Can Ramaphosa make a difference in the troubled ANC?

Cyril Ramaphosa (left) is congratulated by President Zuma after becoming ANC Vice President.

Whether Cyril Ramaphosa, the new ANC deputy president, can make any difference in the troubled ANC government will depend heavily on how much power, support and freedom President Jacob Zuma, gives him. William Gumede assesses Ramaphosa’s political future under President Zuma

In the ANC, the reality is that the position of president is all-powerful, with the deputy serving at his behest, no matter the rhetoric of “collective” leadership by party hacks. For one, ANC presidential leadership battles are a no-holds-barred fights, because the winner can bestow dizzying patronage to loyalists – from government tenders to heads of state-owned companies and official commissions, can deny rivals and critics jobs in government and the private sector, or can simply use all-powerful state security agencies to sideline them. For another, the current ANC leadership collective is loaded with Zuma allies – some who will be very suspicious of Ramaphosa. There is a real danger that Ramaphosa’s voice will be drowned out by those of the pro-Zuma leadership majority.

The tipping point has been reached where the gap between the bling world of the ANC leadership and the daily grind of ordinary members may have now become such a wide gulf that many ANC members who may have deep affinity with the party may now not be able anymore to identify themselves with both the leaders and the party. If Zuma continues on his scandal-prone, poor public service delivery and autopilot presidency – and ANC voters start to abandon him – Ramaphosa will be damned by association with Zuma.

In the run-up to the 2014 national elections, Zuma desperately needs Ramaphosa, who has a reputation as a dynamic, effective and relatively clean manager, as an electoral crutch to counter-balance his own battered presidential image. Zuma has brought in Cyril Ramaphosa, the former general secretary of both the ANC and the NUM, and now successful black businessman, to restore strained relations with the business sector and the markets; bring management capacity to government; and to bring an accomplished negotiator to mediate the myriad political, economic and social conflicts the ANC government is and will be facing.

At the ANC’s December 2012 Mangaung conference, Ramaphosa effectively neutralized the threat of former ANC Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Because Ramaphosa essentially fishes from the same ANC voter support pond as Motlanthe, those who opposed Zuma at the ANC’s December 2012 Mangaung national conference and who may have considered leaving the ANC after Zuma was re-elected may now be persuaded to stay because of the presence of Ramaphosa.  It is likely that the prospect of an easy path to the ANC and South African presidency was one of the key reasons why Ramaphosa accepted the job as Zuma’s deputy.

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