Cyril Ramaphosa's bogey-chasing is a dangerous game
... What was at stake was not expropriation without compensation.
Angry, disappointed and depressed as some people might be over President Cyril Ramaphosa's apparently hurried and possibly even panicky late-night statement this week that the ANC would formulate a change to the constitution's Bill of Rights to explicitly allow for the expropriation of land without compensation, all is not lost.
What was at stake was not expropriation without compensation. Most South Africans, and even most white ones, had come to accept it would happen. Three things made Ramaphosa's announcement worse.
First, the announcement, which suddenly popped up on the nation's TV screens, was made to look like an official statement. But it was a sleight of hand. It had, in fact, been prerecorded after a two-day meeting of the ANC's national executive committee (NEC), and sent to all TV outlets. It was combined with an array of economic stimulus measures, none of which sounded in the least convincing.
Second, Ramaphosa spoke as ANC president, despite the impression created that he was speaking as head of state. That the ANC would pursue a change to the constitution had already been approved by parliament. We were tranquillised by the notion, suggested by the ANC itself and encouraged by Ramaphosa, that the Bill of Rights alreadyallowed for expropriation without compensation.
Third, and worst, Ramaphosa looked as if he'd taken a hurried decision, or, more likely, been forced into it by the NEC. The expropriation hearings parliament has held around the country are not yet done. Why pre-empt them? There are lies about this. But no answers.Sadly, the result of Tuesday night is that investors will ratchet down their view of Ramaphosa's strength and integrity. That will have consequences.
But investors and local white voters, alarmed at the economic consequences, don't matter here. My favourite electoral analyst, Dawie Scholtz, notes that in the 12 by-elections held since Ramaphosa became president, the DA has increased its vote against the ANC. Ramaphosa doesn't have white support and he's not even looking for it.
What he wants to do is steamroll the EFF and he is doing that by adopting and adapting their policy positions, thin and implausible though almost all are, and taking territory back from them. Without Jacob Zuma and corruption to throw at the ANC, the EFF is struggling and Ramaphosa is trying not to give them space.
So when the EFF cosies up to traditional leaders to guarantee them control over communal land, Ramaphosa rushes to see the king of the Zulus to promise largely the same. Coming out early to promise a change to the constitution after all squeezes the EFF further.
It's a dangerous game, though. The constitution won't be changed before the election next year and the last thing Ramaphosa wants is to be forced to put any words to the change before then. That would trap him. But if he is as much a prisoner as he is leader of his unstable NEC, it might force him to.It is weird, because the EFF will struggle to get to 10% of the vote next year. Why the worry? We all know the answer to that. There's a cabal of thieves, thugs and racketeers inside the ANC trying to bring Ramaphosa down. He is clearing the state sector of corruption; the SA Revenue Service wrecker Tom Moyane is all but gone and Shaun Abrahams at the National Prosecuting Authority is, by all recent accounts, a dead man walking.
Even so, to prevail for at least one term, Ramaphosa needs an emphatic election victory next year. "Ramaphosa's politics are ruthlessly and consistently electoral," says Scholtz. "He's been on every side of the ideological spectrum on a range of different issues [but] there's one common denominator: he picks the optimal electoral position, every time."
That may be so and we will have to live with it, but while Ramaphosa chases electoral certainty he creates three problems in his wake.
First, his word becomes harder to accept at face value, which will bother investors. Second, by electing to "make explicit" the new wording for the constitution he will, by definition, narrow the current scope for expropriation without compensation. When the party figures out what the NEC has done, it is going to freak out. Third, foreign and local investors are going to put a little more space between themselves and the president for the time being. They have to. He is simply not steady enough on his feet.
His appeals for a glorious new and inclusive economic future, for expropriation to be seen as a "growth opportunity", are going to fall on deaf ears the longer he feels he has to chase the EFF bogey first...
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