Respected former finance minister Pravin Gordhan went as far as boasting that the economy could turn around in months if Mr Ramaphosa is elected. This is an exaggeration, of course. Mr Ramaphosa is no magician. (But it speaks to the enthusiasm around his candidacy.) The problems bedevilling South Africa would require very tough structural reforms. They tend to take time to bear fruit. And any president willing to embark on them would need to have not only strong political capital and will, but must also be willing to suffer the fate of probably not lasting long in office. Of all the candidates, Mr Ramaphosa is perhaps the only one that comes closest to being qualified to do the needed right things. Take labour reforms. It would be a very brave ANC president that takes on unions that form the bedrock of the party’s support base. COSATU, the umbrella labour union body, is a member of the tripartite alliance that ensures ANC is able to retain power. Were the ANC to lose their support because of what are germane but likely unpopular labour reforms, it may not be in power long enough to see them through. But if there is anyone with the skill and experience to do the task, it is Mr Ramaphosa. A former labour leader himself, Mr Ramaphosa is credited with helping former president and father of the nation, Nelson Mandela, with negotitations to end the apartheid regime. And it is widely known that when Mr Mandela was in a jam during what were very tasking talks, Mr Ramaphosa, when called upon, as he often was, was able to help make some headway. But Mr Ramaphosa is not without troubles of his own. He is tainted by the Marikana massacre, which resulted in the deaths of many protesting miners. And Mr Zuma has reportedly not relented in his efforts to ensure Mr Ramaphosa does not prevail. Lately, what came out was that Mr Zuma might be looking to invoke a state of emergency. Like always, his office came out vociferously with a denial. If past events are a barometer of Mr Zuma’s schemings, it is not totally out of the question that he is still contemplating this. Should Mr Ramaphosa win, Mr Zuma would need to move quickly to ensure the party is not able to recall him. Such is the risk of something unusual happening that market participants are already beginning to derisk themselves of South African exposure as a precaution. For the sake of dear South Africans, may the best candidate win.