Damage: With Ramaphosa in fight for his political life, the ANC has only bad, worse and terrible options

Damage: With Ramaphosa in fight for his political life, the ANC has only bad, worse and terrible options

Can a president who came to power with a stated agenda of reform, and promised to ‘renew’ the ANC, really stay in office with such a finding against him?

The findings of the parliamentary Phala Phala panel that President Cyril Ramaphosa may have violated laws and the Constitution has the potential to throw the ANC into a chaos never seen before. It may also underscore that Ramaphosa was perhaps the only/last national leader to demonstrate support from many parts of the country. And it could open the door to the only other person who appears to come close, current Treasurer (and acting secretary-general) Paul Mashatile.

The party’s leaders and influencers may also try to think of the longer term, and into the 2024 election. They may now have to come to grips with the possible fact that Ramaphosa’s apparent electability is no longer a given.

On a technical view, the findings of the panel, that the President has a case to answer, are just that, and the starting point for a much longer process involving a committee of MPs and a vote in Parliament.

This is a process which could go on for some time, as has already been demonstrated by the process investigating the fitness for office of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkwebhane.

But this technical view only obscures the bigger, political problem. To put it crisply, can a president who came to power with a stated agenda of reform, and promised to “renew” the ANC, really stay in office with such a finding against him?

It is astonishing to note exactly how much of this is the fault only of Ramaphosa. It was his version of events, given to the panel, about the foreign currency found in his farm that got him here.

As the panel found, it simply raised a long list of questions which only Ramaphosa could answer, but has chosen not to. This is particularly about the “Mr Hazim” who Ramaphosa claimed bought the buffalo, whose first name and about whom no other details are known.

As the panel put some of the questions this raises:

  • There is no evidence as to how this money came into the Republic;
  • The exact amount of foreign currency stolen is yet to be disclosed;
  • The investigation by the SARB suggests strongly that it had no records of this money entering this country or being reported as having been received;
  • Other than his name, there are no other particulars of Mr Hazim such as his physical address, telephone numbers, business address and other personal details such as his passport number;
  • Having bought 20 buffaloes, Mr Hazim has not collected these buffaloes for the past two and a half years;
  • Instead of keeping the money in the safe until the next banking day, the money is kept concealed in a sofa for well over a month;
  • The theft of the money was not reported to the SAPS and no case number or docket is registered;
  • Information placed before the panel suggests that more than$580,000 was stolen; and
  • Suspects were arrested, interrogated and cooperated with the investigating team and yet no one is charged, prosecuted and convicted. This occurs amid allegations that the suspects were paid R150,000 each to buy their silence.

All of this is raised on the President’s own version, and shows the strength of the case against him.

This leads to a series of political questions, and in particular whether the ANC could recall him, whether he could resign, whether he could still be re-elected leader of the party this month, and whether someone else could take over as party leader and as President.

It should not necessarily be assumed that a decision to resign would be his, and his alone. It is likely to be the result of consultation, since ANC leaders may want to manage this situation carefully.

For several years it has been assumed that one of the sources of Ramaphosa’s apparent strength in the ANC is that there was “no one else” who could lead the party.

Read in Daily Maverick: “SA politics in turmoil as panel says President Ramaphosa must face impeachment

This was based on the track record of other ANC leaders, the fact he was more popular than the party, and that he had broad support across its provinces, as was demonstrated by the fact that branches in eight provinces overwhelmingly nominated him to be re-elected as leader.

Much of this has now changed.

It is now entirely possible that Ramaphosa is no longer more popular than the ANC, and thus cannot claim to be able to help the party win the 2024 elections.

Also, his stated agenda of renewal lies in tatters. It seems impossible to imagine him taking questions from voters while on the campaign trail, simply because of this finding.

And it is likely that one other leader could now come to the fore, having demonstrated his own popularity in the party.

While it is true that Ramaphosa received more than 2,000 branch nominations for the position of leader, Mashatile received 1,791. Like Ramaphosa, this was from most of the provinces in the country, including KwaZulu-Natal.

While there must be a huge overlap of branches that wanted Ramaphosa to be leader and Mashatile to be deputy leader, it does not automatically follow that those branches want Mashatile to be leader now.

Also, in KZN, 643 branches voted for Dr Zweli Mkhize as leader, and 541 nominated Mashatile as deputy leader. In other words, most ANC branches there probably voted for both Mkhize and Mashatile. If they have to choose now for the position of leader, they will probably go with Mkhize.

Also, there has been some reporting that KZN is not happy with Mashatile, since while its branches supported him, his branches did not support their leadership candidate Mkhize.

This means that while the door may be more open for a Mashatile nomination-from-the-floor election as leader than it ever has been, this is not the end of the story.

It could well be that the leadership race ends up being between Mashatile and Mkhize.

In other words, suddenly the situation becomes a lot less predictable.

This underscores what may be the real problem in the ANC. That Ramaphosa was the last leader with a true mandate, and these findings have now removed his moral legitimacy to lead.

For example, in the short term, if Ramaphosa were to resign, constitutionally Deputy President David Mabuza could suddenly occupy the Union Buildings.

But he has no mandate and no constituency. In the nominations process, he received just 77 nominations. And he may not even be available, as he was recently in Russia for medical treatment.

At the same time, and to add to the chaos, the mandate of the ANC’s national executive committee, as it is currently constituted, is about to end. Some of its members, such as Tony Yengeni, may be constitutionally not allowed to contest again (under the new rules, people with convictions cannot run for a position on the NEC). This means that even if the NEC were to recall Ramaphosa, or accept his resignation, the party members may claim it lacks the legitimacy to do this.

This would go the other way too – it could be claimed that the NEC lacks the legitimacy to allow him to stay on.

All of this means that the real question of the ANC’s conference now becomes whether Ramaphosa can remain as leader of the party, and as President.

Under some scenarios, it may in fact be that, for the ANC at the moment, Ramaphosa staying on is the least-bad option.

The argument might go like this: Ramaphosa could tell the NEC that he is going to challenge the findings of the panel (Professor Richard Calland has already said he believes there are problems with the findings which makes it reviewable). His allies could argue that it would do more damage to the ANC for Ramaphosa to resign than to stay on, simply because it is not clear who would take over.

The party could use its majority in the National Assembly to quash the impeachment process, and reject the panel’s findings.

This would be very similar to what happened during the Nkandla scandal when ANC MPs voted to take no action against then president Jacob Zuma.

While this may be one option in the short run, this would still damage the party in the longer run. Because Phala Phala would suddenly be a huge issue in the 2024 elections, and the party could face the anger of voters at that moment.

That said, such is the apparent weakness of so many opposition parties at present, the NEC may be prepared to take its chances.

All of this demonstrates how for the ANC, there are no really good options, only bad and worse options. Many things can happen now, very little is certain – except to say that these findings have seriously damaged Ramaphosa. And the ANC.