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Rumblings about coups and the ANC's failures on corruption set the stage for defeat of presidential allies in key province
It started about as badly as it could for President Cyril Ramaphosa with the news that the Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, was investigating whether he had breached the Executive Ethics Code in his handling of a break-in at his farm in which some US$4 million was reported to have been stolen. Mkhwebane's office served a time-limited subpoena on Ramaphosa on 22 July.
This adds to the pressure on Ramaphosa triggered by an affidavit last month from sacked chief of state security Arthur Fraser which detailed claims of wrongdoing by Ramaphosa, including the storing of vast sums of foreign currency in his residence and the maltreatment of the suspected robbers by presidential security officers (AC Vol 63 No 15, Sofa cash saga levels the ethical scores).
Behind the row – known as Farmgate – over the robbery at Ramaphosa's house lurks a hefty dose of politics. Both Mkhwebane and Fraser are veterans of ANC intelligence and firm allies of ousted President Jacob Zuma; their own jobs are threatened by Ramaphosa and the anti-corruption probes he has launched. But that doesn't inoculate him against the charges of malfeasance over Farmgate (AC Vol 63 No 13, 'Farmgate' rocks Ramaphosa).
Bigger still is the critique of Ramaphosa's political and economic management record launched by his predecessor Thabo Mbeki on 22 July: 'there is no national plan to address the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality… it doesn't exist'.
Mbeki was speaking on 21 July at a memorial for ANC veteran Jessie Duarte : 'You can't have so many people unemployed and poor, one day it is going to trigger an uprising.' He added that South Africa could face the type of popular uprising that overthrew the Egyptian, Libyan and Tunisian regimes a decade ago.
It took Ramaphosa's team the weekend to respond to Mbeki's challenge with a counter-claim that his government has agreed a social compact in meetings with the finance, labour and trade ministries that will boost growth and create jobs. This comes on top of Ramaphosa's Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, negotiated with his allies in the trade unions and the South African Communist Party, as well as with the business associations. But whatever the policies behind these plans, few South Africans, including Mbeki, believe they are making much difference.
Undaunted by this latest wave of critiques, Ramaphosa added that he is close to announcing a plan to tackle the country's energy crisis, specifically the continual power cuts, crippling industry and frustrating some of the poorest communities.
That distance between well-wrought plans and policies and the overwhelming social reality was at its sharpest in the African National Congress's provincial elections in KwaZulu-Natal on 23-24 July (AC Vol 63 No 13, KwaZulu-Natal braces for a showdown). There, all of Ramaphosa's allies were trounced in elections for the party's provincial leadership. Sbonsiso Duma, a close ally of Zuma's, defeated Sihle Zikhala, the incumbent leader in the province and Ramaphosa's candidate.
With 200,000 ANC members, sentiment in KwaZulu-Natal is a key indicator of how the national party elections might go in December, when Ramaphosa is contesting for a second term as ANC leader.
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