Are Ramaphosa's detractors building a case to remove him?
Johannesburg - President Cyril Ramaphosa’s detractors in the ANC are using the poor state of the economy, the Eskom crisis and his refusal to fire Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan to build a case for his removal at the party’s national general council (NGC) in June, sources said this week.
They told Sunday Independent that Ramaphosa was forced to skip the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland, to deal with the internal rebellion over Gordhan and plans by his rivals to use this week’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting to prepare the ground for his removal from power.
Five ANC and senior government sources - including three NEC members - said a new faction comprising supporters of Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki, as well as disgruntled Ramaphosa allies, had been gathering evidence against the president to prove to the NGC that he had chosen Gordhan over the party and the country.
The NGC is the ANC’s mid-term policy review conference attended by branch delegates.
They added that Ramaphosa also has intelligence that his rivals, including Deputy President David Mabuza, were so emboldened that they plotted to use the NEC and the top six meetings this week to force out Gordhan or strip him of powers by moving state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to their line function departments, doing away with the Department of Public Enterprises.
“They are building a strong case against the president to be presented to the NGC where his fate would be decided. They want to produce evidence at the NGC of the president’s failure as well as evidence against Pravin which the president failed to act upon. Their main aim is to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the president has failed to protect the ANC and the country and instead chose an individual,” said an NEC member who is part of the plot.
ANC national spokesperson Pule Mabe and Ramaphosa spokesperson Khusela Diko failed to respond to requests for comment yesterday. However, in a statement released earlier, the Presidency said Ramaphosa had decided to skip the WEF “to give attention to pressing domestic priorities and preparations for the governing party and cabinet makgotla”.
This came as 20 ANC veterans -including Sydney Mufamadi, Mavuso Msimang, Frank Chikane and Cheryl Carolus - warned this week that Ramaphosa was the target of individuals and organisations that had called for Gordhan’s head.
“A convergence, or ‘unity’, of these individuals and organisations is indeed under way and is self-evidently designed to bring about the removal of a president committed to rehabilitating the country’s institutions and eliminating corruption.
“Mealy-mouthed affirmations of their support for the president are pure fluff. It is embarrassingly obvious that President Ramaphosa is seen as a placeholder by these parties. Their strategy is to progressively weaken him until he is ousted and the Eskom crisis is fertile ground for their machinations,” they said in a statement following calls by the ANC Women’s League and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) for Eskom to be moved to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.
An ANC insider said Ramaphosa skipped the WEF to deal with the internal rebellion and also shield himself from potentially embarrassing questions about the economy and Eskom.
“Secondly, the NEC is meeting this weekend in preparation for the NEC lekgotla next week.
“The meetings will discuss the state of the economy, particularly Eskom and SAA, and Pravin’s future. He wants to be there when these issues are discussed to make sure binding resolutions that might be difficult to implement are not taken.
“Ramaphosa is also aware that the other faction wants to get rid of Pravin, but because they know he won’t fire him, they want to reduce his powers by passing a resolution which moves SOEs to line departments.
“They are also planning to move the NGC closer so they could remove him, and he’s got intelligence on that,” the source said.
Ramaphosa faced additional pressure this week when the World Bank cut its economic growth forecast for South Africa to 0.9% this year, down from the previous forecast of 1.5%, citing power supply concerns.
His business ally, Martin Kingston, reportedly threw in the towel as SAA board member on Friday amid a liquidity crisis and the National Treasury’s failure to provide the cash-strapped national carrier with a promised R2billion bailout.
Another of Ramaphosa’s appointees, Jabu Mabuza, last week resigned as Eskom board chairperson as the power utility’s crisis deepened.
The Mail & Guardian reported on Friday that a company owned by Mabuza’s distant relative, Nomvula Mabuza, was on the verge of scoring a R12bn boiler tube maintenance contract at Eskom’s Medupi power station, in an apparent case of fronting.
The ANC slammed Finance Minister Tito Mboweni for questioning its resolutions on the nationalisation of the SA Reserve Bank (SARB), saying elected leaders were “not freelancers and remain bound by the overall prescripts of our organisational values and discipline”.
The EFF and Black First Land First (BLF) called for Gordhan’s axing, with BLF launching an online petition on the matter. However, NGOs such as the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) came to Gordhan’s and Ramaphosa’s defence.
Another ANC NEC member who opposes Ramaphosa said the president had become extremely paranoid about his future and believes the issue of Gordhan and SOEs might be used to topple him at the NGC.
“The fact that he doesn’t have the numbers and more and more people within the organisation are growing frustrated with him is adding to his paranoia,” said the source.
A third ANC NEC member added that Ramaphosa was caught between a rock and a hard place.
“The president is trying to do a juggling act of pleasing all sides, but it is very difficult to explain why action is not being taken against Pravin while there are so many things going wrong. The increase in voices calling for his sacking is not helping the situation,” said the source.
Political analyst Lukhona Mnguni, a PhD candidate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said Ramaphosa was under siege as president of both the ANC and the country.
“He is in a way under siege in the sense that people have taken the fight to him.
“Whatever decision he takes or doesn’t take will further cement perceptions that he is a president who is indecisive, doesn’t take decisions timeously and he allows himself to be bashed into a corner before he decides.
“Gwede Mantashe at the weekend called him a process man, but I do think that given that he has been there for almost two years, he could have done much more, particularly the reform of state-owned enterprises,” Mnguni said.
He said Ramaphosa had “taken too long” to make decisions to the extent that whatever move he makes may not appeal any more.
“If he removes Pravin Gordhan, for example, it would be seen as triumph for those who have been calling for Gordhan’s head, for those who are seen as leading a fightback on state capture, but at the end of the day, if he does remove Pravin, he would have to substantively give reasons as to why. Removing him out of Cabinet entirely could be too big a move. So I do expect that he reshuffles him.
“There are also other calls that the president should do away with that Department of Public Enterprises and just move all the SOEs to their line function department within Cabinet. So the president in a way has room to manoeuvre and reconfigure the Cabinet in a meaningful way.”