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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 19th December 2017

SOUTH AFRICA: Ramaphosa tries to unify and reform the ANC after beating Dlamini-Zuma in race for the party leadership

Patrick Smith

This week we concentrate on two important changes of leadership in South Africa and Zimbabwe, as well as their implications for the region. We would also like to take this opportunity to send you our best wishes for 2018 and to let you know that our correspondents and editors will be working through the holiday season, posting news of the most important events in Africa over the next three weeks. Our first issue of the New Year will contain, as is our tradition, detailed analyses of political and economic developments in the coming year across Africa.

SOUTH AFRICA: Ramaphosa tries to unify and reform the ANC after beating Dlamini-Zuma in race for the party leadership
A narrow win of 179 votes on 18 December over his rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, poses several urgent problems for Cyril Ramaphosa, the new President of the African National Congress, in the aftermath of its most fractious leadership election in its 105-year history. Rampahosa, who played a leading role in writing South Africa's constitution, having helped win the political deal that amounted to the last rites for the National Party and apartheid, will need all his fabled negotiating skills to stop the rot that has been eating away at the ANC's organisation and its government in the past decade.
Pulling the party together will be just as important and difficult as trying to clean it up while it's still in power. Just under half the elective conference voted for Dlamini-Zuma, and many of those expressed strong support for outgoing ANC President Jacob Zuma.

In a rare alignment of sentiment, expectations among millions of voters as well as the financial markets are running high. The rand had been strengthening in the days leading up to the conference on the back of the predicted Ramaphosa win. Some market analysts forecast that the ratings agency Moody's will postpone its planned downgrade of South Africa's debt until March at least.

Such brave talk will come up against some tough political realities. The most pressing is that while Ramaphosa is president of the party he remains Deputy President in the government under Jacob Zuma, who could hold on to power until April 2019. Whether Zuma manages to stay in the post that long will depend on the outcome of the myriad legal cases he faces and the pace at which Ramaphosa can consolidate power.

The first problem will be how to manage the entrenched factions in the party. Of the top six leadership posts in the party, three, including Ramaphosa, are in the new President's camp, and three are in Dlamini-Zuma's.

Attempts to push through party reforms and reduce political patronage could be slowed or blocked completely as Ramaphosa and his allies try to build a consensus. The new Deputy President is David Mabuza, the premier of Mpumalanga Province, a close political and business ally of President Zuma.

Harder still will be Ramaphosa's position in the national government under a structure which gives the sitting president substantial executive powers including the right to hire and fire without consulting the cabinet or the ANC's policy-making body, the National Executive Committee. However, one of the key changes sought by reformists within the ANC, as well as many outside it, is the immediate sacking of Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, seen as extremely close to Zuma and to his business friends, the Gupta family.

That is something Zuma, who replaced the well-regarded Pravin Gordhan with the inexperienced Gigaba, would reject out of hand. Despite the desperate conditions, Ramaphosa, who ran for the ANC leadership on a Keynesian-style programme, may have to stay his hand on the economy.

Over the next few weeks, Ramaphosa could be helped by Zuma's legal tangles, such as efforts to reinstate 783 charges of corruption relating to the US$6 billion arms deal negotiated in the late 1990s. The High Court earlier this month ruled that Ramaphosa (as Deputy President in the government) would have to appoint a new director of the National Prosecuting Authority after it invalidated Zuma's appointment of Shaun Abrahams.

The court ruled that Zuma could not appoint a new NPA director because of the conflict of interest. It will be for the new director to decide whether or not the 783 charges are reinstated. Zuma's lawyers immediately lodged an appeal, but they are unlikely to succeed. This holds out the prospect of Zuma being tied up with so many different legal processes, investigations and commissions of inquiries – the arms deal, state finance for his homestead at Nkandla as well as his business dealings with the Gupta family and Russia's state nuclear company – that he won't have time for his official duties.

No one expects Zuma to give up his last months in power without a fight. He might be pushed out as part of an exit deal involving some costly trade-offs. Much will depend on how much support Ramaphosa can muster among the 100 or so members of the NEC. Until a year ago, Zuma enjoyed overwhelming support in the committee but it has fallen off sharply in recent months. Ramaphosa should benefit from the changed sentiment in the party as its conference elects new members to the NEC this week.

If the anti-Zuma mood in the party gathers steam, the NEC could recall Zuma as national President just as it did to Thabo Mbeki a decade ago. That would allow Ramaphosa to take the helm, reshuffle the cabinet and the boards of many of the state-owned companies as well as launching his economic reforms. The alternative looks unpalatable and politically risky: it could mean that Ramaphosa would lead a divided party and play second fiddle in a discredited government in the run-up to the 2019 elections.

Those challenges cast Ramaphosa's victory in a more sombre light. Suddenly, the responsibility for the ANC's political survival and South Africa's economic revival has fallen on his shoulders. Success will depend initially on whether he can win enough support from the other half of the ANC that didn't vote for him on 18 December.

ZIMBABWE: General Chiwenga tipped to swap army role for Vice-Presidency after military reshuffle
Trying to understand new President Emmerson Mnangagwa's relationship with the military is getting harder. It was General Constantino Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, who launched the military operation that forced out President Robert Mugabe and propelled Mnangagwa to power.

So, is Chiwenga working for Mnangagwa or is it the other way around? In the latest twist on 18 December, Gen Chiwenga and Augustine Chihuri, Commissioner-General of Zimbabwe Republic Police, retired. The curt government announcement said they would be redeployed. For Chihuri, an ally of Mugabe's who had sent police to arrest Chiwenga to forestall the military action, this looks like the end of the road. But for Chiwenga, it could mean another promotion… to the Vice-Presidency.

Lieutenant General Phillip Valerio Sibanda takes over as ZDF Commander. He used the occasion of Chiwenga's retirement to announce that the army, which had taken over security duties from the police in most big towns during the military's removal of Mugabe, was returning to barracks.

So, does all that make Mnangagwa the boss? Not according to a witty tweet from Zimbabweans United for Democracy: 'A President appointed by a General who chased away the President who appointed him as a General is not a General who can be ordered around by a President he appointed… well not generally anyway'.

The wheels are turning and Mnangagwa is using his reshuffle this week to move more officers up the hierarchy while a few of them go directly into politics. It may be an expensive effort to buy off the military or another way of integrating the military into civilian life.

The appointment of Air Marshal Perence Shiri as Agriculture Minister and Major General Sibusiso Moyo as Foreign and International Trade Minister hands two top economic portfolios to the military. Both Shiri and Moyo are being retired and given one last promotion, as well as a boost to their pensions.

That allows a couple more senior officers to move up the ladder. Air Vice-Marshal Elson Moyo becomes head of the air force. Major General Edzai Chimonyo, ambassador to Tanzania, is promoted to Commander of the Zimbabwe National Army, taking Gen Sibanda's old job. In addition, Mnangagwa appointed three generals to serve on of the Politburo of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front.

By comparison, the decision of last week's ZANU-PF congress to confirm Mnangagwa as the party's candidate for the presidential elections due next year was almost a sideshow. Again, the party congress showed that Mnangagwa, a former intelligence chief and former defence minister, is doubling down on the security service's role in government. The question that opposition and civic activists are asking is what will happen to Mnangagwa's promise of a 'new democratic era'.


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