South African President Cyril Ramaphosa may have won the battle to lead the African National Congress, but the war to fully control the ruling party is threatening his drive for structural policy change
Ramaphosa’s shaky hold over the party became clear when he had to use his government authority this month to take control of North West province after the ANC failed to force Premier Supra Mahumapelo from office following protests in the region. While Mahumapelo took a leave of absence, faction fighting is also rampant in areas such as KwaZulu-Natal, where Jacob Zuma enjoys widespread support following his February resignation as president, Bloomberg reported.
“Ramaphosa as the president of the ANC faces a huge battle in terms of uniting the party. Right now it is deeply divided, particularly in provinces such as the North West and KwaZulu-Natal, where you have provincial chairpersons of the party who are more loyal to Jacob Zuma than they are to the ANC,” according to Zakhele Ndlovu, a political science lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Having only just won the ANC presidency and with opponents of his candidacy in the party’s top-six leadership, Ramaphosa, 65, deftly ended Zuma’s scandal-ridden administration by maneuvering him out of office.
Globally, investors cheered his pledge to clean up state-owned companies and fight corruption, with the rand gaining 15 percent against the dollar since mid-November.
Ramaphosa has his work cut out for him because although he wasted no time in giving state enterprises a much-needed overhaul, other economic fronts face continuing challeneges. Unemployment has remained near a 15-year high of 26.7 per cent in the first quarter, and confidence indexes have now returned to levels they were at late last year as businesses await the delivery of promised economic reforms.
The South African Government filed for a sale of Eurobonds with the US Securities and Exchange Commission but has admitted there’s no guarantee its reform initiatives will win enough political support to become a reality.
Zuma refuses to fade away, appearing at rallies and this week at the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature, and his staunch supporters portray him as a victim of prejudice against the Zulu people and Ramaphosa as a pawn of the “white monopoly capital.”
But Ramaphosa has a proven track record at playing the long game, having founded South Africa’s biggest mineworkers’ union, led the ANC delegation at talks that ended Apartheid and produced the nation’s first democratic constitution, and amassed a fortune during a 14-year stint in business, Bloomberg said.
With members of the ANC, such as party Secretary-General Ace Magashule, who strongly opposed Ramaphosa’s bid to become the ANC president, his strength in the party appears to grow incrementally despite seemingly few allies.
Ndlovu alleged that some pro-Zuma provincial leaders, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, are considering discouraging people from voting for the ANC in national elections next year as a way to sabotage Ramaphosa.
In its prospectus the Government conceded that political and policy uncertainty may increase ahead of that vote, adding that if the national government in unwilling or unable to implement necessary reforms and address corruption due to political factors, this is likely to have an adverse impact on the republic’s economy and its ability to raise capital in the external debt markets in the future.
How the ANC fares in next year’s election will determine Ramaphosa’s future, according to Ivor Sarakinsky, academic director at the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Governance in Johannesburg. Under Zuma, the party lost control of several cities, including the economic hub Johannesburg, in a 2016 municipal vote when it won just over 54 percent, its worst showing since the nation’s first multiracial contest in 1994, Bloomberg added.