OPINION: The chessboard is set for the end of the month. Only a few pieces are left on the board, but they are the most important ones, writes Professor Dirk Kotze.
A FEW weeks from now it will be April 27 – Freedom Day, the day of the new South Africa. But this year, it could be a day of political reckoning.
The ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) concluded this week that 30 days will be used to fine-tune the implementation of the “stepping aside” decision taken at its 2017 National Conference.
The resolution is focused on ANC members who face legal charges of corruption and other criminal misdemeanours. They are expected to temporarily leave their positions in the ANC or government until a court judgment is available. Therefore, it covers the grey area of persons suspected of criminal offences but without any confirmation by a court judgment.
In view of the widespread incidences of corruption and state capture, in 2017 the ANC had to take a stand to distance itself from its members associated with these acts in order to protect its public reputation.
This decision is not part of the ANC’s disciplinary procedure encapsulated in its Constitution’s rule 25. It served in 2017 as an indication that the party’s Integrity Commission does not yet have the powers to enforce a regime of integrity norms that can mitigate situations like these.
It is, in fact, an indictment of those who don’t have the integrity to resign on their own accord when they have brought the ANC or government into disrepute.
The protracted process to reach an agreement on the implementation of the 2017 resolution indicates how raw the nerve touched by this decision is.
The sustained opposition against it also tells us how many persons might be directly affected by it, and how politically influential they are.
Most significant is the presence of ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, as an affected person in these dynamics. Some might call this a classic Gordian knot that cannot be untangled. Coalescence between corruption charges and political opposition to President Cyril Ramaphosa has created an entangled binary in the ANC.
Jacob Zuma, Magashule and their supporters are associated at the same time with corruption and opposition to Ramaphosa. We have, therefore, a situation where corruption, “radical economic transformation (RET)” and Zuma/Magashule coalesce.
On the other side, anti-corruption, “white monopoly capital” and Ramaphosa also coalesce. Any action against corruption, therefore, automatically activates all the binary dynamics and transforms into a factional issue.
The position of secretary-general is one of the three most influential positions in the ANC. It provides institutional power to the incumbent, which is difficult to challenge, irrespective of who the incumbent is.
Magashule is one of a few remaining Ramaphosa opponents still in a high-profile position in the ANC or the government. By stepping aside, this group will lose most of their remaining bargaining power or influence in the ANC.
If the rumour has substance that they wish to use the National General Council conference later this year as an opportunity to challenge Ramaphosa, then they cannot afford to lose this institutional influence and direct access to the ANC’s provinces and regions.
A Magashule on the sideline and Zuma stuck in the quicksand of his legal battles, while the NEC meeting has decided to demobilise their footsoldiers (the MKMVA and the RET forum), sets a desperate scene for the ANC.
The latest NEC meeting revealed that Magashule urgently needs an alternative strategy. The NEC’s decision to implement its latest guidelines after 30 days can be understood in different ways.
For the purpose of their strategy, the Magashule supporters try to present it as a concession by the Ramaphosa side, giving them an opportunity to regroup and to decide on a new strategy. It is also presented as evidence of Ramaphosa’s inability to suppress them.
Ramaphosa’s side presents the 30 days as the time needed to consult with the ANC provincial and regional structures in order to finalise its implementation and also to identify who the affected ANC members are.
It is hard to imagine a compliant Magashule vacating his office at the end of this month.
The example set by Zuma of defying the Zondo Commission and the Constitutional Court is certainly not an unlikely scenario for Magashule. His suspension after the 30 days will probably require an internal disciplinary hearing, which could resemble the Julius Malema/Floyd Shivambu expulsions.
When that happens, history has shown us, as with the UDM and EFF, that a split is possible.
However, in an election year and having to protect its 54% support of 2016, the ANC can ill-afford a loss of members.
The chessboard is therefore set for the end of the month. Only a few pieces are left on the board, but they are the most important ones.
The NEC meeting has shown that Ramaphosa has more of them left on the table than Magashule.
Chess is about how to limit your own risks and force your opponent into surrender. Negotiations, on the other hand, can either pursue the same strategy or it can strive to reach an agreement.
We know Zuma is a chess player. Magashule is probably also one.
Will Ramaphosa be a negotiator or a chess player in the next 30 days?
* Professor Kotze is with the Department of Politics, Unisa.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the DFA and Independent Media.