Who or what is now in control of SA? It's clearly not Cyril
Questions have to be asked about who has a hold on Ramaphosa and what their expectations are
The ANC presidential race at the 54th national conference at Nasrec in December 2017 was more than a showdown between warring factions in the ruling party. It was a battle between two sections of society that neither side could afford to lose.
The prize was not only political power but access to state and financial resources.
On the side of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was a business and political network that benefited handsomely from the Jacob Zuma administration. This extended from those involved in state capture, some elements in the criminal underworld, to the politically connected across provinces and municipalities who used the state to leverage wealth and power.
The Zuma faction was backed by the security agencies in the state with access to covert intelligence funding. There were claims that a foreign power was also involved, but there is as yet no firm evidence of this.
On the other side were activists, civil society groups and business leaders, the majority of Cosatu unions and the SACP, who all assembled around Cyril Ramaphosa and his faction in the ANC to try to wrest power away from the Zuma bloc.
There were some business people who straddled the camps, providing funding to both campaigns to keep their interests safe. Both Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma were seemingly not discerning in terms of whom they accepted money from. African Global Operations, formally known as Bosasa, has previously sponsored two of Jacob Zuma’s birthday parties. They have invested in the political elite in various ways, including sponsoring home security systems and carrying expenses for ANC leaders. It is rather inconvenient for Ramaphosa that it has been exposed that a company linked to corruption and bribery donated R500,000 to his presidential campaign.
Until now, Ramaphosa was able to make the case to the country and the world that he represented a new era of clean governance and that he was not associated with the iniquity that has drowned the rest of the ANC.
His rapid response in acknowledging the donation and pledge to pay back the money was aimed at lancing the boil to move on quickly.
But reimbursing payment from a company that excels at patronage does not expunge the fact that it happened.
It also throws the spotlight on the unregulated terrain of the financing of ANC election battles.
There were seven candidates in the 2017 ANC presidential race, and it was never disclosed how any of them financed their campaigns. It is virtually impossible to now find illicit funding from what was above board. Many people were investing smartly to have a hotline to the presidency and wait for opportunities to exercise their leverage.
Established business saw Ramaphosa as their best bet to stabilise the political situation in the country. They wanted to put a stop to Zuma’s wanton sabotage of the economy – and their bottom line – through among other things, unpredictable and lethal changes to the cabinet, as well as populist rhetoric. Ramaphosa was, in any event, the darling of big business, and there was open financial and intellectual backing for his campaign. A month before the ANC conference, Ramaphosa launched what he called a “New Deal for South Africa”. It made his campaign distinct, based on a comprehensive plan for an economic turnaround and halting rampant corruption and patronage.
The event was attended by eminent business leaders from among other companies, Goldman Sachs, Investec and FirstRand, and this displayed Ramphosa’s pulling power among the financial highbrow.
Ramaphosa’s 10-point plan made no sense in terms of ANC politics – the conference and not the winning candidate had to decide on policy and the programme of action.
But the “new deal” was somewhat of an appeasement to his backers, who insisted on policy certainty and a shockproof gameplan.
As things turned out, the ANC conference was the ultimate decider and emerged with a surprise resolution on land expropriation without compensation.
The land issue, together with the awkward mix of people in the ANC’s top leadership, scuppered Ramaphosa and his backers’ best-laid plans for a stable, problem-free era.
After his election, Ramaphosa tried to put the elements of his plan in place with his cleanup of the state and an investment drive to boost the country’s economic prospects.
But while Ramaphosa is the head of state, he is unable to drive the national discourse and is instead cowering under pressure from the EFF. The EFF’s leaders have every right to proclaim their triumph at being able to ensure that section 25 of the constitution be amended to allow for land expropriation without compensation and to force Ramaphosa’s former finance minister to resign.
The president has tried to soft-pedal on the land issue to placate the business and investor community, but he is clearly not in control of the process.
He is keeping a safe distance from the cleanup of state-owned enterprises and is allowing public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan to face the heat on his own. Ramaphosa has also offered no support to those sticking their necks out to testify at the state capture inquiry and who are facing an onslaught through a vicious fightback campaign.
So what then motivates the president, considering he is scared of the EFF and the backlash from his own cleanup drive?
Is he his own person or is his agenda being propelled by his financial backers who having lobbying power over him?
The exposure of the Bosasa donation came at a time when Ramaphosa is the toast of the town wherever he goes – locally and internationally. It has cast a shadow over the “new dawn” and gives credence to minister Bathabile Dlamini’s declaration that everyone in the ANC national executive committee has “smallanyana skeletons” in their closets.
In light of how Zuma’s benefactors took control of the state, questions have to be asked about who has a hold on Ramaphosa and what their expectations are. Investment in his presidency could not have been for altruistic purposes. Even if Ramaphosa was unaware of the Bosasa donation, did the Watson brothers have access to him through those who were aware of their generosity?
There is no denying that SA has been clawing back from the abyss, thanks to Ramaphosa’s election, and had the ANC’s presidential race turned out differently, the country would have been in real peril now.
But the perverting influence of business interests on politics was not confined to Zuma and the Guptas, and remains a threat to the integrity of the political system even with a good guy in charge.