By Khanyile Mlotshwa
WHEN he delivered that most fiery speech at Winnie Mandela’s funeral in Soweto last year, Economic Freedom Front (EFF) Commander in Chief Julius Malema, told mourners how the late heroine had told him that he should return to the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
In his characteristic irony, Malema, whose rhetoric was directed at Mandela’s body quipped: “to which ANC, do we return mama?”
The former ANC youth league leader was making a joke out of the divisions that have burst out of the ruling party since the end of 2017.
Once again, Malema who was fired from the ANC, sounded prophetic on the divisions that haunt the party.
Two months since the ANC won the country’s national election, but already so much has happened such that South Africa looks set for a sad five years, as the ruling party is intent on ruling by balancing factions.
The factions have riddled the party since the December 2017 elective congress where current president Cyril Ramaphosa emerged victorious over Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in what was a bitterly fought election.
According to the media these factions pit the president, Ramaphosa against the Secretary General of the party, Ace Magashule.
Magashule is alleged to be fronting a faction loyal to former president, Jacob Zuma, who is fighting legal battles against corruption charges.
In May 2019, the former president failed to attend the inauguration of Ramaphosa at Loftus Stadium in Johannesburg.
Addressing a crowd of his supporters outside the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, the capital city of KwaZulu Natal province, where he was attending a session of his corruption trial, Zuma said people should not be surprised if they do not see him at the inauguration – because he might be busy.
“If you don’t see me in some things, you must know I am busy,” he told his supporters in IsiZulu.
“Tomorrow, the president is being inaugurated and there will be dignitaries and presidents. As they are inaugurating him, I am in jail. I don’t have time to go there because I am busy here, trying to stay out of jail.”
The former president was represented by his wife, Bongi Ngema-Zuma at the inauguration.
The ruling party that managed a slim 58 percent at the national polls in May this year has had an eventful if not explosive month.
First evidence of discord in the ANC appeared on the day the country’s electoral commission declared the ruling party – victors.
The party’s elections strategist, now Transport minister, Fikile Mbalula, said the ruling party had won because of its presidential candidate, Cyril Ramaphosa’s charisma.
However, the party’s secretary general, Magashule was quick to dismiss that quipping, “People voted for the ANC and not an individual”.
South Africa’s media, which has relished these factions blew the little differences out of proportion and predicted that the secretary general would be disciplined for dissent.
After Ramaphosa was sworn in as president of the republic and chose his cabinet, the media again latched at a story over the possible nationalisation of the country’s central bank.
After a ruling party National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in early June, the secretary general addressed the media and hinted that the ruling party wanted to nationalise the central bank and make sure it took more than monetary policies responsibilities.
Magashule said among other responsibilities, the nationalised central bank would be expected to fight poverty.
However Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, and central bank governor Lesteja Kganyanyo were quick to sound alarm bells.
In response Mboweni tweeted that government determines the mandate of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB), implying the political party’s NEC has little say in that regard.
“Government sets the mandate for SARB. There is no quantitative easing thing here. The primary mandate of the SA Reserve Bank is to “protect the value of the currency in the interest of balanced economic growth and development,” he wrote on his official twitter account.
Mboweni also shared a story on his Facebook wall, in which some senior ANC officials sought to dismiss the statement by the secretary general.
“Let us leave the South African Reserve Bank alone to pursue its mandate without fear, favour or prejudice,” Mboweni wrote in a post on his Facebook wall.
Kganyanyo also used the occasion of his receiving an honorary doctorate at Stellenbosch University to warn against the ruling party plans as reported by the party’s secretary general describing the planned nationalisation as an attack on the institution.
“Given the history of South Africa, it is important that this institution invests in transformation, build on successes and learn from shortcomings,” he said.
“We need to clearly spell out the kind of institution we would like to see in the future. If at all the institutions of our democracy could be threatened or undermined, it would not be because the enemies of our democracy are stronger, but it would be that good men and women would have cowed and failed to stand up. The SARB is one of the institutions that came under attack in the past few years. We survived and are still pursuing our mandate assigned by the founders of our democracy.”
The media started calling for Magashule’s disciplining again and even predicted his loss of his position as ANC’s secretary general.
A week before the State of the Nation Address (SONA) on June 20, the media started running with a story that as the infighting in the ANC continued, the president, had put his foot down to stall efforts by the secretary general to fill parliamentary committees’ leadership positions with people belonging to his faction.
The media that has clearly taken the side of Ramaphosa’s faction has even alleged that Magashule and his faction are stalling reform efforts by the president.
However, a day before the SONA, when the list of the parliamentary committees’ chairpersons was announced with MPs seen as sympathetic to former president, Zuma, in key positions, the media increased its accusation that the secretary general is stalling reform.
Political analysts were quick to point out that since most of the chairpersons where MPs who had recently been left out of ministerial positions they enjoyed under Jacob Zuma, was a sign Ramaphosa was “talking right and acting wrong.”
Even the ruling party’s alliance partners likened Ramaphosa’s “new dawn” to a pie in the sky.
A political scientist at North West University, Andre Duvenhage, said the inclusion of some former ministers accused of corruption revealed who really was in charge of ANC and by extension, the government.
He said the list exposed the power wielded by Zuma and Magashule in the ANC.
“This is an area of serious concern,” Duvenhage said.
“The question is how the ANC agreed to the nominations of these controversial elements, knowing they are implicated in wrongdoing. It tells the public that things would continue as normal. There is no new dawn and no future of ending corruption … we are in serious trouble.”
ANC’s alliance partner, the Labour Federation Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), was also displeased with the committees, warning that patience of the voters over “tainted figures” was not limitless.
“The ANC needs to make sure all its public representatives reflect the highest levels of integrity at all times and that there are actually real consequences for those who misbehave,” said COSATU’s parliamentary coordinator, Matthew Parks.
If the secretary general had triumphed in having his way in appointing people seen as aligned to his faction to the leadership of parliamentary portfolio committees, Ramaphosa’s faction also had its way on the night of the SONA.
In his SONA address the president sold a “dream to the nation”.
In his address Ramaphosa set five ambitious goals for his administration including growing the economy faster than the country’s population, employing two million young people in 10 years’ time, empowering school’s curriculum where a 10-year-old would be able to read as well as halving crime.
Selling “a dream” to people suffering the highest levels of poverty and inequality, Ramaphosa counselled the nation that it would not be easy.
“Let us make these commitments now – to ourselves and to each other – knowing that they will stretch our resources and capabilities, but understanding that if we achieve these five goals, we would have fundamentally transformed our society,” he said.
“We set these ambitious goals not despite the severe difficulties of the present, but because of them. We set these goals so that the decisions we take now are bolder and we act with greater urgency
“In addition to creating employment and other economic opportunities, this means that we must strengthen the social wage and reduce the cost of living. It means we must improve the affordability, safety and integration of commuter transport for low income households.”
Unemployment in Africa’s second largest economy rose to 27.6 percent in the first quarter of the year with people between 15 and 34 years being the most affected.
It was reported that 55.5 percent of the youth are unemployed in South Africa.
Ramaphosa’s speech that was welcomed by mostly the business section of South Africa has however ben lambasted as ‘empty’ and a deviation from the ANC resolutions set in its December 2017 conference.
The EFF leader, Malema, who has been a harsh critic of the ANC and one of its able analysts, noted that the ANC MPs did not receive the speech with the usual enthusiasm.
“You all know it is the culture of the ANC that after the president’s SONA address they stand up, clap, scream and start singing until they are called to order by the Speaker of Parliament,” he told the media.
“Did you see that today? It is because the president has deviated from the party’s agenda and resolutions.”
Malema, trended on Twitter as the week came to an end while his comments retweeted by people who found resonation in his refusal to buy into Ramaphosa’s dreams, also pointed out the president’s abandonment of the ANC 2017 conference and the party’s 2019 elections manifesto.
“We are a nation of dreamers and not doers,” said Malema.
“Twenty-five years into democracy, this was bad. The president must be ashamed of himself, he abandoned the Nasrec resolutions. He never spoke about the manifesto of the ANC, he came to speak about his imagination.”
In a breakfast meeting the morning after the SONA, Public Enterprises Minister, Pravin Gordhon, seen as belonging to Ramaphosa’s faction in the ANC, praised the speech by the president in a show.
He seemed to agree with the show’s host, Peter Ndoro, that it was a group of ministers responsible for the speech, Ramaphosa delivered to the nation.