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2019 Elections: ‘Ramacynicism’ and leaps of faith

- Susan Booysen

Voting for the ANC come the 2019 election will be a calculated but inescapably blindfolded leap of faith for many South African voters.

It will be in the knowledge that Ramaphoria cannot escape Ramacynicism.

Ramacynicism centres on the party, the ANC. It means voters do not accept blindly that President Cyril Ramaphosa (the person and his associates) will pull off the tasks of reinventing the ANC post-election (as opposed to cleaning up the state, several steps initiated already). Despite progress in replacing key, corrupt state officials and Cabinet members, his weaknesses showed tangibly in an inability to forge an untainted ANC candidate list. The ANC’s divided Top Six and National Executive Committee are holding him to account when it comes to party matters, and it is the party that is contesting Elections 2019.

Cynicism is not an outright dismissal of the possibility that Ramaphosa and his camp could succeed in winning over or immobilising the Zumaists in the ANC. There are calculated odds that Ramaphosa might pull through the task of helping to realise a post-Zuma, more honest and with more integrity, albeit not an unambiguously cleansed, state and government that would help build another ANC. (Bear in mind, however, that the Zumaist ANC comes a long way – the ANC National General Council of 2000 lamented cadres’ corrupt tendencies; Terry Bell recently reminded us of the pre-1994 origins of the tendencies.)

Going with the calculated, relative optimism means going with odds that are marginally balanced in favour of the Ramaphosaists in the ANC, and assuming, sometimes against some odds, that there is a calculated strategy in the Ramaphosa ANC to subdue, manage and eventually eclipse the counterforces. Dynamics in the ANC will change after 8 May, but there are entrenched corrupt interests, and the lists and succession plans in the former Premier League provinces do not all testify to clear-cut breaks with the past.

This can only be done per assumption, because, if there is truly such a Ramaphosaist strategy, the informed and/or undecided voter (one that looks beyond delivery of social grants and occasional food parcels) will want assurances that it is an improved and reinvented ANC that is being voted for or one that will assume these characteristics definitively in the foreseeable future. However, it is not the type of information that a political party shares readily.

The bottom line, now that the ANC has passed the timeline of repairing its election candidate lists, is that the ANC is gambling its way through the election as far as the hitherto undecided voters are concerned. In its “disgraceful-list form”, it might be getting the vote of both main factions. It may shed some other votes – of those who protest against the ambiguity of who and what the ANC is nowadays. The undecided voters are modest enclaves of support compared with the core support of the two main factions. Supporters of the one faction will believe there is a better and cleaner ANC emerging. Those in the opposition faction will see the chance of keeping a foot in the door, of even subverting that those who are seen to pretend that they can clean up an ANC in which corruption was institutionalised but not invented in the time of Zuma.

The optimist cleaned-up, new ANC scenario contains elements of appeasing the Zumaists (and keeping them from splitting or spilling the beans on not-so-clean Ramaphosaists) and taking them into Parliament and provincial legislatures where their moves may be watched. And let there be hope that they do not get their hands onto the public purse.

Of course, Ace Magashule with all his majoranyana skeletons is not on any list (being a full-time ANC employee), along with deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte. They will be staying out of government and in Luthuli House. They will be in a position to manipulate and subvert a Ramaphosa national-electoral endorsement in a few foul months of reorganising ANC branches and regions. They can prime these structures that hold arguably more power than South Africa’s 26 million registered voters (as long as the ANC retains its outright electoral majority). They can ensure that Ramaphoria gets fossilised. Unless this factor is controlled, Ramacynicism prevails over Ramaphoria.

The question then is whether the Ramaphosa camp has a strategy to ensure that Magashule and his associates will be quarantined. Voters and citizens concerned with the welfare of the ANC are not told – either because they cannot be told (strategic reasons – a poker hand is not revealed prematurely) or because there is no such strategy. History again fuels cynicism: Recall the days when ANC cadres speculated that there was a strategy, in some backroom filled with wise ANC souls, that would kick in to prevent Zuma from rising into power? The joke was on those optimists.

On the side of optimism, there is evidence that Magashule’s wings are burning. Small indications so far, but signals, nevertheless. For example, Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s Gangster State book brought to light or confirmed unsavoury streaks. All eyes are on Magashule now and the very slow wheels of justice are trying to roll. The Zondo Commission has already heard some of the aspects of his involvement in capture and corruption. Now the judicial processes need to unfold. It will, however, be a long, nasty and queried process… The candidate lists reminded us of the ANC’s mantra of innocent until proven guilty.

These nuances of optimism, pessimism, blind faith and calculated risk in vacillating voters deciding whether to vote ANC in two weeks’ time or not, move beyond the rudimentary arguments on whether to rescue Ramaphosa from his own party, awarding him for steps in the state domain, come 8 May. The gradations remind us that history is somewhat against a definitively cleaned up ANC. But in the land of compromised party-political choices, a calculated bet on “Ramaphosa’s ANC” will be the choice of many. He is trusted overwhelmingly by ANC-registered voters, and largely by voters in general.

If this electoral mandate is betrayed, the voters’ 2024 revenge may be worse than anything the Zumaists can unleash.

Susan Booysen is Director of Research at Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (Mistra) and Visiting Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand. This article was first published on the Daily Maverick. Read the original article.