As President Ramaphosa presents the January 8 statement and introduces the party’s election Manifesto, ANC members should seriously consider the question posed by former President Thabo Mbeki about the behaviour of ANC MPs. Mbeki questioned whether the party is implying that they suspect or have knowledge of impeachable actions by Ramaphosa and have decided to safeguard the president at any expense by preventing the formation of a Multi-Party Committee.

By Professor Sipho P. Seepe

On January 13, a multitude of loyal supporters of the African National Congress (ANC) will convene at the Mbombela Stadium to commemorate the party’s 112th anniversary.

In addition to the customary fanfare associated with such gatherings, there will be heightened attention on the party’s President Cyril Ramaphosa as he presents the party’s January 8 statement. This annual occasion and the January 8 statement establish the framework for the party’s political objectives.

The reading of the January 8 statement was conceived during the party’s exile days. The Statement was a connecting rod for the party’s members who were scattered in almost every corner of the globe. In doing so, the Statement created a sense of community. The Statement also provided an appraisal of the struggle against apartheid colonialism. Members were provided with a review of the state of the balance of forces within and outside the country.

This included the identification and performance of what the party describes as the motive forces of the struggle against apartheid. The Statement highlighted successes and setbacks that the movement had experienced in the previous year. The Statement concluded by providing cadres with a line of march. This enabled ANC members to speak with one voice.

The template of the January 8 statement remains largely the same and serves also to update members on the commitments that are directed to the ANC-led government. With the leadership suffering from a serious credibility gap, the January 8 Statement is reduced to a meaningless revolutionary-sounding exercise. 

Important considerations add weight to this year’s January 8 statement. First, 2024 is an election year. Beyond covering the usual assessment of its performance, the ANC statement is expected to set the tone for the party’s election campaign. Since taking over, ‘the ANC of Ramaphosa’ has been in a seemingly irreversible state of decay. Internal debate, which should form the lifeblood of renewal, has declined. Regarding this, Dr Mavuso Msimang contends that “those who seek change by raising voices endure slurs or are met with downright hostility.”

Second, 2024 concludes President Ramaphosa’s first term in his capacity as the Head of State. To that extent, an appraisal of his performance is unavoidable. Arguably, the 2024 national general election is expected to be a referendum on Ramaphosa’s presidency. With a stagnant economy, unprecedented levels of unemployment, and the destruction of the middle class, the ANC under Ramaphosa has no good story to tell.

In a provocatively titled opinion, Country’s worst president since 1994? (Business Day 7 Feb 2023), Duma Gqubule, research associate at the Social Policy Initiative, writes.

“Whichever way one slices the data, Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidency has been a disaster for the economy… there were eight out of 10 quarters of declining gross fixed capital formation (GFCF), a measure of investment, before the lockdown at the end of March 2020. In February 2019 the government announced a R100bn infrastructure fund. Four years later it does not contain a cent. Despite four investment summits where pledges of R1.1 trillion were made, GFCF plunged to 13.1% of GDP in 2021 — the lowest since 1946 when the Reserve Bank started collecting statistics — from 16.4% in 2017.”

Third, the January 8 Statement comes at a time when the party’s fortunes are precipitously on the decline. The 2021 local government elections were a wake-up call. The party has never been more vulnerable. South African voters sent a clear message to the ruling party that it does not own them.

Fourth, the election comes at a time when Ramaphosa has all but proven to be a Trojan horse of white monopoly capital. Under Ramaphosa, the most competent black professionals, who resolved Eskom challenges and brought an end to load-shedding were targeted and removed. Eskom continues to wreak havoc on the economy.

As Matshela Koko, former Acting Group CEO pointed out “Ten million litres of diesel was burned in 2017 in the entire 12 months compared to 50 million litres of diesel a month under De Ruyter.” Let that sink in.

Ramaphosa’s administration has purportedly reversed all the gains that were made by his predecessors. The appointment of three white males as acting judges to the constitutional court is a case in point. Without impugning the integrity of the said individuals, the Pan African Bar Association of South Africa (PABASA) was dismayed.

“We do register, however, that the appointment of three white males, all at once, sends a chilling and unfortunate message about gender and race issues in our judiciary and our country. The appointment suggests that our three leaders (in all arms of the State), the President, the Minister, and the Chief Justice, all males, and having considered all available personnel, could not find even one able female and black senior practitioner to form part of the three significant Acting Appointments to the Constitutional Court.”

Unless they are unashamedly praise singers, black professionals know full well that there is no place for them in the Ramaphosa administration.

Unlike his detractors, Ramaphosa has been consistent regarding where his allegiance lies, and whose interests he serves. Concluding a supposedly successful investment summit in Sandton in October 2018, the president argued forcefully that it was about time that businesspeople should be treated like heroes. He went further, “white monopoly capital, and all that … that must end today.”

Ramaphosa’s financial backers are equally peeved. A South African billionaire, Rob Hersov, whose family contributed handsomely to his campaign, remarked, “Ramaphosa is a disgrace. He is a disappointment. He is an absolute embarrassment to this country, and he should immediately resign… that man (Ramaphosa) is a useless, spineless failure…So if I’m to blame, I apologise to all of South Africa, all of Africa, and the world for such a disgrace being the president of our country”.

Fifth, the January 8 statement comes at a time when the party’s President has his back against the proverbial wall with the Phala Phala scandal hanging over his head. As the party embarks on its election campaign, the Phala Phala scandal will be playing itself out in the courts. In the court of public opinion, President Ramaphosa is guilty. As South Africans go to the polls, his parliamentary acolytes will not be there to protect him or the ANC.

As President Ramaphosa delivers the January 8 statement and unveils the party’s election Manifesto, members of the ANC should exercise their minds on the question raised by former President Thabo Mbeki regarding the conduct of the ANC MPs. “Are we saying that we suspect or know that he (Ramaphosa) has done something impeachable and therefore decided that we must protect our president at all costs by ensuring that no Multi-Party Committee is formed?”.

In expressing his dismay at the conduct of the ANC, former President Mbeki did not beat about the bush. Writing to the party’s Deputy President Paul Mashatile, he had this to say.

“As you know, the 3-person Panel appointed by Parliament concerning the Phala Phala matter decided that the Comrade President ‘had a case to answer’ about a process of impeachment. What should have followed this is that the National Assembly would have appointed a Multi-Party Committee (MPC) precisely to investigate the matter of whether the Comrade President did indeed have a case to answer. The way we voted on 13 December 2022 to block the process of the formation of a Multi-Party Committee communicated the unequivocal statement to the masses…. we acted as we did because there is something to hide!”

With the ANC having dismally failed to address the above pressing concerns, the January 8 Statement is likely to be more about smoke and mirrors. It comes as no surprise that the two former presidents have indicated that they are not in the position to campaign for the party they once led.

Professor Sipho P. Seepe is a Higher Education & Strategy Consultant

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