Just two days after Jacob Zuma’s ignominious removal from the presidential office, the newly elected “number one”, Cyril Ramaphosa, stood up in Parliament to deliver the State of the Nation address.
Quoting extensively from Thuma Mina (Send Me), a song by the late, great Hugh Masekela, Ramaphosa appeared to capture the imagination of a nation deflated after almost a decade of misrule, and simultaneously invoked a new spirit of activism among the citizenry.
The thuma mina campaign — dismissed by political analysts such as Ralph Mathekga as nothing more than an ANC electioneering campaign with one eye on next year’s polls — was unveiled this week.
Ramaphosa, who launched the campaign in Tembisa on May 18, still retains a measure of goodwill among South Africans, especially among the middle and business classes, and the international markets continue to be pacified by him and his background as a businessperson.
The South African Revenue Service (Sars) is being cleaned up, as are the state-owned enterprises, which had become the personal piggy banks of Zuma, his political allies and business friends such as the Guptas and their families.
In the three months since Ramaphosa took office, he has demonstrated enough political will to suggest that Zuma sycophants in the National Prosecuting Authority and other state institutions will be weeded out to start rebuilding the public service.
Those close to the president see “fixing Sars and the intelligence service” and “generating jobs while attracting investment” as the keys to turning the country around and creating a more equal society.
But the realpolitik of pushing reform within the ANC and government, which Ramaphosa promised to do before the party’s national conference in December last year, was always going to be subject to the balance of forces and factions in the ANC.
That was clear, particularly considering his slim margin of victory, the ANC’s top six being split down the middle and along factional lines, and a national executive committee (NEC) that retains some of Zuma’s kleptocratic cronies.
Ramaphosa insiders acknowledge this, as much as they realise that how decisively he deals with challenges to his ANC presidency — from subterranean issues in KwaZulu-Natal to outright defiance in North West — will determine whether his reformist vision succeeds.
How well has the president fared in corralling the ANC behind him?
Ramaphosa backers point to the swiftness with which the ANC’s NEC moved to remove Zuma from the country’s presidency earlier this year as a sign that not all Zuma supporters in the NEC were compromised by the state capture networks and that they had been won over.
Some attributed this to the lengths Ramaphosa had gone to reach out to NEC members and convince them that “it’s not us against them”.
Zuma’s removal triggered a Cabinet reshuffle, which steered clear of a wholesale purge. Although former ministers such as Mosebenzi Zwane and Faith Muthambi, who were bathed in the stench of pigsty trough feeding, were swiftly dismissed, other Zuma supporters were retained.
Wily Ramaphosa deployed many pro-Zuma ministers to portfolios where either they or their predecessors had wreaked havoc in the name of state capture. Then finance minister Malusi Gigaba, for example, was moved to home affairs and very quickly had to answer questions about the Gupta mess he had created during his first stint there.
Bathabile Dlamini, the president of the ANC Women’s League, was moved from the train wreck she had caused at social development to the ministry in the presidency responsible for women, children and people with disabilities, a department with one of the smallest budgets in government, to minimise her napalming of everything around her.
In a stroke of strategic genius, which went some way towards quashing any murmurs of factionalism, Ramaphosa’s competitor for the ANC presidency, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, was kept close — she was appointed minister in the presidency in charge of planning, evaluation and monitoring.
One Ramaphosa insider described her deployment as “in keeping with her status and abilities”, which it is. But the impression that the government was not articulating and following through on ANC policy was strong at the party’s national conference in Nasrec — and she will share the blame with Ramaphosa if the government is not seen to be performing.
Dlamini-Zuma, as demonstrated by her leading the interministerial task team to resolve the growing crisis in North West, will also have to clean up the provincial messes that are a consequence of the self-aggrandising power networks that entrenched themselves during the Zuma years.
The North West, where Premier Supra Mahumapelo, with the support of his provincial executive committee, refuses to leave office, is Ramaphosa’s first big test — although it will be shared by the rest of the NEC.
As one Ramaphosa insider pointed out, the ANC’s national working committee decided that Mahumapelo should go, and the Cabinet decided to place the provincial government under administration, so his refusal to comply is a challenge to both these institutions and not just to Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa, his supporters in government and the ANC say, is on a journey to win over ANC structures in the upcoming months.
What will certainly assist him is the national elections next year. The ANC inevitably unites and heals itself in campaign years, especially when the threat of a decrease in electoral support translates into a loss of government jobs.
In that sense, thuma mina will mean much more to ANC members, but quite possibly much less to the electorate.