By Rafiq Raji, PhD
This Sunday past, as I watched – on television, of course – Cyril Ramaphosa, the president of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, chuckle slightly to a remark by the clergyman officiating the mass at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, ahead of his much expected speech to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s centenary hours later, and thereafter adopt a solemn look while standing for the part of the service that required that posture, I could not help but think the man, if only for a moment, must have thought to himself: here I am, almost three decades after carrying a microphone for Mr Mandela during his first speech just after his release from prison, about to deliver a speech in the great man’s memory. The irony must also have struck him, I thought, how the people in the church hall and perhaps millions at home and elsewhere watching him on television, probably did not care very much for the dead as they were about knowing whether he had finally come to a resolution with embattled South African president, Jacob Zuma. Judging from his body language, I thought he likely had finalised a deal; hoping dearly his speech would not disappoint.
Earlier that Sunday, news also broke that senior executives of the ANC would finally meet on Monday (12 February), after failing to meet as planned last week. It was supposed by most that should a resolution not have been reached with Mr Zuma by the weekend, that would be the meeting at which the party decided they had had enough. The foul mood of most of the upper echelons of the party towards Mr Zuma was already palpable, after an audio clip of remarks by ANC treasurer Paul Mashatile at the recently held Mining Indaba was leaked to the media last week. Mr Mashatile revealed in very clear terms that had the party’s executives met the week past, Mr Zuma would have been recalled. Such is the angst amongst a majority of South Africans and indeed within the ANC towards Mr Zuma now that should the party officials prove spineless on Monday, it would not only be Mr Zuma who would have a need for worry, but the party executives as well. Besides, should the ANC not move quickly, the opposition might take the initiative from them and thereby jeopardize the party’s prospects in future elections. Needless to say, there would be much relief if the Union Buildings in Pretoria get a new chief this week.
In my Premium Times column late last week titled: “South Africa: Mugabe 2.0” (see link viz. https://opinion.premiumtimesng.com/2018/02/09/south-africa-mugabe-2-0-by-rafiq-raji/), I wondered why Mr Ramaphosa did not seize the opportunity to recall Mr Zuma when he had the chance. One analyst thought the ANC president’s deliberateness was strategic and aimed at “neutralizing, encircling Zuma”. I was not totally convinced, averring that had Mr Zuma been in Mr Ramaphosa’s shoes, he would not have hesitated to seize the first solid opportunity to oust an opponent; especially as the longer Mr Zuma stayed, the greater the probability of an opening for a counter move by the Zulu man. The variables increase with each delay, I added. I particularly thought the notion that Mr Zuma was already done for before an official resignation, recall or impeachment was presumptuous if not cheeky. Still, senior officials of the ANC urged patience over the weekend.
Regardless, pressure is mounting on the protagonists in the transition talks to come to a quick resolution. Party grandees have been expressing concern at the seeming lack of urgency. Opposition parties desire a no-confidence vote in parliament this week. A faction of the ANC, the so-called “#ZumaMustGo” movement, has asked South Africans not to show up for work on Monday (12 February), advising they join a planned protest to pressure Mr Zuma to resign. In light of these, the smooth transition Mr Ramaphosa seeks risks being jeopardized the longer the negotiations take. In my remarks on the goings-on for an article by American broadcast television network, NBC News, (see link viz. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/south-africa-s-next-leader-cyril-ramaphosa-faces-plenty-challenges-n845431), I provide reasons for the great expectations behind a potential Ramaphosa-led South Africa. The investment and business community has probably never been this confident about any post-apartheid ANC leader. This has a downside: the fact they see him as more predictable and sensitive to their interests would not endear him to the masses. Thus, Mr Ramaphosa would inevitably need to similarly dish out some patronage like his imminent predecessor; that is, if he hopes to retain the support of the ANC base. He would also need to appeal a little bit to populists who might otherwise switch to more left-leaning parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Ideally, the leader South Africa needs should have the erudition of former President Thabo Mbeki, the grassroots appeal of Mr Zuma and the negotiation and business acumen of Mr Ramaphosa. The current ANC leader falls short on at least two of these qualities, clearly. But he has the one quality that really matters now: competence.
Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/mr-ramaphosa-time/