No more Mr Nice Guy, Cyril

Sunday Times - - Business Opinion & Bits - by Ferial Haffajee

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.

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