OPINION | Cyril was weekend winner against old foe

It is quite difficult to say exactly who won the political weekend – the one in the ANC, I mean, where the party held provincial elections in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. But it is easy to say who lost. Big time. Wham-bam. The End of Days.
The loser of the weekend was Jacob Zuma.
KZN is supposed to be his backyard but truth is, it has never been a comfortable one.
Sihle Zikalala, who was re-elected unopposed as KZN chairman, was the guy Zuma spent years trying to get into the job, going through at least three failed conferences, if my memory serves me correctly, before getting him into the job over Senzo Mchunu, who now works for President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Zikalala’s job, from then, was to get the entire province behind Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the ANC leadership last December. Zuma on more than one occasion scolded him for failing to get this you-would-have-thought simple task together. “Go out and do the job you’re supposed to do,” one newspaper quoted Zuma telling Zikalala after an acrimonious meeting in 2016.
He never did. Nkosazana failed to carry the entire province last December.
Ramaphosa’s camp cunningly didn’t oppose Zikalala at the weekend, earning, one can assume, his undying loyalty. At least for a while.Zuma’s big bet for the weekend’s elections, Super Zuma for the post of secretary, failed and that’s really a big deal. The provincial secretary runs the party. The secretary knows what’s going on. It went to a Ramaphosa man.
Or perhaps there’s a better way of putting it. Ramaphosa doesn’t have loyalists in KZN, but he has, for the moment, strong allies. The people who won him the conference and who put their people in place (Mike Mabuyakhulu as deputy chair and Mdumiseni Ntuli as secretary) were Mchunu and cooperative governance & traditional affairs minister Zweli Mkhize. Both are former KZN premiers.
What is also interesting, though I don’t have an analysis of it yet, is that by far the majority of the new KZN executive are former members of the ANC provincial youth league, with all the radicalism that implies.
I suspect, but I can’t be sure, that the radicalism will be less of a problem in the short term for Ramaphosa than for the EFF, which needs to make tangible electoral inroads into KZN in order to make any headway in next year’s national elections.
Similarly, the ANC’s elective conference in Gauteng went off without a hitch, returning a popular, thoughtful chair in the current premier, David Makhura. At some stage he will become a real candidate to run the country if the ANC holds on to its majority next year, which I think it will.
A staunch Ramaphosa supporter, Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, fought off a strong challenge from Lebogang Maile to become deputy chair. The mayor of Ekurhuleni, Mzwandile Masina, a fierce Zuma loyalist, lost the race for provincial treasurer to the far more level-headed Parks Tau, a former mayor of Johannesburg.All in all a good weekend for the president. I saw a report from the KZN conference to the effect that it was going to ask the ANC national executive to formally support Zuma in his upcoming corruption trial. That may have been for show, for Zuma to at least feel a little love. But it would be madness, surely, to support someone on trial for corruption while at the same time running an election campaign during which the fight against corruption is a central pillar of your promise to the electorate.
On Monday Zikalala seemed to bury the prospect when interviewed on SAfm. There will be some sort of fudge, obviously. Zuma goes back to court this week, on Friday, while Ramaphosa will bask in the glow of hosting a summit of Brics leaders, all of whom will be here. Will Vladimir Putin, one wonders, have a little private time with Zuma before he leaves?
It is way too early to know whether the weekend conferences mean second terms for Ramaphosa, both as ANC head and president of the country.There is a real sense, watching the results, of a generational change happening in the ANC, which has to be a good thing. And there are still two provincial election issues, sort of, which could go Ramaphosa’s way.
There’s been a court challenge to the election of a largely pro-Ramaphosa provincial executive in Limpopo and a pro-Ramaphosa group in Free State is attempting to overturn the results of an election that returned an executive loyal to Ace Magashule and, by implication, Zuma.
But apart from drawing out state capture, there seems increasingly little point being “pro-Zuma” anymore. He is not coming back and may or may not eventually be found guilty of fraud and corruption.
Ramaphosa opponents and, indeed, people who won this weekend who might be called Zuma’s supporters are, in fact, on their own. Over the next five years they will manoeuvre and take sides as politicians do the world over trying to get ahead. While they’re doing that the business of running the country doesn’t go away.
We have a land debate to get through. There is no doubt that the longer it takes to settle sensibly the more damage it is doing.
Even Trevor Manuel, one of Ramaphosa’s chosen investment ambassadors and a popular figure in the wider investment community, is finding the going heavy.
Ramaphosa, though, has to keep the party faithful happy with the right fiery rhetoric and we have to live with it.
I don’t for a moment believe that any white South African is going to be kicked out of their home in this process.
What is alarming, though, are mutterings I have heard from friends and allies that the president’s private office is a bit of a mess, that his close advisers are young and inexperienced and that the president himself is increasingly difficult to communicate with.
Arguably his most effective weapon in setting the country to rights in some form is former finance minister and current public enterprises minister, Pravin Gordhan.
Gordhan is an ethical and fiscal terrier and is no political threat to anyone in the ANC.
But he is coming under fierce attack by the EFF for “interfering” in the way SOEs are being run. In other words, for doing his job.
Ramaphosa needs to make it clear he stands four-square behind Gordhan or he risks losing him. And perhaps the president might care to pick up his phone more...

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