When disgraced Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba resigned on Tuesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s strategy of allowing the courts and institutions of oversight to dictate the pace of his cleanout of government paid off.
Gigaba tendered his resignation letter the day before Ramaphosa would have fired him in line with an order issued by public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane over Gigaba’s lies under oath in a court case over the Oppenheimers’ Fireblade private terminal.
A similar approach had been successful in dealing with other officials implicated in state capture, including former South African Revenue Service head Tom Moyane and National Prosecuting Authority officials Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi, all of whom were “processed” by the courts or public inquiries before Ramaphosa acted against them.
Ramaphosa’s supporters in the ANC this week hailed the move, saying that the approach of allowing public, political and legal pressure to build before acting was effective.
“This is smart. Ramaphosa is using others, the opposition and the structures of the state, to clean house for him,” said a KwaZulu-Natal provincial executive committee (PEC) member who was involved in Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign. “Looking at how the president came to power, the challenges that he faces, this is working.
“Look at Gigaba. The opposition brought it up, laid the complaints. They got the ruling and Gigaba had to resign or be fired,” he said, adding that a similar strategy is being used for Bathabile Dlamini, the former minister of social development and now minister of women in the presidency.
The PEC member said Ramaphosa has to use this approach to avoid a backlash from supporters of those removed from office ahead of the national and provincial elections in May.
“You can’t just come in and fire people right and left and you know there will be noise,” he said. “Instead, you let them dissolve like Disprin in water. They look like they are solid, but put them in water and they dissolve. Ramaphosa is bringing too much water. What happened with Gigaba will happen with the others.
“It’s quite a simple strategy. Let the pressure mount, let the forces do their work, let the pressure build and they will either resign or be exposed.”
Political analyst Lukhona Mnguni believes Ramaphosa’s strategy of sitting back and letting the system process the remaining members of the Zuma camp shows that he is “heavily constrained” by the balance of power in the ANC.
“The president played his cards with the Cabinet reshuffle in February. He showed that he was willing to let go of the low-hanging fruit, the very worst of these associated with the former president, but retained those who enjoyed some level of political capital and probably hopes that, as the process unfolds, they will fall by the wayside,” Mnguni said.
The unfortunate aspect of this strategy was that it cost Ramaphosa the ability to influence the pace and nature of events.
“You risk being out of control and having a freefall political process that may harm you at some point down the line,” Mnguni said.
The president, he said, did not seem to be clear about which of his allies had contact with state capture and to what extent, as evidenced by the case of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, who resigned after revealing he had met the dubious Gupta family.
“You fetch somebody who is at home, bring them to make them minister of finance because of the credibility they enjoy in public and put faith in them, only to be disappointed and somewhat betrayed when he appears before the commission and reveals his having been in contact with the Guptas,” Mnguni said, adding that Ramaphosa also appeared to lack sufficient information about how compromised — or otherwise — his allies were.
ANC head of organising Senzo Mchunu said the party was being forced to deal with issues that “have been manufactured by men and women” who had “strayed”.
It was essential, Mchunu said, that “no mercy” be shown to those who had defrauded the state. It was also important to come to understand what it was that allowed people to be “dictated to by greed”.
“What was it that drove ministers who are leaders in their own right to go there? What was the promise?” he asked. “Of course, some people want to divert us and decorate this by saying the president is purging. Others associate this with an agenda of dealing with people at a personal level. None of these [claims] is real,” Mchunu said.
“The president has our support. Let’s get to the bottom of this. Let’s root out the cause of this. There can be no turning back.”
The president used the confirmation provided by the commission and court rulings to create justifiable grounds for when he did act, so that nobody could attack him for acting arbitrarily or without justification, said Mnguni.
This was a “good strategy to appease your political opponents, a bad strategy in terms of whether or not you appear as the one who is taking the leading hand in terms of [the] strategy to clean up, or that your hand is forced while playing politics,” he said.
The post-Nasrec configuration of the ANC, with no side appearing to be in overwhelming control of the national executive committee (NEC), meant that decision-making was deferred to the national working committee (NWC).
“Decisions get taken at the NWC. At the NEC the factions debate. There is an inability to take control and command of the NEC.
“The lack of political consolidation adds a limitation where he is unable again to influence the pace and nature of the clean-up.”
Mnguni suggests the president may be less in control than he appears. “He is really heavily constrained. He has a good posture, which makes him appear in charge of the process. I don’t necessarily believe this is the case.”