By Lisa Vives*
At the recent National Convention of the African National Conference, President Cyril Ramaphosa managed to squeak past the threat of impeachment from a growing chorus of ANC delegates furious over news that linked the president to undeclared cash found hidden inside a sofa at his Phala Phala game farm.
The incident gave ammunition to those who saw the party failing to raise up South Africans still mired in poverty and corruption that made millionaires out of the corporate heads of industries from mining to media.
Findings of a recently published three-year inquiry found deep-rooted corruption among public officials and enterprises or “state capture” that contributed to South Africa’s economic and political troubles.
While former president Jacob Zuma was featured prominently in the report, Mr Ramaphosa has been held responsible for mishandling allegations of misconduct.
At the 55th National Conference over the weekend, held under the theme: “Defend and Advance the Gains of Freedom: Unity through Renewal”, lawmakers voted 214 to 148 against impeaching the President.
In a three-hour-long address on December 16, Ramaphosa displayed serenity and authority, cautioning that South Africans “expect us to have the courage and the honesty to recognize our shortcomings and the resolve to correct them,” referring to “the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality”.
But “green shoots are beginning to sprout”, he added. “I am convinced that better days are ahead”.
There were jeers and chants by opponents in the hall. Suddenly Ramaphosa began to lose ground to his main opponent, former health minister Zweli Mkhize, who scooped up several large voter provinces including KwaZulu Natal, Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo and North West.
KwaZulu-Natal chair, Siboniso Duma, was heard to tell his delegates: “We need to vote for a comrade who can deliver us from the poor state of (electric company) Eskom. This deliberation will deliver a strong NEC (national executive committee) that is going to win in 2024.”
According to the ANC’s credentials document, KwaZulu-Natal, at 887, brings the largest number of delegates to the conference, while the Eastern Cape has 657 delegates. Limpopo, which is divided on Mkhize and Ramaphosa, at 593, has the third largest number of delegates.
“The disappointment in Ramaphosa is profound,” said William Gumede, head of the Democracy Works think-tank. “But South Africa’s expectations have dropped so low that Ramaphosa is still seen as better than other alternatives. I’m struck by how this is the view from the boardrooms of major corporations to people in rural villages.”
Ramaphosa must be re-elected as the ANC leader in order to stand for re-election to a second term as South Africa’s president in 2024. The vote for new party leader was to be counted on Sunday, December 18.