Battle for the soul of the ANC

Published Jun 1, 2021


Clyde NS Ramalaine

Does the CR22 game plan for a cabinet-reshuffle have a particular minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, as a target given a 55th Conference candidacy?

Not so long ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa and his chief bulwark defender ANC Chairperson Gwede Mantashe stood accused of threatening ANC Members of Parliament and Cabinet with consequences if they opted to defy to vote with the DA opposition on the need to investigate the incumbent public protector Advocate Mkhwebane.

It is also general knowledge that Cabinet and NEC members were equally threatened if they did not support particular interpretation on the much-publicized 'step aside resolution.

There is consensus that the ANC environment in this season is one dictatorship in which jobs and positions are used as critical bargaining tools. We know that a cabinet reshuffle is long in the making. After the death of Minister in-the-of-the Presidency, Jackson Mthembu, there was a need for this, among others.

Out of a more recent practice, not a tradition, ANC presidents generally consult or inform the National Office Bearers of their intentions for this type of action as and when it is necessitated.

Yet while this is often declared a presidential privilege and right, we would be fooling ourselves to assume that there are no essential role players immanent in constituencies that include and extend beyond the ANC. With this, we refer to the CR 22 faction and forces outside the ANC essentially defined in capital and group interests.

A classic example to substantiate this was the June 2019 abrupt removal of Minister Lindiwe Sisulu from the significant International Affairs [DIRCO] portfolio. In a charm offensive, Ramaphosa gave effect to that reshuffling to appease the very loud Jewish lobby and interest groups.

Sisulu was directed by ANC policy on modern-day Israel when she opted to scale SA's embassy down and to recall the SA Ambassador from Tel Aviv. This action on the part of Sisulu put her at odds with arguably the most powerful lobby group in the world. They did not hesitate to call for her as DIRCO head.

It is common knowledge that there are strong disagreements between Sisulu and Ramaphosa on diplomatic issues, such as handling the spat between South Africa and Rwanda, which became pretty personal towards the end of 2018.

Here we shall remember the December 2018 elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo when Ramaphosa, a good friend of Paul Kagame, favoured opposition candidate Martin Fayulu.

In my assessment, Sisulu, guided by a value-based epistemology, adopted a principled position of no interference in sister countries' democratic affairs and processes.

However, if we engage internal and external forces in determining the next cabinet reshuffle, we are compelled to prove cognisant of the next conference for Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa has every intention to seek a second term; hence the water gets much murkier. In this context, one's intention of accepting a nomination for candidacy, as afforded in the ANC constitution, renders one an immediate threat and a natural enemy and plausibly deserving to be a casualty of cabinet reshuffling.

In this sense, Lindiwe Sisulu's candidacy, regardless of when announced, is an inevitability and poses a threat to the CR22 plans. There is sufficient evidence that the CR 22 faction is doing their homework to deal with this candidacy to abort it before it is even announced.

As a second instalment to the 2017 Election where Ramaphosa kept deceiving the masses in claims of Lindiwe Sisulu being his deputy president choice when he knew very well he would never have her serve there if he won.

With the ANC's Women's League adamant that it will for 2022 not be fielding a woman candidate as a backstop deputy for a male candidate's presidential aspirations. It means by all expectations, Ramaphosa's contest in December 2022 will again be against a woman. However, it is increasingly felt that the candidate this time around will be Sisulu from some circles.

One is not yet saying outright that Sisulu is the Women's League candidate. Suffice to admit; she is a serious contender from any vantage point for that nomination if we follow the developments.

We see because CR22 made her an early target. We saw the many attempts to go after her, from some very frivolous claims of apparent corruption to the most recent Cuban engineer debacle.

It must then mean that the seriousness of her candidacy for a set of multiple quantifiable reasons extends sleepless nights to a Ramaphosa. He might acknowledge that he has nothing against her, but he cannot deny his constituency groups demands that she becomes a casualty of his planned cabinet reshuffle.

A more interesting aspect is the subject of proverbial dirt. Real or not, we may surmise that as the race for December 2022 heats up, interesting stuff may tumble out of the stored 'smallanyana skeletons' cupboards to borrow an axiom from ANC Women's League President Bathabile Dlamini.

This contextual reality is the backdrop of the soon to be announced cabinet reshuffle. Interestingly, Ramaphosa appears not to take the Nkosazana Dlamini – Zuma candidacy, this time too serious. Is there a possible pact, or is he hoping to neutralize NDZ with a deal?

Furthermore, one may ask what other means Ramaphosa may apply as tactics to deal with Sisulu since he has failed. The easiest and more straightforward effort is to prove her incompetent, albeit real or fake. So how is he playing that?

The Ministry portfolios of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation while her competency in political leadership oversight is fused into a ministry while two distinct departments.

One observable tactic is the incessant and callous misrepresentation of the actual location of the essential competence in the supply of water as a basic amenity to citizens. The Ministry of Water and Sanitation in bulk provision resorts under the auspices and direction of Minister Sisulu.

However, the cardinal issue of tap water does not fall within her ambit. A less acknowledged and often deliberately ignored fact is that the case of dry-taps across the length and breadth of SA as constitutional delinquency translates to a COGTA competence.

In this sense, anyone that crucifies Sisulu for dry taps is necessarily mischievous and engaging in cheap politics. It is even more challenging if the Ramaphosa, who ought to know his cabinet competencies in portfolio descriptions, get this conveniently wrong in the attempt of asking Sisulu to answer on dry taps.

Perhaps more disconcerting is the pervasive reluctance of the Ramaphosa to raise the issue of dry taps as a Municipality challenge resorting under the leadership of COGTA Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma.

While we may only speculate, one may deduce that such reluctance in this instance on the President's part is failing to confront COGTA proves troublesome. Is it remotely possible that he is convinced NDZ is not his problem for 2022?

We do not know from where Ramaphosa draws this comfort on such deduction. It appears, in a sense, Ramaphosa has come to accept that NDZ, given the COVID- 19 ongoing crisis effective since March 2020, is the de-facto President as allowed by the Disaster Management Act.

What cannot be denied, Ramaphosa is a man in search of proverbial dirt on Lindiwe Sisulu as the one standing between him and a second term. One is unsure how much dirt he will find on this seasoned politician, recognized and skilled cabinet member, a former trained soldier, MK veteran with an intelligence background.

On the other hand, is this why Sisulu appears wholly unfazed yet resolute, not wilt at the attempts of CR22? It would be interesting to speculate on who between Ramaphosa and Sisulu holds the proverbial ace card on skeletons. I think Sisulu may have this covered. If I ventured unsolicited advice to Ramaphosa, he would be doing himself a major disservice to attempt offloading Sisulu.

These parts of a moving puzzle are the ones that cannot be left in abeyance when we consider the imminent cabinet reshuffle announcement of a president that has made his second term the end – and- be – all his legacy pursuits.

Ramalaine is a Political Analyst and Public Commentator

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ANCCyril Ramaphosa