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Two sets of congratulations are in order after the first days of the ANC 54th National Conference at Nasrec. The ANC as a whole can be congratulated for a conference at which the recent court judgments about the compositions of various delegations were accepted and upheld, as well as for a conference that saw no disruptions or violent behaviour (which was not the case with all the provincial elective conferences).

Justice Yacoob, in 2012, writing for the Constitutional Court in Ramakatsi and Others v Magashule and Others observed that: “I would hold that the right to participate in the activities of a political party confers on every political party the duty to act lawfully and in accordance with its own constitution. This means that our Constitution gives every member of every political party the right to exact compliance with the constitution of a political party by the leadership of that party”. The run-up to the elections was characterised by branches in KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and North West successfully challenging their provincial elective conferences. This meant that such provinces - and specifically the provincial executive committees - could not legally participate in the National Conference. Their branch delegates were free to participate in their individual capacities. The real concern arose over the verification of the identities of the individual participants, a matter which the party gave serious consideration to with the verification process taking place overnight. While there were a few discrepancies, they were however not enough to cast aspersions on the entire verification process. No faction has so far challenged the very close outcome of the election of the top six. At the time of writing, the secretary-general position is under scrutiny with regard to 68 votes that were allegedly uncounted. This could potentially have the effect of toppling Ace Magashule out of the this crucial position, in favour of Senzo Mchunu of KwaZulu-Natal.  

In the second instance, the new ANC president, Cyril Ramaphosa, must be congratulated on his election. He waged his campaign on the values of the Constitution, and was clear in his opposition to state capture and corruption. He also emphasised inclusive economic growth and addressing inequalities. Ramaphosa is an avowed constitutionalist, which is the correct message for citizens, markets and the myriad of stakeholders who desire a future suffused with the values and principles of the Constitution.

As every chess player will attest, you play the game for the advantage: when you have it, you maintain it, and if you don’t have it, you seize it. This could be the sagest advice Ramaphosa might want to take to heart, as he stares into a top six that is evenly split between his supporters, and President Jacob Zuma’s political associates. This complex result will render his task more difficult.

While there will be masses of advice proffered to the new president of the ANC, the key to ascendency for Ramaphosa - within the party and crucially for the country -  is for him, in chess parlance, to watch the King (Zuma) and focus attention on his potential escape squares. What Zuma has represented and corroded are the ethical foundations of governance and government, taking the economy hostage in the process, and entrenching a wide patronage network which, while difficult to dismantle, poses the greatest threat to SA’s democratic project. 

The new ANC President must, like a keen chess player, ensure that every one of his moves has a purpose. He must act with a sense of urgency to hold Zuma and his associates accountable. This will send the firmest message to the citizens of the country - that the worst excesses of the Executive will be curtailed with immediate effect. The country is desperate for a leader who understands and will establish an administration built on ethical leadership and a nuanced grasp of modern political economies. Both have suffered fatal blows over the last 10 years, rendering South Africans poorer and more cynical.

All of the above being said, Ramaphosa, the ANC and the country face huge challenges in the next five years. The first stems from the first rule of any organisation, namely self-preservation, or in Nasrec-speak “unity above all”, with the concomitant compromise that resulted in a split top six. Ramaphosa will continuously have to think of the unity of the ANC and reconciling the two main factions. Every top six meeting will be a constant reminder of this organisational imperative, especially if Ramaphosa wants the ANC to do well in the 2019 general election. This imperative will, however, be in strong contrast to another imperative and the foundation of Ramaphosa’s own election campaign: that of fighting corruption and acting against state capture. He will have considerable pressure from inside and outside the ANC to act against known and as yet unknown culprits in corruption and state capture. He is on record as saying that lifestyle audits should be done voluntarily by all senior officials in the government and the ANC. Will he be able to follow through on this and other measures? His regular top six meetings will again be a constant reminder of this quest, with at least two of the six not having a spotless record in this regard.

Ramaphosa will need all of his considerable negotiation skills to navigate the conundrum of a choice or the balance between unity and clean governance. The fact that he has a casting vote in meetings of the top six will make his life only a little bit easier.

To this ongoing problem can be added two others. The first is the court order directing Ramaphosa to appoint a new National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) after Zuma’s letting go of the previous NDPP and his appointment of the present NDPP were found to be irregular. Even though Zuma and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) have already appealed, it won’t be long before the appeal is heard. Ramaphosa is therefore likely to face the choice of appointing someone who will eventually prosecute the President of the country (and his boss, at least for the time being). The second problem, although not directly linked to Ramaphosa, but one that could complicate his office as ANC president, is the court order that Zuma must appoint the commission of inquiry on state capture before the middle of January 2018.  This process will muddy the waters between the president of the ANC and the President of the country even more.

The final composition of the National Executive Committee (NEC) will only be known after this article had been published. Based on what happened with the election of the top six, there is no reason to think that it would be any different - a more or less 50-50 split between the Ramaphosa camp and the Zuma camp. This will leave Ramaphosa with very little room to move. And it does not bode well for any plans that Ramaphosa may have had for an early redeployment of Zuma to Nkandla, much less having him prosecuted. The Ramaphosa camp may have enough clout to resist giving Zuma some sort of amnesty, but an active prosecution with a split NEC seems unlikely. If however, the NEC could agree to go ahead with a motion of no confidence in Parliament and instruct ANC MPs to vote for such a motion in terms of section 102(2) of the Constitution, the President and the other members of the Cabinet and any Deputy Ministers must resign.

Spare a thought for the new ANC president when considering the organisation’s programme until the opening of Parliament in February 2018. There will be a first NEC meeting in early January, the 8th January statement by the president of the ANC (probably delivered on 13th January in the Eastern Cape), a high-level delegation to the World Economic Forum towards the end of January, a government lekgotla at the end of January and then the State of the Nation speech by Zuma in mid-February. To add to this, universities re-open at the end of January, with most students arriving at the beginning of February. Given the expectations that were created by Zuma’s shock “free higher education” announcement at Nasrec, one could expect some turmoil on our campuses. Do not put it past Zuma to ask his Deputy to manage that…

It is clear that the compromise and unity forced by the Nasrec election of the ANC top six will not be easy to manage in the coming years. It is probably not good for the country, the economy and clean governance. However, in addition to his negotiation skills, and probably complementary to it, Ramaphosa is a strategist par excellence, always seeing the bigger picture and the future. He is a person who, having set his goals, mostly achieves them. He will be able to count on the experience of chairperson Gwede Mantashe, who may be able to work on the unity and reconciliation inside the ANC.

From public reaction in general, it is clear that there is a large amount of goodwill - even outside the ANC - towards Ramaphosa. Many South Africans from all walks of life are enjoined in the desire for Ramaphosa to succeed. This common dream for a peaceful and prosperous country must remain the great unifier. He should, in his understandable quest to maintain unity and achieve reconciliation within the ANC, not squander this goodwill by bowing to the racialised politics of his opponents inside and outside the ANC. It is social capital that he may need later on in his career as President of the country.

The “reconstruction” of South Africa must get underway post haste and must be underpinned by the words of Albert Einstein, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.  This indicates, indeed, that is “Your move, Mr President…”

Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation
Theuns Eloff | Zohra Dawood | Phephelaphi Dube
19 December 2017 

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