I am not Cyril Ramaphosa’s sniper – Gwen Ramokgopa

In a sit-down interview with Eyewitness News, Gwen Ramokgopa dismissed those who view her as a threat, saying she was merely there to serve her party.

FILE: African National Congress (ANC) national executive committee (NEC) member Dr Gwen Ramokgopa. Picture: Kgothatso Mogale/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - African National Congress (ANC) national working committee member Gwen Ramokgopa says there’s nothing untoward with her being suggested to run the ANC’s engine room - the office of the secretarygeneral. She also poured cold water over claims that she’s a hired gun operating on behalf of party president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramkgopa has finally broken her silence into ongoing speculation around her deployment to the powerful office and speculation that she’s Ramaphosa’s pick for secretary general ahead of the ANC’s 55th national elective conference in December.

In January, this publication reported that a battle was brewing in the powerful office, which ultimately determines the 4,000-plus delegates who will go to the conference and elect new leadership.

“Those with other ideas, I respect their thinking. But think it’s completely ill-informed and there’s really nothing to it,” Ramokgopa told Eyewitness News.

The secretary general's chair is in an unprecedented situation, never being without its occupant or the office's second-in-charge to fill it. Deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte took up the position following her boss Ace Magashule’s suspension after he refused to step aside over asbestos linked corruption charges, but took ill in November. This office ultimately determines which delegates make it to the conference and elect new leadership.

Ramaphosa’s detractors and some secretaries previously tried to put up a fight, arguing that Ramokgopa’s deployment was so the president’s allies could have influence on all spheres of ANC life and that it was simply not necessary. But Ramokgopa insists her role in the secretary general's office is based on a gap that needed to be filled.

“Was this the case when I was asked to assist with the problem of Life Esidimeni and so forth?”

Ramokgopa is referring to a 2017 decision that saw her redeployed as Gauteng’s health MEC to help clean up the department following the deaths of more than 140 mentally ill patients who were released from the Life Esidimeni healthcare facility to non-registered facilities by the provincial government.

She stifles a laugh when asked to respond to claims that she’s a silent gun representing the interests of the party’s president, saying she’s never operated as a sniper on his - or anyone’s - behalf.

“I haven’t been a sniper for anyone, will never be a sniper for anyone. I am just an ordinary South African, an ordinary member of the ANC, ready and available, if possible, to assist, for either our people in the health sector, health services and whatever services or to strengthen the ANC,” continues Ramokgopa.

The politician, who has served across all spheres of government, argues that her name was not even proposed by Ramaphosa, but that there are several senior leaders who are available to step up and assist, emphasising that its not a one-person show but a collective that has to work at getting the ANC correct.

ON THE ANC WOMEN'S LEAGUE PRESIDENT

Questions have been asked over the ANC’s application of its step-aside resolution, which was taken at its watershed 54th conference in Nasrec, specifically in relation to its failure to have ANC Women’s League President Bathabile Dlamini suspended. She was found guilty of perjury by the Johannesburg Magistrates Court last week while Magashule remains out in the cold following his May 2021 suspension.

“Sometimes the ANC’s processes are slow but rest assured that processes have begun and are under way, and I think you’d remember with the secretary general’s matter it was processed for quite sometime and at some stage he himself asked for time to consult the previous president,” remarked Ramokgopa. She is also a member of the women's league.

Ramokgopa says the ANC is processing matters and trying its best to be as fair as possible to members while trying to stay true to the mandate of its branches at the 2017 conference.

“Its really sad to have one of your own go through this process and its important that it be done properly,” she added.

Ramokgopa is passionate about the renewal project, calling it a “course of no return”. In her observation, the ANC must regain trust and close the distance that has been created between the organisation and those it purports to serve. She noted the country’s mood being at a constant low, an unemployment crisis and and several other socio-economic issues threatening to spill over into the party's efforts.

Pundits have argued that these attempts aren’t authentic and have come too little too late as the ANC faces a downward trajectory at the polls, is failing at governance and is said to be now headed towards its grave like many other former liberation movements.

She says the ANC has taken difficult and painful steps to convince both society and itself that the organisation is committed to renewal. She cites the commission of inquiry into state capture, membership renewal, a new membership system and political education as attempts to rectify some of the ANC’s recurring sins.

The former MEC refused to comment on the proposed amendments to the ANC’s subcommittees as well as its national disciplinary and appeals committees, which could see non-national executive committee members appointed to those positions. Magashule criticised the NEC, telling Eyewitness News last week that it seemed as though the NEC had given up its role as the highest decision making body in between conferences and left its work to the national working committee.

Ramokgopa said she wouldn't be drawn into into a mudslinging contest, simply saying Magashule had the freedom to say whatever he wanted.

NO SAY ON CONTESTING SG

Ramaphosa, in his role as head of state, has a history of appointing women into key position. These include Khusela Diko as presidential spokesperson (a job she no longer performs following the Gauteng personal protective equipment saga), as well as Shamila Batohi as head of Public prosecutions. Insiders have claimed Ramakgopa is likely to benefit from this as those in favour of the president will look to electing her as the secretary general, possibly making her the first woman to be elected into the powerful office.

But Ramokgopa is reluctant to show her cards on this issue.

“I haven’t thought about it, no one has asked me about it and it’s not on the agenda,” she says.

Ramkgopa added that branches of the ANC have been encouraged to consider all leaders who are available and keep in mind those best placed to take the organisation into the next era.

“We have more capable leaders than positions in the ANC. Whatever position you occupy, my principle is do the best you can and really give hope to our people and bring results,” she said, before repeating that she had not given the secretary general position any thought and that she simply doesn’t have an answer for the question yet.

What the former MEC - who’s now a special advisor in the office of the presidency - has thought about, is Ramaphosa’s leadership. She praised him for steering the ANC through some “stormy waters”, thanked him and called on him to avail himself to continue as leader.

“I also believe going forward he is one of the leaders that we are looking forward to availing themselves once more for the 55th conference,” said Ramokgopa.

Ramaphosa himself has avoided giving his thoughts on the matter, often dismissing journalists as different leaders publicly pledge their support for him

The ANC opens nomination processes in August for its December leadership conference.