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Daniel Silke: Ramaphosa in ANC quicksand

Jul 15 2019 20:56
Daniel Silke

South Africa is currently stuck in a type of quicksand: not yet porous enough to engulf the country completely, yet highly debilitating and extremely threatening.

The National Democratic Revolution has placed the ANC and the South African state in a deliberately symbiotic relationship. Therefore, the inherent weaknesses and contradictions within the governing party simply parallel the decline and depression within the current South Africa body-politic.

You would imagine that a new president elected just over two months ago with a 57% majority would be in the driving seat. Instead, almost every attempt to move out of the inherited decade-long mess that was the Zuma era is blocked. And it would seem that those seeking to undermine President Cyril Ramaphosa are increasingly emboldened without feeling any apparent fear.

Events in recent weeks have compounded the vice of stagnation that is now gripping the new administration. Attempts to combat graft and corruption are going nowhere slowly.

The Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture rolls on with constant revelations and accusations of malfeasance, yet little tangible action seems forthcoming. In eThekwini, attempts to hold Mayor Zandile Gumede to account are exacerbating deep internal ANC divisions in a province already beset by dangerous levels of political strife. And, of course, the Public Protector has effectively placed her maximum bets on attempting to remove Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan in what is a fast-developing critical showdown between factions.

All these parallel issues are occurring as the economy continues to falter and government bailouts to grossly mismanaged SOEs sap value and confidence from the pockets of direct-and-indirect taxpayers whilst simultaneously undermining broader investor/business confidence.

It is therefore clear that the destabilisation of the domestic political process by ANC factionalism/crony capitalism and rent-seeking blocks has equally disabled economic policy-making.

When you are fighting to keep your arch-confidant Pravin Gordhan in his position, it’s the political fight that will sap all your energy. And, the tense standoff between Gordhan and the EFF this last week in parliament reflected just that.

With the intimidation of Gordhan both legally and more broadly in the political (and Twitter) terrain, just surviving in public office is now the key imperative. And, with Gordhan fighting for his political life, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni is also under pressure from similar parties keen to out his more maverick brand of economic corrective action.

But ultimately, until such a time as the Zondo Commission, together with the NPA and the courts, conclude real cases against those who have pillaged the coffers and confidence of the country, the internal ANC battles for power will continue – and continue to drain the country of real corrective opportunities.

Within this context, the ailing economy limps along and will be more dependent on the vagaries of global issues like the US/China trade war, global currency movements and of course, US interest rates than any real domestic policy initiatives.

South Africa is therefore increasingly just becoming a global football – kicked around by international events without any real team strategy or cohesive domestic game-plan. This is all bearable if the global economy remains stable, but should there be any return to recessionary tendencies, the country will be far from ready to defend itself against a global downturn.

With government finances simply too weak to offer any real domestic security and the continued inability of the state to create jobs, the internal political impasse within the ANC presents little opportunity to begin the work of corrective action.

When the ANC is gnawing away at the Ramaphosa Presidency from within, it is similarly removing the ability to build a consensus around growth-oriented policies which largely require the support from the domestic and international private sector.

Put more starkly, the energy required by the Ramaphosa-faction now just to remain in the driving seat is sapping the ability of the collective ANC (and that of the broader South Africa) to focus on the most critical issue of economic growth and job creation. Extreme political power-plays are retarding consensus-building in almost every sphere.

Those seeking to undermine the broader Ramaphosa Presidency have little concern for the consequences since they see the protection of their own narrower interests as paramount.

Unlike Zimbabwe or Venezuela, where the ruling elites represented the forces of regression, at least the South African story has a broader cross-section of forces in power. But, for President Ramaphosa, being in power doesn’t mean that he has power.

The devastating array of internal political plays are cumulatively draining the ability of Ramaphosa to govern effectively – and it seems as though the core forces pitted against each other are in check – unable to score a knock-out blow but equally unable to break free to move to a new strategy.

For an apparent reformer like Ramaphosa, it was always going to be tough and dangerous. This is especially true given the hollowing out of key institutions of the South African state and stabilising the damage of state capture accordingly.

The real proxy wars over the future of Pravin Gordhan and Busisiwe Mkhwebane symbolically represent different world-views and interest groups. Upsetting the rent-seekers is a dangerous game and now and Ramaphosa stands tested on this.

The jury is still out whether he – and his supporters – can really assert their authority. But here’s the rub – unless you can gain proper control of your own political party, you will be stymied all the way on every other issue of leadership and policy implementation.

South Africa is therefore witnessing a ‘slow-burn’ as the ANC’s inner soul looks increasingly combustible. And that’s a challenge no party leader of any party really wants to confront. But only its resolution will return South Africa to a future of better prospects.


anc  |  daniel silke  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  sa economy


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