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[OPINION] The task ahead for Ramaphosa - the Great Negotiator

Pyrrhus the Greek defeated the Romans at Asculum in 279BC. However, his losses were so heavy, that it seemed tantamount to a defeat.

In a sense, Cyril Ramaphosa’s victory at Nasrec may turn out to be a Pyrrhic one. The Top Six of the ANC is split precisely in half. On the one hand, there are those Ramaphosa would be able to work with - Gwede Mantashe and Paul Mashatile - yet on the other side he finds Jessie Duarte, Ace Magashule and David Mabuza - a trio of deplorables, if ever there was one.

And so, as with everything in South Africa, nothing is ever simple and the way in which one reads this result depends greatly on whether one generally sees the glass half-empty or half-full. The results topped off a weekend at Nasrec which itself indicated how divided the ANC actually is. The interminable back and forth regarding credentials took up much of the weekend. That in and of itself was an indicator of exactly how dysfunctional the ANC is regarding its internal processes.

When the voting finally began, it went on throughout the night. Ahead of voting, Jacob Zuma delivered his Political Report for the very last time. It was a small-minded speech from a man who, more than anyone else, has wrecked South Africa’s economy and filled his Cabinet with corrupt, captured individuals. He himself has looted the state for private benefit, formed unhealthy associations with the Guptas and others and breached the Constitution several times.

Yet, his speech reflected none of that as he sought to blame every sector of society for his personal failings.
And true to his unprincipled playbook, Zuma also announced free tertiary education as of 2018, without providing any details about where the money would come from. This has been and is the true danger of Zuma; he has yet again circumvented due process and in this case, the National Treasury. In doing so, he has created both chaos in the state and expectation amongst students. It was an act of crass populism.

And so, Ramaphosa, always the ‘nearly man’ of South African politics has, to put it plainly, inherited a mess. The question is how does he clean it up with a deputy like David Mabuza and Ace Magashule as secretary-general of the ANC, both of whom have links to the Guptas and along with Jessie Duarte are fierce Zumarites? Who makes the NEC will be important if Rampahosa wants to shore up his power within the party.

Given the invidious position he is now in, Ramaphosa will need to be content with change around the edges of our challenges. The way the voting has gone has probably tempered all expectations and the real question now is whether there is political support within the ANC for Zuma to be recalled. South Africa cannot afford to have Zuma in power for a minute longer really. His capacity for self-enrichment and his recklessness with power will drive us further into economic ruin.

If Rampahosa wanted to show broader society that he has the stomach for the job and if he wants to provide the ANC with a decent platform for the 2019 elections, he would need to seek consensus regarding the recall of Zuma. After Polokwane, justice was meted out swiftly and brutally to Thabo Mbeki. But then the balance of forces was different. Someone like new chairperson Gwede Mantashe will know this better than anyone.

If Zuma is recalled, there will be an opportunity for Ramaphosa to start fixing our finances and axe Malusi Gigaba as Finance Minister. Gigaba is weak and out of his depth for this moment of economic crisis we are in. A qualified, honest Finance Minister might be able to lure competent public servants back to National Treasury and, in so doing, it would pave the way for the exit of another deplorable, Tom Moyane at Sars.

One could continue to daydream about Ramaphosa similarly axing Faith Muthambi, Lynne Brown and Bathabile Dlamini and appointing a new National Director of Public Prosecutions. That might remove the need for a commission of inquiry into state capture. Surely an independent-minded NDPP would see that there is ample evidence in the Public Protector’s report and in the public domain via #Guptaleaks to seek prosecutions?
But we must not get ahead of ourselves. Rampahosa has a window of opportunity now to win our trust and, if a recall is possible, to start ridding the state of some of the most obvious rot.

If the Great Negotiator can do all that ahead of 2019, he would have done very well indeed.

Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february

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