by TINTSWALO BALOYI
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – THE gloves are already off, weeks before the continent’s oldest liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC), elects its leader.
The incumbent, Cyril Ramaphosa, is in a precarious position.
Some of his comrades are piling on the pressure.
The last time the factionalism devouring South Africa’s ruling party was this explicit, more than 350 people lost their lives.
This was amid the lawlessness that rocked the increasingly restive country when party stalwart, Jacob Zuma, was sent to jail.
Zuma, Ramaphosa’s predecessor and the man whose jailing sparked the riots, is now free after serving his 15-month sentence for contempt of court.
His flamboyant return has stoked the fires scalding the ANC ahead of its elective conference.
Zuma’s resurgence is scorching Ramaphosa since serious criminal charges that threaten his position as head of party and country were laid against him.
The 110-year-old ANC is riven by factions siding with Ramaphosa and Zuma.
Ramaphosa’s government sent Zuma to jail in July last year after he refused to appear before a commission that he established to probe the so-called state capture, the massive plundering of state firms by the disgraced Gupta family, in collusion with senior government officials.
Critics in the disintegrating party accuse the judiciary of taking Ramaphosa’s side in the ANC factional tussles.
Zuma was said to be the kingpin of state capture, during his reign from 2009 to 2018.
After being out of the spotlight because of his imprisonment (he served the rest of his sentence at home on medical parole from September 2021), Zuma has returned and come out guns blazing, gunning for Ramaphosa.
South Africa is searing from the heat of the first press conference he addressed since the end of his sentence. It ended on October 7.
The former ANC and South African president’s address was a no-holds-barred affair, centred on the implication of Ramaphosa in what is now infamously known as “Farmgate.”
It emerged in June this year that a total of US$4 million (equivalent to R62 million) was stolen in the president’s Phala Phala game farm in the northern Limpopo province in 2020.
It is said the money had been stashed inside a couch when some workers stole it.
The matter was apparently swept under the carpet.
Instead, suspects linked to the theft were allegedly kidnapped and interrogated at the farm and were paid off not to disclose the incident. Critics accuse him of being a “mafia president.”
Investigations are ongoing but Ramaphosa worsened his woes by expelling Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, after it emerged her office was also probing him.
Zuma made the most of the current president’s woes to bounce back.
“Your president is corrupt,” he said in a tone that suggested he did not recognise Ramaphosa as his president.
Zuma accused Ramaphosa of a more serious crime – treason- in that he conducted private business while in office.
“Suffice to say that your president has committed treason. No president should conduct private business while in office.”
Added Zuma, “Our country’s problems are too big for a president who is busy hustling on the side.”
He might have lost some time because of imprisonment but surely he has not lost his sharp tongue.
Zuma was president of the ANC from 2007 until 2017 when his second term elapsed.
His tenure was synonymous with corruption but now, the boot is on the other foot.
It is Ramaphosa, not Zuma, who is caught up in a bigger corruption scandal.
While Zuma (80) will not contest for the leadership of the party, he still wields massive influence within the fractious ANC.
He resonates with the poor, owing to his humble upringing without formal education and his being jailed with Nelson Mandela at Robben Island
Ramaphosa wasnt jailed in thatinfamous prison.
The affable Zuma is said to be aligned to a faction favouring Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (73), his wife from 1982 to 1998.
Ramaphosa (69) garnered 2 440 votes, 179 more than Dlamini-Zuma in the last election in 2017.
There are accusations that money was used to buy votes.
Former trade union boss, Ramaphosa, is a wealthy man. His fortune is estimated at US$450 million in a country denounced as the most unequal country in the world.
Zuma is not the only former ANC or national president to question Ramaphosa’s leadership in recent days.
Kgalema Motlanthe, former president of South Africa (2008-2009) and ex-ANC deputy president, said, “All markers point to a precipice.”
Mbeki, president of the ANC from 1997 to 2007, and of the country (1999-2008), has been quoted as saying the ruling party is led by “criminals.”
“You have to have the courage to face the fact that you have a renewed ANC led by criminals,” he said during a dialogue with party members.
Mbeki mentioned the real prospect of Ramaphosa facing an impeachment for the Phala Phala farm saga.
He noted an independent panel tasked with advising the National Assembly if Ramaphosa had a case to answer had to make a decision later in November.
The ANC branch in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), the biggest in the country, hit back at the former presidents.
“We do acknowledge that the organisation is facing challenges,” it stated.
“Unfortunately the conduct of the three leaders, that we respect and admire, forces us to choose between them and the ANC.”
The branch added, “Unfortunately, as elected leaders, we are duty bound to defend the ANC and its leadership.”
While it defended Ramaphosa, the ANC in KZN is said to favour former premier of the province and ex-health minister, Zweli Mkhize (66), to succeed the current president.
However, Mkhize’s chances might be scampered by his implication in the corruption around COVID-19 funds, which cost him his job in 2021.
Presidential spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, accused Mbeki, Motlanthe and Zuma of “shouting at President Ramaphosa from the rooftops.”
“When people judge the president’s performance in office, they do so based on facts and not rumour-mongering and misinformed perceptions,” he told the media at his weekly briefing.
The Strategic Dialogue Group (SDG) on whose platform Mbeki made his sentiments, denied he had attacked Ramaphosa.
“Rather, he called for a discussion on the possible impact of certain matters that are in the public domain on the ANC,” it stated.
The organisation, formed in 2018 by some ANC members to encourage debate, said such a discussion was a “revolutionary duty” and not an attack on any leader.
“Those who insist otherwise want an ANC of ostriches who bury their heads deep in the sand” SDG stated.
Mbeki, Ramaphosa and Mbeki met this past weekend at the official coronation ceremony of Zulu King Misuzulu ka Zwelithini.
“There should be no problems among leaders of the ANC. We should talk all the time,” Ramaphosa told attendees in Durban.
“If there is a problem, we talk about it at home,” Ramaphosa said in his address.
His critics from ANC and the opposition accuse his government of “capturing” the legislative arm of government.
The ANC, in power since the end of apartheid in 1994, is in dire straits.
Besides the infighting, its performance in elections has been declining- from 62,65 percent in 1994 to the 45,59 percent in the 2021 municipal elections.
It has lost control of the major cities and has in recent weeks relied on the support of some smaller parties to vote out mayors of the official opposition, Democratic Alliance.
Workers at the party’s Luthuli House headquarters are often on strike over non-payment of salaries.
Earlier this year, it was reported the party was battling a debt of more than R200 million (US$3,64 million), including more than R100 million unpaid taxes to the South African Revenue Service (SARS).
– CAJ News