What if Ramaphosa gets sick?

With news this week that Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has tested positive for Covid-19, questions have been raised about what precautions are being taken to safeguard President Cyril Ramaphosa

Around the world, presidents and heads of state have not been spared. 

The UK’s Boris Johnson spent several days in intensive care recovering. Brazil’s hard-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, had tested positive despite earlier downplaying the disease. And although Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza officially died of a heart attack, it is suspected Covid-19 was the underlying cause of his death, after Kenyan media reported his wife had been flown to Nairobi to seek treatment. 

Back in South Africa, three provincial premiers have tested positive: the North West’s 72-year-old Job Mokgoro, Gauteng’s David Makhura, and the Western Cape’s Alan Winde.

All three are said to be recovering, and even conducting provincial government business while in isolation at home. 


The Presidency told the Mail & Guardian that Ramaphosa is taking measures to safeguard himself from contracting Covid-19, including changing his schedule to conduct more work remotely. However, he is still travelling to assess the country’s readiness as the coronavirus wave hits. 

“To date, the president has visited five provinces and the deputy president two provinces since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country, and have had a number of visits to assess government’s state of readiness in terms of healthcare capacity, provision of personal protective equipment and other social services,” said presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko.

She added that the president and Deputy President David Mabuza were not being tested for the coronavirus, as per department of health guidelines. 

“[The protocols] are designed to prioritise people who most need testing kits, which, as you know, are in short supply across the world. These protocols direct that people who are already in hospitals; are health workers exposed to people with confirmed cases of Covid-19; or display symptoms should be tested. Neither the president nor the deputy President currently fits into the above categories,” she said. 

Diko said Ramaphosa and Mabuza had not been in face-to-face contact since March, but are in “constant communication and contact telephonically and [through] virtual meeting platforms”.

What the Constitution says 

So what happens if the president were to contract Covid-19 and not be able to perform his duties? 

Constitutional law professor at the University of Cape Town, Cathy Powell, said the statutory provisions make it clear that there cannot be a power vacuum in the executive and that the line of succession includes the entire cabinet. 

“Section 90 of the Constitution gives a long list of people who can step into the role: the deputy president and the entire cabinet before we get to the speaker of the National Assembly. Only then will the constitution run out of options,” Powell said. 

She said that although there is a risk of the president not being able to fulfil the duties of the office, the Constitution provides mechanisms to avoid a constitutional crisis. 

“If you’re getting into a kind of a crisis where everybody is being wiped out, it’s clear we would have by then have moved into a state of emergency.” 

The executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, Lawson Naidoo, pointed out a Covid-19-positive president would not necessarily be unable to work. 

“We’ve seen now with premiers who’ve tested positive that they’re still able to fulfil their functions because they’re not so ill that they can’t continue to function,” Naidoo said. 

Meanwhile, in Parliament this week, the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) confirmed to MPs that Covid-19 could have a major effect on preparations for next year’s local government elections. 

Voter registration drives, public education, the demarcation of municipal boundaries and voter turnout could all be potentially affected. 

The current term of office for municipal councils and councillors expires on August 4 2021, with legislation stipulating an election must be held within 90 days of that date. 

“If it were to come to pass, and the pandemic pans out in a way that we’re not expecting, and it’s practically impossible to hold an election by November 1 2021, Parliament will have to consider legislation to extend the tenure of local government until such time it’s possible to hold an election,” Naidoo said.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit is a Reporter, Journalist, and Broadcaster.

Related stories

Does the Expropriation Bill muddy the land question even further?

Land ownership and its equitable distribution has floundered. Changes to a section of the constitution and the expropriation act are now before parliament, but do they offer any solution?

Wheeling and dealing for a Covid-19 vaccine

A Covid-19 jab could cost hundreds of rands. Or not. It’s anyone’s guess. Could another pandemic almost a century ago hold clues for handling the coronavirus today?

Johannesburg cannot police its future

South Africa’s biggest city is ground zero for debates about the long-term effectiveness and constitutionality of militarised urban policing and how we imagine the post-Covid city

WSU suspends classes and exams to avoid the spread of Covid-19

The university says it has to take the precautionary measures because 26 students have tested positive on its East London campus

Entrepreneurs strike Covid gold

Some enterprising people found ways for their ventures to survive the strictest lockdown levels

Q&A Sessions: ‘My north star is the patient’

Rhulani Nhlaniki is Pfizer’s cluster lead for sub-Saharan Africa. As Pfizer starts phase III of the clinical trial of their Covid-19 vaccine candidate, he tells Malaikah Bophela that if it is successful, the company will ensure the vaccine will be available to everyone who needs it
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Malawi court judges win global prize

Members of the small African country’s judiciary took a stand for democracy to international approval

Durban city manager says NPA erred in his bail conditions

The corruption-fraught metro is coming to grips with having a municipal manager who is on bail for graft, yet has returned to work

Why anti-corruption campaigns are bad for democracy

Such campaigns can draw attention to the widespread presence of the very behaviour they are trying to stamp out — and subconsciously encourage people to view it as appropriate
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday