Rogue Magashule has handed Ramaphosa a loaded gun. It's time the president pulled the trigger
Two weeks ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa stood in front of a multitude at a Pretoria stadium, with millions more watching on television, to swear to "obey, observe, uphold, and maintain the constitution and all other laws of the Republic". He's doing a bad job of it.
If he still has any doubt, the constitution couldn't be clearer about the powers of his office. Section 84(1) says: "The president has the powers entrusted by the constitution and legislation, including those necessary to perform the functions of head of state and head of the national executive." Section 85(1) says simply: "The executive authority of the republic is vested in the president."
PODCAST: Sunday Times Politics Weekly - “The President owes us an explanation”
And yet Ramaphosa this week allowed Ace Magashule to say the ANC "lekgotla reaffirmed the ANC as a strategic centre of power". That's how coups d'etat happen. In other words, forget what the constitution says, undermine it even. The party, obviously with Magashule at the helm, is in charge. Ramaphosa is sleeping at the switch. In fact, the entire statement, including the refrain to broaden the mandate of the SA Reserve Bank, reads like a laundry list of instructions to government.
The attempt to undermine the constitution started some years ago. The ANC used to react angrily when opposition parties implied that handing it a two-thirds majority would allow it to fiddle with the constitution. No, the constitution was safe in its guardianship, it said.
Then Julius Malema, after his expulsion from the ANC, started trashing Nelson Mandela's name, calling him a sellout. Malema blames the 1994 settlement for imposing a constitution which enshrined property rights and therefore made it impossible for government to change SA's economic structure or fundamentals.
The failure of land reform was blamed on the constitution, which had allegedly tied government's hand. It was therefore necessary to amend the constitution to allow for land to be expropriated without compensation. The fact that the constitution provides for land reform, the protection of property rights and expropriation if it is in the public interest, was brushed aside. A political statement needed to be made. The constitution had to be defiled.
The party, obviously with Magashule at the helm, is in charge. Ramaphosa is sleeping at the switchBarney Mthombothi
Initially the ANC was against land expropriation without compensation, but in the lead-up to its conference in December 2017, Jacob Zuma and his supporters hopped on to the Malema bandwagon in a vain attempt to outsmart Ramaphosa. With the ANC now on board, the EFF duly introduced a bill in parliament to amend the constitution. And the ANC meekly obliged by lining up behind Malema.
The debate on the Reserve Bank follows the same narrative. The abject failure of politicians to deliver to the people is being blamed on the constitution or its institutions. If in doubt, tinker with the constitution. Malema has again indicated he would introduce a bill to nationalise the Bank and broaden its mandate. ANC MPs will have to decide whether to line up behind Malema and Magashule, or to stand with their president.
No doubt Magashule's utterances have caused enormous economic damage. But ultimately the blame lies at the door of the president. He appears timid and tentative. Each time he stays silent, Magashule's voice is amplified many times over. Each time he fails to act, Magashule's counteractions, even tiny steps, do even more damage. Magashule is not necessarily a product of Ramaphosa's doing, but his belligerence is fuelled by Ramaphosa's timidity. His stature has increased to such an extent that questions are being asked as to who speaks for the country: him or Ramaphosa? That is dangerous. The irony is that Ramaphosa was expected to be more assertive now that he's received his own fresh mandate. Instead Magashule has stolen a march on him.
There are those who argue that the ANC secretary-general has always been as powerful as its president. But such an argument is not borne out by history. One could not imagine Alfred Nzo going toe-to-toe with Oliver Tambo in public, or Ramaphosa publicly denouncing Mandela, or Kgalema Motlanthe excoriating Thabo Mbeki, however obliquely. There must have been countless disagreements, but these were dealt with civilly and behind closed doors. Even Gwede Mantashe who, in Zuma, had the most lawless office bearer of our age, was never this bellicose. Magashule has gone rogue, and is pushing Ramaphosa into a corner. Ramaphosa will have to act against him or lose all credibility.
In fact he dropped the ball at the very beginning. His supporters had called for a recount at the Nasrec conference when it emerged that Magashule may have stolen his victory. Ramaphosa cautioned against it. If a recount had been carried out, Magashule would have been history.
Since then Magashule hasn't missed an opportunity to demean Ramaphosa. He angrily argued with Fikile Mbalula, who suggested that the ANC would have failed to get a majority were it not for Ramaphosa's popularity. Magashule's warning that party members should not sing praises of leaders who are still alive was aimed at his bête noire. He never complained when people sang about Zuma. Ramaphosa's silence at this constant provocation has merely added fuel to the fire.
But this week, Magashule outdid himself. His tweet contradicting Ramaphosa's statement to calm turbulence in the markets - ironically caused by Magashule's utterances - is nothing short of economic sabotage. And to add insult to injury, he claimed his Twitter account had been hacked - a blatant lie.
Magashule has handed Ramaphosa a loaded revolver. He needs to pull the trigger. If he doesn't, it will be a betrayal not only of those who've just voted for him, but of the constitution itself. And he'll become a lame-duck president a mere two weeks into his term.