Cowboys, stink bombs and spies




A day before Statistics South Africa announced record high unemployment levels, President Cyril Ramaphosa in his closing remarks to the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), stressed the urgency of changing the structure of the economy.

Ramaphosa was apparently adamant that more needs to be done to build confidence and stimulate growth. He emphasised that monopoly control of the economy needed to change, that the Competition Act needed strengthening and that the biggest problem in government was that bureaucrats did not implement policy.

But this is a cold comfort to the 6.7-million South Africans out of work and those with little prospect of finding employment.

Although the ANC statement after the NEC meeting, which ended on Monday, emphasised the need to implement Ramaphosa’s 2018 stimulus package, it is clear that too little is being done and at too slow a pace to effect any real change in the short to medium term.

The ANC’s approach of sitting on its hands is set to bite hard — it will have a profound effect on the country and, before long, it will be too late and the party will be too weak to bring about any real change.

With just two years to the next election at local government level, the ANC is fast running out of time. Its loss of major cities and the beating it received at the polls in 2016, mostly a result of national factors, at this point will simply be repeated and may even worsen in 2021, unless it abandons its “business as usual” approach to the economy and governance. But none of this urgency is reflected in its conduct.

Instead, the NEC spent four days discussing allegations of spies in the ANC’s ranks and “stink bombs” — moves to distract the party from its transformation programme — ahead of the announcement of record high unemployment levels and the continuing death spiral of Eskom.

In its January lekgotla, the ANC acknowledged that “Eskom presents a serious threat, not only to the government but to the economy as a whole”. Still, all that has happened in the last six months has been minor tinkering at the power utility.

ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte admitted in a media briefing after the NEC meeting that the party was alive to the fact that its internal divisions affected society and the economy. In the party’s statement after NEC meeting, it said “extensive discussions” were held on “strengthening the organisation, accelerating renewal and unity and building a collective leadership”.

Ramaphosa, in his closing remarks, apparently also touched on sentiment and how the party needed to stick to one message to build confidence.

This comes after ANC secretary general Ace Magashule last week issued a scathing statement after the Economic Freedom Fighters’ “revelation” that close Ramaphosa ally Derek Hanekom had held talks in 2017 with the EFF about removing Jacob Zuma as president in a parliamentary vote of no confidence.

The outcome of the NEC meeting shows that Magashule and his allies received a slap after their attack on Hanekom, with the meeting deciding that the matter would be “processed by the officials”. This outcome and the emphasis on “collective leadership” shows that the party’s executive committee frowned on the cowboy tactics employed by Magashule, in whose name the Hanekom statement was released, without discussing it within party structures first.


he statement at the conclusion of the NEC meeting this week recognised “certain persistent behaviour” at a leadership level that undermined the party’s programme of unity and renewal. “These include factionalism, untested and wild accusations, use of social media to attack each other and policy positions of the ANC, leaks to media and taking the organisation to court without first exhausting internal processes.”

Ramaphosa also took aim at those who resort to “political mobilisation” when confronted with allegations of corruption. A faction in the ANC — dubbed the fightback grouping and led by Zuma — has been on the attack amid allegations of corruption against specific leaders. The former president accused senior ANC leaders of being “spies” when he appeared before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.

The accusation was apparently discussed briefly, with leaders taking a dim view of the allegation and one calling it “stink bombs”. Duarte told journalists this week that the matter remained in the terrain of the Zondo commission.

Although the fightback grouping appears to be intent on removing Ramaphosa at the party’s national general council (NGC) next year, Duarte again emphasised that this cannot be done at the mid-term policy meeting.

“There was no mention in the president’s opening remarks about him being unseated in the NGC,” she said, referring to reports that Ramaphosa dared those wanting to unseat him at the general council to try do so.

“The NGC reviews policy. It can replace an NEC member if there is a vacancy. There is no vacancy for the presidency of the ANC and it is unlikely that there will be such a vacancy, so we must be cautious about rhetoric that comes from ‘maybe friends’ of our desires,” Duarte said. “The desire of the ANC is not to unseat its president, nor is it intending to remove the president of the ANC anywhere.”

The fragile unity forged at the party’s elective conference at Nasrec in December 2017 is being constantly tested by ANC leaders at the most senior level, such as its secretary general. The party and its government appear to be in limbo, as Ramaphosa’s reform agenda is being threatened even by the public protector.

It is clear that unless he overcomes the distractions by the fightback grouping and injects a sense of urgency into his government — which appears to be trapped in a bizarre stasis — the economic situation will continue to decline, as ratings agencies move ever closer to a further downgrade of the country to sub-investment levels.

The ANC itself will be the biggest loser in this scenario; opposition parties will continue to benefit from the ruling party’s mismanagement of Africa’s second-largest economy.

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Natasha Marrian
Natasha Marrian
Marrian has built a reputation as an astute political journalist, investigative reporter and commentator. Until recently she led the political team at Business Day where she also produced a widely read column that provided insight into the political spectacle of the week.

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