President Cyril Ramaphosa is a modern Gulliver. Despite substantial powers, he has been rendered immobile by political midgets.
The Lilliputians in his own party have the president pinned down, bound tight, rendered useless. Far from being vanquished at the December 2017 leadership conference, the forces that coalesced around Jacob Zuma during his presidency hang on grimly.
They may not be strong enough to bring him down, yet, but they sure as hell can stop him going forward.
On pressing issues there have been few effective interventions. The only matters on which the radical economic transformation faction will allow Ramaphosa to progress are potentially ruinous distractions: land expropriation and the ambitious National Health Insurance.
As former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas said at the launch of his book After Dawn, CR knows what must done and the “dilly-dallying” is not sustainable, but the extent of a well-funded fightback has been underestimated.
Actually, no surprise there. It was always obvious that having mainlined from the fiscus, the Zupta leeches were not easily going to allow themselves to be removed.
While there is currently no evidence of lawbreaking by either side, there should be no doubt CR has been in a battle with a determined and deep-pocketed foe for years. We now know that corporate donors and well-heeled individuals poured a massive amount of money into CR’s 2017 campaign to win the party leadership – the president’s men say R200 million, the public protector claims R400 million.
But both sides were pouring money into that battle. At the time, there were unsubstantiated reports of bricks of cash being despatched to sway the support of delegates in favour of his rival, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
It is a sign of the evenly matched nature of the factions that it is remotely conceivable that a public protector who steadfastly averted her gaze from the siphoning off of an estimated trillion rands of public funds, might yet bring down Ramaphosa on a technical foul.
For Ramaphosa to break the bonds that constrain him, he first has to neutralise Busisiwe Mkhwebane, using the constitutional mechanisms that allow for removal of the public protector. On the face of it, this should not be difficult, since Mkhwebane has proven to be spectacularly inept.
In the surreal world of SA politics, however, ineptness is not necessarily a hindrance. Julius Malema has slated the judges who had ruled against Mkhwebane, and against the EFF, as “traumatised old people”.
These “incompetent” judges had to be removed, otherwise “we will be left with no options to take up arms”.
Hyperbole aside – it’s not clear whether the EFF intends to shoot these recalcitrant judges before or after it launches its mooted genocide of whites – the common front that is being forged between the EFF and the Zuma ANC faction makes things tricky, as regards to Mkhwebane. He has previously folded on this, with successive opposition moves to launch the process thwarted by the ANC.
There are reasons for caution. The ANC has 57% of the seats in the National Assembly, of which an unknown but substantial number are anti-reformist. Ramaphosa won the ANC leadership by a 189 votes out of the more than 4,700 cast.
It takes a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly to remove a public protector. It takes a simple majority of an ANC congress to recall a president.
So, Ramaphosa’s conundrum is not whether he needs to neutralise the partisan Mkhwebane. It is whether he can do so without forfeiting the presidency.