The hope for a Cyril Ramaphosa victory was pinned on his ability to put South Africa’s economy back on solid ground with financial prudence and stability, and a commitment to reforming floundering and costly parastatals.
But it remains to be seen whether he will be able to deliver on the campaign promises of his “new deal”.
By Tuesday afternoon, speculation was continuing that the ANC’s top six could change after a disputed vote, which is most likely to affect the post of secretary general. Free State Premier Ace Magashule beat KwaZulu-Natal’s Senzo Mchunu for the post by a narrow 24 votes.
As it stands, the top six are split down the middle between Ramaphosa and his allies, Paul Mashatile (treasurer general) and Gwede Mantashe (chairperson), and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s allies Magashule, Jesse Duarte (deputy secretary general) and David Mabuza (deputy president).
If the line up remains unchanged, Ramaphosa will face intense negotiations and trade-offs when it comes to policy, particularly economic policy, say analysts.
They also warn that the power he holds as deputy president of the country remains constrained because Zuma still runs the country and dictates his deputy’s reach.
In the run-up to the conference, Ramaphosa announced a 10-point plan for South Africa, cast as a “new deal” for the economy. It included a focus on growth by introducing measures to “achieve policy certainty, improve institutional stability, restore the credibility of the criminal justice system and demonstrate the political will to turn around the economy”.
He called for a macro-economic policy based on fiscal discipline and reducing debt to ensure future generations do not pay for the current mismanagement of the economy.
He also promised to provide free higher education for the poor but it came with the caveat that “to sustain free post-school education for the poor will require a growing economy and a stronger fiscus”.
He also committed to overhaul the governance of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and “immediate steps to confront corruption and state capture”.
If the top six remain unchanged, “there is a perfectly institutionalised conflict”, said political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes, Ralph Mathekga. “That in itself means they will have to negotiate hard with each other. You are going to have to have trade-offs regarding policies.”
This is likely to be felt in the ANC’s sectoral commission deliberations, scheduled to be held during the conference, on the policy proposals put forward at the July policy conference.
The debates will include the additional proposals put by delegates in July that were not incorporated in the party’s policy documents, such as land expropriation without compensation.
Other contentious issues will be the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank and the mining charter.
“The relatively strong representation of the opposition faction in the ANC leadership will likely complicate policy negotiations and could delay agreement on key reforms,” said Zuzana Brixiova, a senior analyst of credit ratings agency Moody’s.
Ramaphosa also has to face the practical realities of an economy plagued by poor growth, a fiscus with a R50-billion shortfall, massive exposure to floundering SOEs such as Eskom and Denel, and now an unfunded, free higher education plan, revealed by Zuma on Friday.
He announced the plan against the advice of the treasury and without input from the national executive committee (NEC).
Education will be a “clear area of tension”, Brixiova said. “While all recognise the need for reform to enhance human capital and reduce inequality, it remains to be seen how that will be achieved without further undermining already stretched public finances.”
Despite his position as the new leader of ANC, Ramaphosa cannot backtrack on this promise, Mathekga said, and described the situation as “a grenade with the pin off”.
Susan Booysen, a school of governance professor at the University of the Witwatersrand and author of Dominance and Decline: The ANC in the Time of Zuma, said Ramaphosa’s role for the next 18 months can only go as far as ANC policy allows, or in terms of what will be adopted at the conference.
“If they get to adoption of policy, that is debatable,” she said, referring to the delays on Tuesday after it emerged that there was a dispute about the vote count for the secretary general position.
The make-up of the NEC will be critical. “There is so much, on even those more radical sounding policies, that depends on application and that final interpretation of what is radical,” Booysen said.
As president of the ANC, but deputy to Zuma in government, Ramaphosa has very limited power, she added. “As deputy president in and of the government, it really depends on allocations of functions by the president and it is a very ambiguous, tentative power balance between the two. — Additional reporting by Lisa Steyn