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05 Apr 2019 00:00
ANC president, Cyril Ramaphosa. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)
Perspiration dripped down the face of then police minister Nathi Nhleko as he made a crucial presentation on Nkandla back in 2015.
The presentation would become the stuff of legend in South African politics, more for its ridiculousness than its effectiveness.
To the moving background sounds of O Sole Mio, a uniformed fireman, with hosepipes and pumps in tow, demonstrated how the swimming pool at Nkandla was actually a firepool. It was among the lowest points to which the administration under former president Jacob Zuma had stooped to shield him from accountability.
It was a spectacular insult to the nation’s collective intelligence.
This week, the ANC once again undermined our intelligence with a move that, on the surface, appears to be simply smooth-talking the electorate, as Nhleko sought to do back then.
A special meeting of the national executive committee (NEC) referred the party lists to its integrity committee — those very lists which upon release illustrated that the party’s reform agenda is truly a one-man-show, starring Cyril Ramaphosa.
They included alleged state capture architect Malusi Gigaba, alleged Bosasa-bribe, braai-pack queen Nomvula Mokonyane and constitutional delinquent Bathabile Dlamini.
The bottom line is the lists have been submitted to the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) and cannot be changed, except via objections launched through the very limited purview of the IEC’s criteria for removal from the list — which includes a criminal conviction or one’s name appearing on the list of more than one political party.
So, in effect, the “capture” faction of the ANC is largely going to warm the benches of Parliament.
Although this battle may belong to secretary general Ace Magashule and his faction, the war is not yet lost to the reform group under Ramaphosa.
If the list process has not taught Ramaphosa and his backers not to let their guard down, it is uncertain what will.
Ramaphosa has to know by now that it was his supporters who demobilised and have sat back on their laurels while their opponents shore up their post-election prospects.
That the Magashule faction won in the first round of the list showdown is not an indication of their strength, but rather is indicative of the weakness of the Ramaphosa grouping.
All is not lost yet. The lists being scrutinised by the commission provides an opportunity for Ramaphosa.
He is facing a further conundrum after the elections where his reconfigured Cabinet is expected to be culled to a bare minimum. There are indications that the Cabinet could be trimmed down to between 25 and 28 members from its peak of 70 during the Zuma era. Doling out these posts is going to be an arduous process.
But the integrity commission scrutinising the lists could make the process of elimination much easier.
Ramaphosa would have a legitimate process backing up his decision to leave dodgy individuals out of his Cabinet and also to ensure that certain individuals are not appointed as premiers in the various provinces — this too could also help to consolidate his support on the ground.
He would also gain a solid argument to explain to ANC structures unhappy that their nominees had not made the cut why this was so.
Ramaphosa and his supporters lost the list battle, but the move by the special NEC on Monday puts him in prime position to win the Cabinet and premier fight, one which is likely to be bruising and will be critical in deciding whether he can consolidate his support in the ANC enough to win a second term, or even finish his first.
The ball is now in his court. It would be naive of him to think that one with as much to lose as Magashule, given the revelations in the explosive new book Gangster State: Unravelling Magashule’s Web of Capture, was not doing everything he could to undermine the reforms which have taken shape in the state, in the criminal justice system in particular, through winning battles in the party.
The integrity commission terms of reference were also reaffirmed at Monday’s NEC, leaving Magashule’s many infractions and allegations of corruption against him open to potential scrutiny by the body, whose recommendations can include disciplinary action against members.
Ramaphosa would be a fool to underestimate such a man who clearly has his back to the wall.
Natasha Marrian is Mail & Guardian's politics editor. Read more from Natasha Marrian
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