Ramaphosa between a rock and a hard place on ANC’s land policy

Cyril Ramaphosa (Paul Botes)

Cyril Ramaphosa (Paul Botes)

NEWS ANALYSIS

When President Cyril Ramaphosa told his fellow ANC leaders at the party lekgotla that he would take the lead in announcing the party’s decision to support expropriation of land without compensation, he received a round of applause.

But the clapping of hands may have come for very different reasons among members of the competing factions in attendance. Ramaphosa’s supporters would presumably have been happier with the ANC president making such an announcement than ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, whom they have previously accused of distorting the decisions of national executive committee meetings.

On the other hand, the anti-Ramaphosa group, which has in the past accused him of failing to implement radical policies taken at the party’s national conference at Nasrec last December, would have been happy that it was finally putting pressure on the ANC president to toe the line and articulate party resolutions.

Since the conference, ANC leaders have sent out different messages on the issue of land, with those supporting Ramaphosa arguing that the Constitution in its current form allows for expropriation of land without compensation.

For the anti-Ramaphosa grouping, the ANC president and his supporters are reneging on their mandate to implement the party’s radical resolutions — in order to appease capital.

In defending Ramaphosa, his supporters have said he has a duty to attract investment into the country, to grow the economy and create much-needed jobs.

Former finance minister Trevor Manuel, one of four investment envoys appointed by Ramaphosa to sell South Africa to investors, last month said that explaining the ongoing land debate has been tougher than expected.

READ IN FULL: President Ramaphosa’s announcement on land expropriation, job creation

According to Business Day, Ramaphosa has given his envoys — Manuel; former Standard Bank chief executive Jacko Maree; businesswoman Phumzile Langeni; former deputy minister of finance Mcebisi Jonas; and his economic adviser, Trudi Makhaya ­— a target of $100-billion in investment over the next five years.

Some political observers say Ramaphosa’s late-night announcement on land was a clear demonstration that the party was in panic mode ahead of the crucial 2019 general elections. It wanted to appear more radical than the Economic Freedom Fighters, which had dominated debates during the public hearings on land expropriation, they argue.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said the ANC’s decision is a populist stand: “Some [in the ANC] had been saying: ‘We are not going to wait for a constitutional amendment, we are going to try [to expropriate within] the Constitution.’ There was a willingness to consider another option away from constitutional amendment.
So this lekgotla came and said: ‘Forget about everything else that was almost developing, we are going for a constitutional amendment.’ It kills the whole process. This is an indication of the resuscitation of anti-Ramaphosa and anti-establishment politics. The people behind this hardliner position … the majority of them might have to face state institutions for prosecution for corruption.

“When that time comes, all they have to say is: ‘We are being targeted for our position on land — it’s not because we are guilty, it’s politics.’ Then we are back to the victim politics of Zuma’s era and that, for me, is the long-term risk of this,” said Mathekga.

Ramaphosa was a moderate who belonged to the group that wanted to manage the ANC, he said. “But this group is being treated with suspicion and it does not have a solid power base in the ANC. It borrows power here and there, and it is facing a formidable enemy.

“The decision will hurt him,” said Mathekga. “Ramaphosa has a great[er] deal of approval outside the ANC than within the ANC. This kind of pronouncement that they got him to go make on land, it presents him as weak as far as the general public is concerned. There are already views going around that he couldn’t stand for the nation and he took the position of the ANC. And the problem is that when the general public feels this way it will have a direct impact on the elections.”

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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