/ 2 December 2022

Why Ramaphosa made a U-turn on announcing his resignation

Some within the Ramaphosa faction allegedly entertained the idea that former president Kgalema Motlanthe should be the man tasked with the job.

It took nearly half of Thursday for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s allies to convince him against resigning as head of state. 

Ramaphosa was allegedly going to announce in a televised address that he was stepping down, following the release of the damning section 89 panel report about his conduct relating to the theft of foreign currency from his Phala Phala game farm in 2020. 

Sources said the president’s allies  —  ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe and national executive committee members Gwen Ramokgopa, Ronald Lamola, Enoch Godogwana, Oscar Mabuyane, Zamani Saul and Derek Hanekom — strove to convince him that they would fight to ensure he makes it out of the special NEC meeting scheduled for Friday afternoon. 

It was allegedly Mantashe who made the call that Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, should address the media on Thursday. 

Magwenya initially told journalists that Ramaphosa would address the nation later that day. This was the clearest indication among ANC leaders that he was ready to resign. 

On Wednesday night, his allies had conceded to this, with some already searching for a candidate to take over as the caretaker president. 

Some within the Ramaphosa faction allegedly entertained the idea that former president Kgalema Motlanthe should be the person tasked with the job. 

With Motlanthe adamant that he would not take on the task, the Ramaphosa allies had to plead with Ramaphosa to reconsider his resignation. 

One Ramaphosa insider said Mantashe argued that the president could not address the nation before consulting the ANC’s highest decision-making body between conferences, the NEC. 

Mantashe, a senior member in the Ramaphosa faction who was also instrumental to his ascension as ANC leader, apparently insisted that the president address the NEC before making a “rash decision”. 

Another ANC leader in the know said that cabinet ministers also asked Ramaphosa to consider the fate of the country and the party before he opted to resign. 

“The mood was very sombre. There are those who expressed that this would hurt the country and there are some who also asked him to consider what his resignation would do to the ANC going into the 2024 national elections.” 

The leader said that Ramaphosa, after almost four hours of deliberations, finally decided that he would leave his fate to the NEC. 

While the Ramaphosa faction was locked in meetings, half of the ANC national office bearers — also known as the top six — were allegedly “none the wiser”. 

Treasurer general Paul Mashatile and deputy president David Mabuza are said to have been kept in the dark about Ramaphosa’s decision. An insider in the secretary general’s office said that both had made unsuccessful attempts to communicate with Ramaphosa and Mantashe throughout Thursday, 

The top six met on Wednesday, and there was allegedly no clarity on how the ANC would respond to the recommendations made by the independent panel. 

The Luthuli House leader said that even those in the national working committee (NWC) outside of the Ramaphosa caucus had been left in the dark. 

The ANC is expected to deliberate on the damning recommendations, but it is understood that Mabuza, Mashatile and the NWC have not been consulted. 

“There are some NWC members who feel undermined,” one NEC member said. 

Usually, the top six would meet, followed by the NWC, before the NEC sits. The NWC is charged with the day-to-day operations of the party and makes recommendations that must be adopted by the NEC. 

It was the NWC that recommended that secretary general Ace Magashule be suspended. 

Magwenya said on Thursday evening that Ramaphosa would not make a televised announcement because he was still processing the report and consulting a number of people in the ANC and alliance.  

“That decision cannot be rushed and cannot be taken in haste, so we apologise for the impression that he was going to address the nation tonight,” Magwenya said. 

Friday NEC meeting expected to be explosive

Ramaphosa is facing a hostile NEC on Friday. Some high ranking leaders — including Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Lindiwe Sisulu and Tony Yengeni — have indicated that they would call for him to step aside.

An NEC member said that although Ramaphosa will have his supporters ready to protect him from the onslaught, he will have to explain “why he held the country at ransom on Thursday”.

“What happened in the two days created instability. The country and the ANC questioned whether we still had a president and he allowed the narrative to fester. He must know that his actions are unacceptable. Whether he will resign or allow the parliamentary process to continue, he once again showed how indecisive he is,” the NEC member said. 

Although the president’s allies are said to be planning to close ranks when the NEC meets on Friday, insiders said there is no plan on how he could recover from the recommendations by former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo, the chair of the independent panel that investigated the Phala Phala matter. 

Ngcobo found that Ramaphosa had to provide answers on the origin of the money stolen from his private game farm and on efforts to recover it. 

“This is a very serious matter, which, if established, renders the violation of section 96 of the Constitution and Precca [Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act], a serious violation, and a serious misconduct,” the report said.

The matter could take the country into further uncharted territory should it lead to an early general election being called for the first time in the post-apartheid era. This is not in the interest of the ANC, which is forecast to fall below 50% for the first time and which might fare far worse without Ramaphosa.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will use the fallout from the panel’s findings to try to trigger an early general election using section 50(1) of the Constitution, arguing that simply recalling Ramaphosa would mean South Africa being led by a president with no mandate for the next 18 months.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said in a televised address on Thursday that the official opposition would bring a motion in the National Assembly to vote for the dissolution of Ramaphosa’s government — which can be carried by a majority of 50% plus one — which would trigger an early election.