Ramaphosa passes KZN test

The president, in a move to defuse tensions in KwaZulu-Natal, paid homage to former president Jacob Zuma. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The president, in a move to defuse tensions in KwaZulu-Natal, paid homage to former president Jacob Zuma. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

President Cyril Ramaphosa this week cleared his first hurdle in winning over the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal — the fiercest ­backers of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma — by addressing the party’s January 8 celebrations in Durban without a major incident.

But, despite a political eggshell dance on Ramaphosa’s part — including a public homage to Zuma, who joined him on the podium at the main rally at the Ohlange Institute in Inanda on Tuesday — he was still subjected to Zuma’s supporters chanting the ­former president’s name at the end of his address.

Although the chanting was quickly halted by ANC elections head Fikile Mbalula, the master of ceremonies at the rally, it has raised concerns that Zuma supporters may use Ramaphosa’s address at the party’s election manifesto launch at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday to humiliate him publicly for Zuma’s recall.

It also prompted ANC KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Sihle Zikalala, who accompanied Ramaphosa for most of the week he spent campaigning in the province, to ask party members to “keep quiet and listen” during the head of state’s speeches.

Ramaphosa will unveil the ANC manifesto for the May election, the toughest it has had to fight since 1994, on Saturday. Organisers have thrown a huge amount of resources into mobilising an 80 000-strong crowd to pack the ­stadium. They have also been at pains to head off any backlash from Zuma supporters, some of whom had threatened to boo him on the day.

Ramaphosa kicked off his week with door-to-door work and meetings on the KwaZulu-Natal lower South Coast on Monday.
The area is a “safe” region whose leadership, which has been suspended, had backed him in his campaign for the ANC presidency last year.

The blitz, which drew decent crowds of supporters, appears to have been a testing of the waters by the party’s national elections machine ahead of campaign events in regions that opposed Ramaphosa’s presidential bid.

The president was as warmly received on the South Coast as when he attended a morning service at Durban’s Central Methodist Church on Tuesday. At the church service he waxed biblical, quoting from several scriptures in his address, in which he spoke about the ANC’s need to renew both itself and to re-establish its relationships with the religious community and civil society at large, which had suffered over the past decade.

Addressing a small crowd, which included ANC ­eThekwini chairperson and Durban mayor Zandile Gumede, one of Zuma’s staunchest backers, Ramaphosa said the party, like an eagle, had “plucked out its old feathers” at its conference in December 2017 (at which he was elected). “Today, the ANC has grown new wings,” he said.

Gumede, who also backed the losing “status quo” faction at the KwaZulu-Natal ANC provincial conference last year — at which a “unity” slate headed by Zikalala was elected — left the church hall with her entourage at this point.

The ANC Youth League gave ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa a warm welcome in Cato Crest on Wednesday. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Ramaphosa’s next stop was the gravesite of founding ANC president John Langalibalele Dube, where, accompanied by Zuma and Zikalala, he laid a wreath before heading for the main rally at Ohlange (a school founded in 1901 by Dube).

In his address at Ohlange, where Nelson Mandela voted in 1994, Ramaphosa diverted from his prepared speech to praise Zuma, who was seated next to him on the podium, and the ANC in the province. Ramaphosa also removed references to state capture by the Gupta family.

Ramaphosa thanked Zuma for his leadership of the party, saying he was “a former president, but one I am going to use” to continue working for the ANC. Ramaphosa said he and Zuma, “who is still a leader of the broader ANC and who is still able to play a role”, were “committed to unity” and were appearing together to cement this unity.

Referring to Zuma by his clan names, Nxamalala and Msholozi, Ramaphosa said claims that he had wanted to meet Zuma to confront him about his utterances on the land and other issues were untrue. There was no fight between them, he said.

“The presence of the two of us here shows that we are all committed to the task of building the ANC and of uniting the ANC, but more importantly ensuring that the ANC triumphs.”

He also referred to his historical relationship with Zuma, who served as Ramaphosa’s deputy when he was elected as ANC secretary general in Durban in 1991 and under whom Ramaphosa later served as ANC deputy president and deputy president of the country.

Ramaphosa, who had faced huge pressure from the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal to include Zuma in the election campaign or face a ­potential backlash at the polls, said Zuma had “passed on the baton to me” and undertook to “run a good race” along with the national executive ­committee (NEC) elected at Nasrec in December 2017.

He also praised the ANC in the province for its role in building party unity since Nasrec.

Despite the flattery, and careful editing of his speech, the crowd broke into chants of “Zuma, Zuma” as the president ended his speech.

Although Ramaphosa’s first bite at campaigning in eThekwini may have left a bitter taste, the rousing response — and huge turnout —  he received from the ANC Youth League at a rally in Cato Crest on Wednesday to commemorate the life of former league president Peter Mokaba must have cleansed the presidential palate somewhat.

Zikalala, who introduced the president to the crowd, called on them to “keep quiet and listen carefully” when the president spoke.

Earlier, the league’s KwaZulu-Natal chairperson, Kwazi Mshengu, pledged the league’s support for Ramaphosa and said the youth, who also opposed his run for the ANC presidency, would not boo him on Saturday.

“The enemy wants us to boo you, Mr President.  We will never do that. There will be no member who will disrupt that programme of the ANC,” Mshengu said.

Ramaphosa praised the league for the turnout and went on to credit it for several of government’s policies, including free education, land expropriation without compensation and moves towards radical economic transformation.

But he admonished its leadership for their failure to make an impression among the youth, particularly in tertiary institutions, and to link young people with the ANC.

On Thursday, Ramaphosa went ahead with a series of events in Pietermaritzburg, where Zuma ­supporters from the ANC’s conflict-ridden Moses Mabhida region had been threatening to boycott or disrupt party election events because the NEC had refused their demand to hold a regional conference ahead of the May elections.

The regional executive committee that had backed Zuma was disbanded last year and replaced by a regional task team, which failed to meet the deadline for holding a conference late last year.

At the time of writing, behind- the-scenes negotiations between the provincial and national leadership and the pro-Zuma grouping appeared to have paid off, and the threats of disruption failed to materialise.

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