Like dominoes, all potential obstacles in the way of President Cyril Ramaphosa getting his second term have now toppled as he consolidates his position in the ANC.
Ramaphosa, through his stance on corruption and internal party discipline, has seen Jacob Zuma’s support base tumbling.
However, others were won over to Ramaphosa’s side both before and after the watershed Nasrec conference in December 2017. Ramaphosa’s power consolidation had been a roller-coaster phenomenon since he assumed state power in May 2018.
But this year, the president has been growing stronger as his political foes have been weakening.
The implementation of the step-aside policy through which Zuma’s chief loyalist and party secretary-general Ace Magashule was marginalised and unable to mobilise added to Ramaphosa’s political fortune.
Magashule yesterday lost an appeal in the High Court to overturn his suspension from the ANC.
Then, last week, staunch Zuma ally Carl Niehaus was summarily dismissed from the ANC after being charged with bring the organisation into disrepute.
Zuma’s reluctant exit from active politics was always bound to weaken his loyalists’ resolve to wrest power from the Ramaphosa camp.
Magashule had been in stepaside limbo since May when the ANC revoked Rule 25.70 of the party’s constitution to deal with members charged with serious crimes. He faced fraud and corruption allegations emanating from a R255 million asbestos project that occurred while he was Free State premier.
As a boss who commanded daily operations at Luthuli House, Magashule had access to party resources, including the branches and other structures.
The court decision to uphold his suspension added to the crumbling fightback by the radical economic transformation forces of which Magashule and Niehaus were the faces.
It has put Ramaphosa in an advantageous position with no serious competition at the party’s elective 55th national conference next year, where Magashule was expected to contest the ANC presidency.
The Zuma side’s strength broke when former loyalists like ANC national chair Gwede Mantashe, national executive committee members Fikile Mbalula and Bheki Cele and a host of others switched sides to join the Ramaphosa camp.
Zuma knew that without Mantashe, Mbalula and Cele, in addition to his original loyalists, he couldn’t win the fight.
Ramaphosa’s original loyalists – including Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana, ANC policy guru Joel Netshitenzhe, Derek Hanekom and provincial premiers such as Eastern Cape’s Oscar Mabuyane, Dr Zamani Saul of Northern Cape and Limpopo’s Stanley Mathabatha – fight quietly.
The president’s armoury has now been expanded with a strong reinforcement of several young ministers such as communications’ Khumbudzo Ntshavheni and Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane and new leadership of the ANC youth task team.
But political analyst Prof Susan Booysen said although Ramaphosa appeared to have an advantage, she did not think the battle was lost for Magashule or whoever he backed if he did not run for the ANC presidency.
She cautioned that Magashule’s strength lay in the structures, which could turn the tables on Ramaphosa.
“We will see what happens when branches start nominating and sending delegates to conference. We don’t know what the structures are doing on the ground. We don’t know what Lindiwe Sisulu has up her sleeve,” Booysen said.
Sisulu was one of Ramaphosa’s opponents, but her attempt to contest him at Nasrec failed. Dismissed uMkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’ Association’ (MKMVA) spokesperson Niehaus on Monday threw down the gauntlet over his dismissal last week.
“During the past few months I have been, together with several fellow comrades, the victims of vindictive factional targeting, and illegal administrative bullying by a triumphalist clique in the ANC who are hell-bent on purging anyone who does not agree with them,” he said in a statement.
“My experience is certainly not unique, but it is an example of the purging that is going on.”
Niehaus said he would be challenging “all of this … through all legal avenues available to me”.
“I will not leave a stone unturned,” Niehaus said. He has appointed Zuma’s former lawyer, Eric Mabuza, to act on his behalf.
– email@example.com; Additional reporting by Amanda Watson