President Cyril Ramaphosa’s biggest challenge is not the situation in SA but the one within the ANC itself, torn asunder as it palpably is by factionalism, says the writer. File picture: GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s biggest challenge is not the situation in SA but the one within the ANC itself, torn asunder as it palpably is by factionalism, says the writer. File picture: GCIS

The ANC is in a crisis too deep for any president to be able to resolve

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 11, 2020

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Johannesburg - I am certain that history is going to regard the presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa as the toughest, most challenging and demanding of the post-apartheid period, both for the ruling but perilously embattled ANC and South Africa.

The main reason for this assertion is simply that we are living right now through the worse socio-economic crisis not only in the post-apartheid period but probably in our history.

I argue that it is vitally important to understand this fact, irrespective of political affiliation and differences, in order to appreciate the immensely challenging situation he faces as president of the ANC and the country at this unprecedented crisis-ridden moment.

Bear in mind that before the Covid-19 pandemic we were in the worst crisis since 1994.

What Covid-19 has done is to considerably deepen and aggravate that crisis.

To therefore preside over both a party at war with itself and the country at this juncture must be at times quite overwhelming by the sheer magnitude of these interrelated crises.

But Ramaphosa’s biggest challenge is not the situation in South Africa but the one within the ANC itself, torn asunder as it palpably is by a factionalism that, I argue, he has in fact been unable to contain and control. It is one thing to identify a crisis, even in detail, and to be able to arrest it and turn the situation around for the better. I believe it is possible that the crisis inside the ANC is too deep and has gone too far for any president to be able to resolve.

The biggest dilemma Ramaphosa faces now is between the demands of being president of a severely embattled ANC and that of being also the president of the country.

This formidable task, and striking a delicate balance between fractious factions, might not have been as onerous as it is if the balance of power inside the ANC was not as roughly even as it is as a result of the fact that Ramaphosa did not win the presidency of the ANC in 2017 at Nasrec decisively.

Right there sits the horns of the factionalist dilemma he often is in, which equates to being damned if you do as much as if you don’t.

How he therefore navigates these choppy waters at this juncture will be the defining feature of his presidency.

Nowhere was this tortuous dilemma more evident than in Ramaphosa’s inability to bravely confront the massive tide of corruption which has particularly over the past decade swept across the state and public sectors.

But this changed significantly a few weeks ago when the ANC’s top leadership took serious steps to deal with the demons of corruption by deciding that all ANC officials charged with corruption must immediately step aside from public office until they have been satisfactorily cleared by investigation, probably driven to that resolute decision by Ramaphosa himself.

For this bold move he undoubtedly deserves praise, although it only came well over two years after he became president on an explicit anti-corruption platform, paralysed as he was by the debilitating factionalism inside the ANC.

However, even this move is somewhat overshadowed and undermined by the fierce factionalism in the ANC.

In other words, while the move was a blow against a faction which has been tainted by corruption it might also serve to reinforce it at the same time, especially when it will probably lead to greater competitive struggles to access and control dwindling state resources, especially in the wake of the huge costs of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But there are a few questions about Ramaphosa which analysts and commentators have not addressed at all or insufficiently so.

How can he lead an ANC fight against a corrosive factionalism which is linked to corruption if he is himself part of a faction or is he playing the role of the emperor who is purportedly above the factionalist fray and instead moderating it?

Besides, how thorough, consistent and inspiring is his anti-corruption drive when several ANC leaders still occupy office in either the state or the party and are appearing before the Zondo commission of inquiry, such as former water and sanitation minister, Nomvula Mokonyane?

Facing allegations of massive corruption while in that post and her evidently contradictory evidence before that commission she should have been immediately suspended from all government and party structures, pending the outcome of investigations, rather than having been deployed last year to Luthuli House and still represented on the national executive committee of the ANC.

However, we need to take this debate further because there is the danger of a purist, agnostic or moralistic approach to the question of factions in the ANC or any other party for that matter.

The many reports that Ramaphosa is central to a faction inside the ANC which is seriously committed to combating corruption in all spheres of the state, as against reports that its secretary-general Ace Magashule - who is linked to former president Jacob Zuma and his networks which have been accused of using access to state resources as a means of corrupt self- enrichment - is a striking case in point of the relativity of the phenomenon of factions. The importance of this point cannot be ignored.

But Ramaphosa’s questionable conduct in the ongoing controversy about the recent ANC-organised trip to Zimbabwe, in which he slapped Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula, with a three-month docking of her salary, because of procedural problems with how the trip was arranged, raises serious questions of his impartiality.

This is especially the case because reports indicate that she was included in his Cabinet in early 2018 to please the Zuma faction.

However, it is the fact that reports indicate that he not only knew in advance of the trip but sanctioned it which is bound to deepen and worsen the factionalism that has severely debilitated the ruling party.

* Ebrahim Harvey is a political writer, analyst and author.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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