Talk of president Cyril Ramaphosa strengthening his position following this past weekend’s ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting – and ‘fighting off’ attempts to have him removed – is largely bluff and bluster, serving as an ‘easy win’ to distract from the lack of actual reform in the party.
Ramaphosa appeared to flex his muscles in a briefing on Monday (31 August), outlining the outcomes of the ANC NEC meeting held over the weekend.
Bloomberg reported that Ramaphosa gained the upper hand in a power struggle in the nation’s deeply divided ruling party after surviving a bid to force him out of office, clearing the way for him to overhaul his cabinet.
The ouster attempt was reportedly made during a three-day meeting of the ANC top leadership that ended Sunday, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Intellidex analyst Peter Attard Montalto described headlines this week as “post-NEC Ramaphoria delusion”.
“The past weekend seems to have been the triumph of over-simplistic reporting, the taking of spin, and the need for many to have a moment of Ramaphoria again,” the analyst said. “There was never a serious – numbers or logistical – threat to the president’s position, and the fact this has become the story is a distraction.”
He said that the suggestion that Ramaphosa step down was made on Friday ahead of the meeting, according to sources, and was never formally made at the NEC itself.
The subject, along with repeated talk around fighting corruption, has only distracted from the real issue the country faces – being economic growth and avoiding the fiscal edge: things which require reform and a recovery plan, Attard Montalto said.
These two items have been largely skipped in the party’s post-NEC briefing.
Same old ANC
Attard Montalto said that the fight against corruption is a “necessary distraction”, but markets and people respond more to action (arrests, prosecution) than to vague internal policy direction.
He previously highlighted how rent extraction – tenderpreneurship and patronage linked to government contracts – is core to how the ANC operates, and that the only way to move away from this will be for the entire party to reform.
While the ANC has come out of its NEC meeting with promises of strengthening its clamp-down on corruption, it has not yet made any definitive policy or structural changes to alter this system, the analyst said.
The outcomes that were addressed, are not new, or were vaguely explained, he said.
One of the outcomes tackling corruption was that ANC members charged with corruption must “stand aside” – however this has been a long-standing resolution within the party, and members appear to keep full salaries and perks, Attard Montalto said.
Members accused of corruption will be “asked” to go to the Integrity Commission to explain themselves, and if the explanation is not acceptable they “may” be suspended – but it is not clear what the committee is meant to do to judge the acceptability of an explanation.
“There doesn’t seem to be any new requirement on the ANC to report suspected members to law enforcement authorities,” Attard Montalto said.
Members convicted of corruption must resign and face disciplinary action, but there is no explicit mention yet that they will have membership revoked.
ANC leaders and their families will have to abide by new guidelines on doing business with the state – yet parallel, existing rules on civil servants and government leaders are not a block on this occurring.
And finally, ANC leaders will have to make regular financial declarations – a positive step, Attard Montalto said, “but easily bypassed by family members”.
“There is an implementation credibility test – given how much the ANC and its leaders have railed against corruption in the past and allowed it to go on or be complicit. A number of actual examples of people being forced out of the party will be needed to cement any evidence of change,” he said.
Attard Montalto said the ANC’s latest bustle around corruption is likely a political play leading into the 2021 elections, with low-hanging fruit like the Covid-19 contracts and big names accused of corruption an easy win to make it seem like it is taking action.
However, the party mechanics – particularly at a provincial and local level – are so rooted in rent extraction, that it is unlikely the ANC can step away from this, he said.
“The ANC has no ability to stop this because it would erode the very foundations of its ability to fund itself and the ability for it to function at a local level in particular. We need be clear therefore that an exercise will go on to partly address historic corruption that was particularly blatant, and low level and high profile PPE related corruption.”
Because of this, the Intellidex analyst said that there is no real political will to change things within the ANC – and even if president Ramaphosa had gained a sudden ‘gust’ of support within the party – as reports suggest – split ideologies, lagging policy implementation and lack of consensus on fundamental issues means little could be done with it.
“We think the markets risk getting the wrong end of the stick on the NEC. What is happening is more subtle and more boring – though still important,” he said.