No more Mr Nice Guy, Cyril
The positive and wellmeaning presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa is being manacled by special interests, and he will have to stare down at least one or two to make a success of his administration.
With a 179-vote margin of victory at the party’s conference in Johannesburg in December last year, he has to tread carefully — but is his careful treading turning into an egg dance that could scramble his presidency? The evidence seems to be stacking up.
Take Eskom. Its new management had decided not to grant a wage increase, which is hard but necessary as the impacts of state capture and corruption have made it effectively bankrupt but for huge government debt guarantees.
But workers took the mid-winter labour bargaining round and turned it into a weapon. Faced with the first sets of power-station sabotage, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan backed down. Since then trade unions have dug in their heels and refused to settle at even an inflation-busting 7%.
The workers, organised by Solidarity and Numsa, now have an additional weapon: winter sabotage of power in the economic heartland of Johannesburg. As far as I can read, there has not been a single arrest or charge related to what happened as the wage talks got tough in June.
There’s another example of Ramaphosa backing down to a special interest. Last week, King Goodwill Zwelithini called a hasty gathering to protest possible changes to the Ingonyama Trust Act. This legislation was a sop by the Nats to bring IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi into the settlement of 1994, enshrining the exclusive rights of traditional leaders to a huge swathe of KwaZulu-Natal’s finest land.
As part of the rethinking of land tenure, there is a substantial group of communities and political leaders (like former president Kgalema Motlanthe) who say that communal land should be more democratically parcelled and owned while maintaining traditional custodianship. It’s an important adjunct to the mega-discussion about land expropriation, but Ramaphosa backed down and took a knee before the king last week.
I suppose he had to because the ANC needs its KwaZulu-Natal comrades in full march ahead of next year’s national election.
Ramaphosa’s style of governing by consensus and using the tactics of the negotiation era means he has also put some of his key opponents into powerful ANC positions — politicians like national spokesman Pule Mabe and secretary-general
Ace Magashule. It is a version of what he and Nelson Mandela did in 1994 when they placed political opponents in the cabinet.
It didn’t work then, and it’s not working now. Mabe is the face of the ANC. But he is an inarticulate voice who last week railed against the petrol price, which is set by global prices and local taxes, the latter imposed by his own government. Magashule is also an enemy within, and the jury’s out on whether this 21st-century plan to keep your friends close and your enemies closer is working for the president.
I don’t think it is, as the double messages, on everything from petrol prices to wage negotiations, land and investment strategies, confuse investors and the broader public and confound the recovery South Africa is so desperately in need of.
Ramaphosa needs to stare down at least one special interest group, even if the lights go out for a bit. He can choose one of three big fights: stop negotiating at 7% at Eskom’s wage table, push through the deal he wants on land, or change the head of the NPA and force the axing of its Machiavellian deputy Nomgcobo Jiba, who is set to return.
The “Cyril bump” in the ANC’s support is a real thing. Numerous polls show the ANC at higher approval ratings since he took over from the kleptocrats in December. Ramaphosa should use this period to override negative special interests for the sake of the greater good and ensure that he can use his two terms from 2019 to leave a substantial legacy of growth and jobs.