Everybody loves a cupcake. While I eschew Schadenfreude, I must also confess to an incurable sweet tooth.
And ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa, affectionately called “cupcake”, delivered a sweet victory to many, while serving just deserts to his detractors with his triumph over Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Let me hasten to express my respect and admiration of Dlamini-Zuma for her commendable character and grace despite her loss.
For the benefit of those who may have just emerged from under a rock, let me enlighten you about Ramaphosa’s moniker.
An innocuous email exchange between Ramaphosa and one of the recipients of his benevolence was apparently leaked by his political detractors in a futile attempt to besmirch Ramaphosa’s image, and thus damage his presidential ambitions during the fiercely contested ANC leadership elections.
In that communication, Ramaphosa was affectionately called “cupcake”. The moniker has since stuck with Ramaphosa despite his attempts to forbid publication of the numerous email exchanges.
Ramaphosa’s image as a conscientious, constitutionalist and an avatar of integrity, loomed large.
The problem is: when a presidency is anchored so fundamentally on an image, any deterioration of that image can be especially perilous.
In what could be decried as the randomness and absurdities of politics, Ramaphosa was dealt a bad hand in the ANC’s toxic mix for the top-six leadership cauldron.
Now that Ramaphosa’s long-cherished dream of becoming president of the republic is all but realised, he must expect unrelenting public expectations and scrutiny, notwithstanding myriad obstacles he may face.
Ramaphosa must deftly manage Jacob Zuma’s exit and the pressing demand to foster unity in the ANC, on the one hand, and the mounting restlessness and demand for him to deliver on his lofty promises.
An excursion into KwaZulu-Natal over the past weekend by the ANC top leadership structure was regarded as a crucial effort by Ramaphosa to endear himself with the disaffected KwaZulu-Natal province, which is still smarting from Dlamini-Zuma’s defeat.
Media reports that David Mabuza met with Zuma over the weekend to discuss Zuma’s exit could have precipitated the bombshell statement released by Zuma’s office early yesterday evening.
In a telling but fresh departure from making midnight announcements, Zuma pronounced his appointment of Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo to convene the commission of inquiry into state capture.
This ground-breaking development sent pundits and a distrusting public in an orgy of speculation with a litany of theories doing the rounds.
What seems to be certain, though, is the fact that Zuma’s days as president of the republic are numbered.
There is widespread speculation that Ramaphosa must have made it clear to Zuma over the weekend that either he chooses a dignified exit, which would also involve him making the said announcement forthwith, or he will face the ominous prospect of being forced to vacate office with even more ignominy, through an imminent impeachment process or a parliamentary vote of no confidence.
Zuma would have been left with very little, if any, choice in the matter.
The timing of Zuma’s announcement is intriguing.
Some cynics argued that this could have been Zuma’s last act of desperation as he, once again, sought to steal the thunder from the ANC on the eve of an important meeting like he did before Nasrec.
There is, therefore, speculation that Zuma’s announcement could have been intended to placate the national executive committee, just a day before it was scheduled to meet to, among others, consider the undesirable conundrum of two centres of power.
It is also plausible that Zuma, through his own volition, could have realised and accepted the reality that political power had irrevocably shifted away from him to Ramaphosa, from whom Zuma may soon need to plead for clemency.
In which case, it would be inconceivable that Zuma would justify holding on to state power once the terms of the inquiry had been determined or gazetted.
Never mind the obvious implications of announcing the inquiry, Zuma is understandably under immense pressure to vacate office, so as to allow Ramaphosa to get on with the intricacies of helping the ANC seek redemption with the voters, as the 2019 elections beckon.
Nevertheless, Zuma’s departure from Mahlamba Ndlopfu will not present Ramaphosa with a political silver bullet.
Ramaphosa, through commission or omission, is also considered complicit, alongside Zuma and the previous ANC national executive committee, in the devastation wrought on our political economy.
However, Ramaphosa and a reinvigorated ANC do have an opportunity to seek and gain redemption should Zuma leave early. This is especially the case, given the, seemingly intractable, ructions currently afflicting the ANC’s main political opponents, the Democratic Alliance.
Should Zuma leave now, Ramaphosa would need to charge ahead expeditiously and boldly in spite of being hobbled by the inclusion of venal characters in his leadership coterie.
An emboldened Ramaphosa would freely articulate his agenda, particularly on dealing forcefully with corruption and state capture in his “January 8 statement” on Saturday.
The announcement of this inquiry could also be deliberately intended to bolster Ramaphosa’s credibility when he delivers his statement and, as is now widely expected, the state of the nation address in February.
It would, in theory, be significant that Ramaphosa and Zuma establish and convey a shared, uniform message of unity and sense of purpose by the ANC in Luthuli House and that in Mahlamba Ndlopfu.
Whether choreographed or not, Ramaphosa’s image and credibility should be boosted by this latest development.
The ANC cannot afford for Ramaphosa to wait in the wings much longer. Neither should the ANC, nor the public be kept waiting to unfurl the delights.
As I conclude, please allow me to borrow from Forrest Gump as I caution: political leaders are, like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. And so it could be with the unfolding presidency of our endearing cupcake, Ramaphosa.
For what it’s worth, let’s savour the moment. Slangevar!
• Khaas is chairperson of Corporate SA, a Johannesburg-based strategic advisory and consultancy firm. Follow him on Twitter.