19 December 2017
The title of this piece is the caption on a picture of Jacob Zuma that circulated widely on WhatsApp as the ANC Elective Conference results became known. It is an apt summary. It is certainly the beginning of the end of a long nightmare. There is no doubt that the eventual replacement of Zuma by Cyril Ramaphosa as president will be a big change for the better. The country has taken a step forward, and there is a better captain at the helm as we muddle through the challenges we face.
The results for the Top 6
One can summarise the result of the Top 6 in two parts:
1. There is something for everybody
Three of the Top 6 come from the Ramaphosa slate, and three from the Dlamini-Zuma slate (although she has disappeared from the Top 6 altogether). Two are from the ‘premier league’ provinces and rural South Africa, and four are from Gauteng (of whom at least three are from modern and urban South Africa).
The slate is not the first prize for either the Ramaphosa camp or the Dlamini-Zuma camp – it is a compromise. In fact, the Top 6 is so finely balanced that some people are even suspicious that the results were rigged. If ‘rigged’ means that the votes were counted and then adjusted to achieve the announced outcome, I do not think so. There were too many checks and balances in both the voting and counting process. What is more likely to have happened is that trade-offs and negotiations took place beforehand, leading people to switching their votes between different candidates.
These negotiations and trade-offs are the result of a party trying to unite before the 2019 elections. Ramaphosa is obviously the better person to lead the ANC into the election, but he had to accept David Mabuza as deputy president and Ace Magashule as secretary general. One could also call these negotiations and trade-offs ‘a pact with the devil’, as some disappointed supporters are indeed doing. This is how elections are won – politics is the art of the possible.
We will only know how power will be finely balanced in the ANC once the NEC (National Executive Committee) has been elected. We should know this by the end of the week.
2. It was a closely run affair
The biggest difference in votes was for Mabuza (8%) and Mashatile (7.2%), while only 24 votes (a mere slither of 4 701 voting delegates) separated Magashule and runner-up Mchunu.
The division of votes and majorities (numbers do not add up to 100% due to abstentions and spoilt papers):
If there was no ‘pact with the devil’, Ramaphosa and Mantashe may not have made it.
Is the ‘win’ a win?
Given the closeness of the results and that there is something for everybody, can Ramaphosa govern effectively? Here one must distinguish between the country and the ANC (as a party).
What the country needs most is some certainty and coherence after the Zuma years. As a colleague once put it, ‘Mandela gave us freedom, Mbeki gave us discipline, and Zuma gave us chaos’. Ramaphosa can provide some order and lead us out of the chaos by creating policy certainty, coordinating better implementation, promoting stability, and effecting some administrative efficiency. This is both within his ability and his power.
Once he has taken the reins, he will have the power to:
Ramaphosa may be restrained, but he is certainly not a lame duck. Once you have your hands on the levers of power you can do a lot with them (as Zuma has shown in a negative way).
His biggest test will come when he has to clean up corruption and go after the looters. Here his hand is strengthened substantially by the fact that the courts have already mandated him to appoint a commission of inquiry into state capture (he now controls the terms of reference) and a new director of national prosecutions. Between those two actions he can lay the foundation for visible action against corruption, despite some of his colleagues in the Top 6. This of course can become a new political platform, strengthening his position further with the broad electorate.
There is no doubt that Ramaphosa will have to use every one of his famed negotiation skills to deal with the country’s problems and his colleagues. But he is not alone. Gwede Mantashe will be a strong chair and manager of processes, and Paul Mashatile will certainly help.
I am less convinced that the party can get cleaned up with the current Top 6. This remains to be seen.
Will Zuma be recalled?
The closeness of the results makes a Zuma recall in the short run unlikely, but the basic forces remain active. Under the lid the cauldron is bubbling:
It is useful to cast our minds back and reflect on the journey to today:
Lastly, I would like to wish you a happy festive season and a much better 2018.
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