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The Ramaphosa vs Magashule sumo wrestling match has been ongoing for five months, with neither man willing to take the risks entailed in going for outright victory.
To compound our ennui, the slow mo, stomach-bumping antics of the ANC’s two top heavyweights has just gone into extra time.
There’s at least another month or more of the same ahead, which might extend to another year of appeals, counter-appeals and assorted delaying tactics.
At stake is pole position for the 2022 ANC leadership congress, where ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa will either be reaffirmed as party leader or face ignominious defeat.
In the meanwhile, South Africa drifts, essentially rudderless as the party factions grapple clumsily for advantage.
Last weekend, the normal two-day national executive committee (NEC) meeting went into two days of extra time. Not over how to best knot the fraying edges of a rapidly unravelling society, but whether its secretary-general should obey party regulations and step down until R234m of criminal charges are decided.
After four days of angry exchanges, the NEC delivered the obvious ruling on Magashule. Any ANC office bearer facing criminal charges must step aside within 30 days, failing which they will be suspended.
That’s the same decision taken by the NEC in August last year and by the ANC’s integrity commission in December, which Magashule then said he would comply with. The same decision, in essence, as the one that has been part of the ANC’s regulations and civilised norms worldwide for aeons.
What was new and a potential game changer, though, was the NEC’s decision on former president Jacob Zuma’s guerrilla force within the ANC, the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) grouping.
The NEC acted with unusual boldness: “No ANC member should associate themselves with or be involved in the so-called ‘RET Forces’. Furthermore, the NEC will not allow any member of the ANC staff to use the resources and premises of the ANC to hold meetings of the RET or any other faction.”
The decision on the RET is far more important than sidelining Magashule.
Magashule, after all, may simply be replaced by another RET mouthpiece, such as his deputy, Jessie Duarte. But to prohibit ANC members from associating with or assisting the RET faction is, if enforced, a potentially lethal blow to the ambitions of the Zuma axis to regain control of the ANC.
At a stroke, it delegitimises RET. It’s no longer about the rote contestation over policy that exists in any political organisation. It’s now about no longer giving oxygen to “RET forces”, with all the connotations of enemy malevolence that the phrase implies.
As a minor blessing, it will mean that the likes of Zuma’s pet white man, Carl Niehaus, at present sequestered in a Luthuli House office and producing screeds of jargon-laden RET propaganda and improbable battle plans to protect Zuma from arrest, will have to close shop.
Most importantly, it means that any attempts to salt ANC membership rolls and leadership conference delegate lists with RET subversives is going to become more difficult, risking suspension and expulsion.
The imponderable in all of this is the disposition of Ramaphosa. Until now, as I have argued with tedious monotony, he has been cautious to the point of pusillanimity.
But the NEC meeting has now left him in a uniquely powerful position if he dares to act forcefully. Whether it be through canniness or chance, he has in hand the instruments required to avoid the party split that has been his fear, instead excising the RET as though it were an inconsequential appendix.
As for the RET’s threat of its members resigning “en masse”, that smacks of desperation and would play right into the reformist’s hands. As Zuma delighted in warning the young firebrands who left the ANC to join Julius Malema in the EFF, “it’s cold outside the ANC”.
Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye
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LOCAL ELECTIONS 2021