The way President Cyril Ramaphosa put together his Cabinet reflects the changed power dynamics in the ANC, away from ideological and ANC organisational constituents, to one which is now divided between provinces, cities and interests groups.

Ramaphosa’s Cabinet balanced all the different regions and interest groups within the ANC. The governing party has dramatically changed since it first came to power in 1994, from a party that was divided mostly along ideological and constituent organisational lines.

Being in government has fostered new power groups based on provinces, cities and interest groups, rather than old ideological and constituent organisational factions. In the past, constituent groups, such as the South African Communist Party (SACP) or the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), represented individual lobbies or power blocs within the broader ANC church.

The ANC is now broadly divided into two almost formal, separate and contesting parties: the ANC of Ramaphosa and the ANC of former president Jacob Zuma. During the elections, these groups were barely held together by Ramaphosa. But within these two are almost separate ANC provincial and city power blocs, which almost independently, align tactically with either the Ramaphosa or Zuma ANC, depending on their interests.

Deputy President David Mabuza has been positioning himself as a third interest group inbetween the Ramaphosa-ANC and the Zuma-ANC; which could sway a decision one way or the other in case of a stalemate between the factions. At the ANC’s Nasrec national conference, which elected Ramaphosa president of the ANC, Mabuza brought a bloc of votes which tilted the balance towards Ramaphosa against his rival, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the former wife of Jacob Zuma, and at the time the presidential candidate of the Zuma group.

As he begins his reforms of the state, tackles corruption and cleans up the finances of the country, Ramaphosa will run into opposition from different groups, perhaps even at times of members of his own faction, if their interests are threatened.

The irony is, the corruption, mismanagement and incompetence of the “wasted” Zuma years have brought South Africa to the brink, and the remedies Ramaphosa will have to administer to prevent the country from falling off the cliff may entail honest, hardworking and decent ordinary citizens losing their livelihoods.

Many of the ANC supporters who voted for Ramaphosa may lose jobs and contracts as he tackles public sector corruption, improves efficiency and cuts costs – and the victims are likely to blame Ramaphosa, rather than Zuma.

Just as a case in point, large numbers of members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) work at Eskom. Restructuring Eskom will mean that many may lose their jobs, while NUM is already decimated by unemployment in the mining sector.

How Ramaphosa navigates the different interest groups when the public interests trump that of the ANC or the party’s factional interests, will determine the success of his presidency.

As he pushes to tackle corruption, which involves many members of the Zuma group, they will likely resist him. In order to block Ramaphosa’s efforts to tackle corruption they will try to make out the anti-corruption campaign to be a political witch-hunt by the president against his enemies. Zuma-ites under prosecution will argue, as they are now, that efforts to bring them to heel for corruption are undermining the “unity” of the ANC, aimed at “destroying” the party and is “selectively” only pursuing blacks for corruption.

Public service itself an interest group

In addition, the public service, state-owned entities (SOEs) and agencies have themselves become an interest group. Senior public servants and executives in the public service and SOEs are likely going to oppose right-sizing, because it will mean them losing their jobs.

Most employees in the public service and SOEs are members of Cosatu. Restructuring of the them would necessitate some kind of retrenchments, which will be opposed by Cosatu. The trade union federation backed Ramaphosa for the ANC presidency at the party’s Nasrec national elective conference.

Those fearing prosecution for corruption are likely to partner with those who fear losing their jobs in the public service and SOEs in a clean-up of these entities. Trade union members will portray Ramaphosa, a billionaire black economic empowerment tycoon, as an ideologue of “neoliberalism” for wanting to right-size parts of the public service and SOEs.

For another, they will allege that Ramaphosa wants to sell off parts of the state and SOEs for profit to his “white” business allies, rather than seeing it as a necessary process to reduce public debt, inefficiencies and costs, to save the economy itself from collapse, following years of mismanagement, corruption and incompetence.

Senior management of the public service and SOEs will likely argue that a push against corruption or incompetence is a purge of black talent; an attempt to bring in “white monopoly capital” (white business) to run the state and secure government contracts, supposedly ahead of black business.

Ramaphosa to be seen as anti-black empowerment

The public service and SOEs are seen by many ordinary black South Africans as important instruments of black economic empowerment. Many make comparisons to how the National Party empowered whites using the public service and SOEs to give them jobs, business contracts and skills. If Ramaphosa tries to reduce the public service and restructure SOEs, it will be seen as anti-black empowerment by many.

Although state BEE and SMMEs supplier contracts often go to politically connected business, black business, whether big BEE tycoons or SMMEs, may oppose the reform as they may lose their contracts with the state.

Multiple opposition against state reforms from within the ANC and government will mean that Ramaphosa’s reforms will go very slow at the beginning. Also, reform itself causes turmoil, paralysis and confusion, as departments are restructured, amalgamated and personnel are either redeployed or retrenched.

In these stances, reform will make it virtually impossible to implement new strategies, policies or initiatives. Reforms may also bring current implementation of basic services to a standstill. The best hope for Ramaphosa would be to keep the length of the reform process relatively short – under 18 months – and so reduce disruptions of public service delivery.

The most effective strategy would be for Ramaphosa to take the corrupt elements in the ANC and government on in the first six to nine months of his presidency, while he still has the halo of electoral victory. The longer he postpones the inevitable battle with the Zuma-ite populists, the more his powers will wane because of constant attacks by them on him.

Importantly, he has to have a public communication strategy to deal with unrealistically high expectations of immediate delivery. Otherwise, when delivery is slow, it may bring new opposition to his reform programme from those who should naturally support them.

More importantly, Ramaphosa will have to build a new coalition of partners, outside the ANC, including business, civil society and willing opposition parties, to help with service delivery, provide human capital and ideas.

*This article was published on News24. To view the article on their website click here

William Gumede is Associate Professor, School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand. He is Executive Chairperson of Democracy Works Foundation and former Deputy Editor of The Sowetan newspaper.

During the anti-apartheid struggle, Gumede held several leadership positions in South African student, civics and trade union movements. He was a political violence mediator and area coordinator for the National Peace Committee during the multiparty negotiations for a democratic South Africa and was seconded to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He is the author of several number 1 bestsellers. His more recent books include: Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times (Tafelberg); and South Africa in BRICS – Salvation or Ruination (Tafelberg).

To read publications by William Gumede on our website please click here.

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