End of the honeymoon for Cyril Ramaphosa

Cyril Ramaphosa has a rocky relationship with Jacob Zuma's supporters. (Gallo)

Cyril Ramaphosa has a rocky relationship with Jacob Zuma's supporters. (Gallo)

The marriage of convenience between ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and supporters of President Jacob Zuma appears to be on shaky ground as tensions grow over who should succeed Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

Zuma's supporters settled on Ramaphosa as the ANC's deputy president at the party's national conference in December, following Motlanthe's decision to challenge Zuma for the position of ANC president.

But just a few months into the marriage the mood has changed, and a powerful lobby in the pro-Zuma camp now believes that Ramaphosa cannot be trusted as deputy president of South Africa after the 2014 general elections, claiming that he is too "independent-minded".

They also say he is too close to white liberals who insist Zuma must have his day in court to clear himself of the corruption, fraud and money-laundering charges that still stalk him.

This week the Democratic Alliance went to the North Gauteng High Court to force the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to release the so-called "spy tapes" in a bid to show that former NPA head Mokotedi Mpshe's decision to drop charges against Zuma in 2009 was incorrect and based on flimsy evidence.

An ANC Gauteng leader said this week that Zuma's supporters were trying to block Ramaphosa's appointment as deputy president because they feared he might not defend Zuma from prosecution if charges against him were reinstated.

Earlier this year, the Mail & Guardian reported on a plan by ANC leaders in KwaZulu-Natal to lead the party for the next 20 years. Those identified as future leaders include Zuma's ex-wife and African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, ANC treasurer Zweli Mkhize and Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba.

The ANC denied there was such a plan.

The M&G understands that KwaZulu-Natal was pushing for Dlamini-Zuma to be the country's deputy president after next year's general elections.

"They think if Ramaphosa's given the position of deputy president, he will become more powerful. They don't trust him. Even in Mangaung he was the last choice. Comrades are saying they are better off with Kgalema. They fear that if Ramaphosa is given power, he'll bypass Zuma on critical issues," said the provincial leader.

Another senior Gauteng provincial leader said the paranoia regarding Ramaphosa comes at a time when factions were forming around Mkhize and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe as ANC deputy president candidates at the 2017 national conference. The leader said the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Limpopo were likely to support Ramaphosa and Mantashe for positions of president and deputy president, respectively.

"The real issue here is about who takes over in 2017 as ANC president and ANC deputy president. There are concerns that if you reaffirm Ramaphosa now as the deputy president of the country you are already reaffirming him as president at the 2017 elective conference.

"These are factional battles between the nationalists, who are supporting Mkhize to become deputy president, and the left group, who support Mantashe as the future deputy president under Ramaphosa," said the provincial leader.

The leader added: "The contest ahead of 2017 will be fought between these two factions. They are trying to consolidate themselves in provinces and forming tactical alliances. Both factions will support Ramaphosa's appointment ... on condition he will affirm them and form a tactical alliance."

Another ANC leader said that it would be difficult to get rid of Ramaphosa because he was democratically elected at Mangaung.

He said the main worry is that an increasing number of people – even among some who supported Zuma's re-election – were starting to realise that Zuma's perceived weaknesses were not abating.

"His reputation has diminished in the ANC. Many people don't like him. They think he has made too many mistakes. We know it will be difficult to remove him [Zuma]. His camp is very powerful," he said.

"There is a lot of tension within the national executive committee now. Committee members are wondering who will make it to Cabinet after next year's general elections. Those who are going to be left out might decide to throw their weight behind Ramaphosa. The dynamics are changing. Those who supported Kgalema might support Ramaphosa."

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal denied this week that the province was pushing for a female deputy president of the country after the 2014 general elections. This follows reports by the Sunday Independent that the province was considering ANC national chair Baleka Mbete and Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu as candidates.

Ramaphosa was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.

Charles Molele

Charles Molele

Charles Molele is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. Charles joined the paper in 2011. He has covered general news, court and politics for the past 19 years, and also worked as a senior reporter for the Saturday Star, Sunday World, ThisDay, Sunday Times and is former politics editor of the New Age. Charles's other career highlights include covering Kenya's violent general elections (2007/08), Zimbabwe’s sham general elections (2008), Mozambique's food riots (2010) and the historic re-election of US President Barack Obama (2012).
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    Matuma Letsoalo is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003, focussing on politics and labour, and collaborated with the M&G's centre for investigations, amaBhungane, from time to time.In 2011, Matuma won the South African Journalist of the Year Award and was also the winner in the investigative journalism category in the same year.In 2004, he won the CNN African Journalist of the Year prize – the MKO Abiola Print Journalism Award. Matuma was also a joint category winner of the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the year Award in 2008. In 2013, he was a finalist for Wits University's Taco Kuiper Award.
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