Ramaphosa’s careful egg dance

2018-12-26 18:11

This year it is easy to speak about President Cyril Ramaphosa in glowing terms. He has, indeed, achieved a lot under difficult circumstances.

Ramaphosa worked hard to earn the public’s admiration. At the beginning of the year, he frog-marched former president Jacob Zuma out of the Union Buildings and the whole country breathed a collective sigh of relief.

It did not matter that during the protracted episode, he demonstrated a bout of overconsultation and indecisiveness, allowing Zuma to take him on a merry-go-round and refusing to abide by the ANC’s decision that he step down.

Ramaphoria took off relatively smoothly and, when the president hit a bump, it came from people’s unhappiness about his support for the land expropriation debate, the rising petrol prices and increased value added tax.

Mining companies complicated his life by threatening mass retrenchments. In September the country was plunged into a technical recession and he had to come up with answers fast, including the economic stimulus package and summits for everything that mattered, especially jobs and investment.

As the curtains close on 2018, Ramaphosa could proudly claim under his belt fixing of state-owned entities by appointing new hands, the appointment of the head of the Hawks and that of the National Prosecuting Authority, the shake-up at the SA Revenue Service (Sars) and action on state capture. Some of Zuma’s deadwood ministers were shown the door.

What fascinated some in the political landscape is how, in driving all these milestones, Ramaphosa shrewdly shielded his ministers from dirtying their hands to avoid claims of a political purge. For most of the time he ran the show on his own with the help of experts.

Relying on expert advice to make tough political decisions has been Ramaphosa’s modus operandi.

In doing so any political backlash could be pushed back by a claim that the decision enjoyed legitimacy because it was processed by competent and independent people.

But political animals would protest that the outcomes of political processes are always determined even before the process starts and that Ramaphosa is not as hands-off as he pretends to be.

But how do you prove it?

We know Zuma’s modus operandi was to appoint a litany of interministerial task teams that made big decisions and were accountable only to him because Parliament is not allowed to receive reports from such ad hoc structures.

As a result Zuma managed to get away with a lot of controversial decisions, such as the purported appointment of an inquiry into banks to fight the battle of the Guptas.

Moving to Sars, a school of thought deep in the Ramaphosa camp suggests the entity was already captured even before Tom Moyane captured it to serve Zuma’s agenda.

hese voices are closely watching what next steps Ramaphosa will take to heal Sars. Particularly, they are wary that it might be a resuscitation of the old capture.

And the fact that some of the people associated with the old capture are playing a role in the Sars’ intervention does not bode well for them.

In his most significant lowlight Ramaphosa last month backtracked on a response he gave before the National Assembly over a R500 000 payment from Bosasa chief executive Gavin Watson, allegedly for the benefit of his son, Andile.

The payment was actually a donation towards his ANC presidential campaign, which Ramaphosa said was made without his knowledge.

The ANC closed ranks around Ramaphosa and “accepted” his correction, but many in the party would know that it sends a wrong message to the structures that big money forms a part of election campaigns – regardless of whether Ramaphosa knew.

The opposition treated the Bosasa episode cautiously because, if they pushed harder, the most immediate beneficiary could be Deputy President David Mabuza and many find him unsuitable.

A recent murky chapter in Ramaphosa’s scoresheet is the short appointment and recusal of Brian Dames into the Eskom task team over claims of conflict of interest.

Dames is the chief executive of African Rainbow Energy and Power, a clean-energy investment company founded by Ramaphosa’s brother-in-law, Patrice Motsepe.

City Press learnt that Ramaphosa would have received the list of people to appoint from the ministers in charge, in this case, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan for state-owned entities and Jeff Radebe as the energy minister.

And, because he does not prefer to frustrate his ministers unnecessarily, unless the situation really calls for it, he might have innocently approved the list.

But, for a shrewd businessman, Ramaphosa is expected to spot a conflict of interest in his sleep. So, how did the Dames’ issue fall through the cracks?

If anything, it bolsters the offensive that a new capture is taking shape around Ramaphosa.

Others say Ramaphosa’s relationship with Motsepe is so frosty that it could not come close to a capture of any sort.

City Press has learnt that Ramaphosa had not even been mentioned as part of the plans for the Global Citizen Festival that Motsepe hosted recently until some people started asking questions.

But what about his relationship with Radebe, who is married to another of Motsepe’s sisters?

Inside Radebe’s office there are already suspicions that his chief interest was to sign the Independent Power Producer’s clean-energy project and since then he is more interested in running his policy office in Luthuli House.

But Radebe, just like Ramaphosa and Motsepe, would probably disagree with their opponents that there is any form of new capture or that they are involved as alleged by the Economic Freedom Fighters.

In the first half of next year Ramaphosa will have to work hard to get the ANC its “love back” from the voters to start his first full term of presidential office. He should not allow all the niggling questions from this year to follow him into the new year.

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May 19 2019