President Cyril Ramaphosa is a modern Gulliver. In spite of significant forces, he has been rendered stationary by the consolidated activities of political midgets.
The Lilliputians in his gathering have the president bound, bound tight, rendered futile. A long way from being vanquished at the December leadership conference, the powers of darkness that combine around Jacob Zuma during his administration hold tight drearily. They may not be sufficiently able to cut him down, yet, yet they sure as hellfire can stop him going ahead.
On pressing issues such as joblessness, an ailing economy, and the impending collapse of state-owned entities, there have been few effective interventions. The only matters on which the radical economic transformation faction will allow Ramaphosa to progress are potentially ruinous distractions: land expropriation without compensation and the ambitious National Health Insurance scheme.
As former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas said at this week’s launch of his book After Dawn, Ramaphosa knows what must be done and the present “dilly-dallying” is not sustainable, but the extent of a well-funded fightback has been underestimated.
It was always obvious that having to mainline from the South African fiscus, the Zupta leeches were not easily going to allow themselves to be removed.
While there is no evidence of lawbreaking by either side, there should be no doubt that Ramaphosa has been in a battle with a determined and deep-pocketed foe for years, stretching back to 2017 ousting of Zuma.
We now know that corporate donors and well-heeled individuals poured a massive amount of money into Ramaphosa’s campaign to win the party leadership – the president’s men say R200m, the public protector claims R400m. But both sides were pouring money into that battle.
At the time, there were unsubstantiated reports of bricks of cash being dispatched to sway the support of delegates in favor of his rival, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, in that contest. And a close contest it remains.
It is a sign of the evenly matched nature of the factions that it is remotely conceivable that a public protector who averted her gaze from the siphoning off of an estimated trillion rands of public funds, might yet bring down Ramaphosa on a technical foul.
For Ramaphosa to break the bonds that at present constrain him, he first has to neutralize Busisiwe Mkhwebane, using the constitutional mechanisms in place that allow for removal of the public protector.
On the face of it, this should not be difficult, since Mkhwebane has proven to be spectacularly inept, having lost 8-0 in terms of her rulings challenged in court.
In the surreal world of SA politics, however, ineptness is not necessarily a hindrance. EFF leader Julius Malema last week slated the judges that had ruled against Mkhwebane, and the EFF, as “traumatised old people”.
These “incompetent” judges had to be removed, demanded Malema, otherwise “they must know we will be left with no options to take up arms”.
The hyperbole of the EFF aside – it’s not clear whether the EFF intends to shoot these recalcitrant judges before or after it launches its mooted genocide of whites – the common front that is being forged between the EFF and the Zuma faction in the ANC makes things tricky for Ramaphosa, as regards Mkhwebane.
He has previously folded on this issue, with successive opposition moves to launch the removal process being thwarted by the ANC at the parliamentary committee stage.
There are good reasons for Ramaphosa’s caution. The ANC has 57% of the seats in the National Assembly, of which an unknown but substantial number are anti-reformist.
Ramaphosa won the ANC leadership by a mere 189 votes out of the more than 4700 cast. It takes a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly to remove a public protector.
It takes a simple majority of an ANC congress to recall a president. So, Ramaphosa’s conundrum is not whether he needs to neutralise the partisan Mkhwebane. He knows that he has to. It is whether he can do so without forfeiting the presidency.