Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) walked out when Cyril Ramaphosa was hastily sworn in by the Chief Justice on the 15 February. Spoiling that cheerful hour must have clearly backfired with the citizenry and the EFF MPs returned meekly to the president’s State of the Nation Address the following evening, not disrupting it even once. South Africans want their parliament restored to the dignity of the Mandela years.
Malema’s attempts to rattle Ramaphosa at the swearing-in smacked of desperation. The EFF has been a one-issue party. It is hard to see anything coherent in what the disgruntled faction of ANC splitters has stood for besides the removal of Jacob Zuma. Now Zuma is gone and Malema has apologised for getting Zuma into the presidency in the first place. The man, who more than any other represented the politics of the belly, is no longer there to feed the EFF’s antics.
There is no love lost between Ramaphosa and Malema. It was Ramaphosa, as chairman of the ANC national disciplinary committee of appeals, who read out the overturning of Malema’s appeal against his suspension to one of expulsion from the party. Later, without any evidence, Malema publicly accused Ramaphosa of beating his first wife, a calumny that Ramaphosa’s first wife immediately refuted.
Malema has also tried to paint Ramaphosa as the man responsible for the Lonmin mine massacre in which 34 miners were shot dead. The Farlam Commission found no evidence that Ramaphosa could have foreseen the mass shooting or the disastrous outcome of using his party position to exert political pressure on the police.
A hopelessly inept and utterly callous police leadership under then national commissioner Riah Phiyega and then minister Nathi Mthethwa, among others, are undoubtedly the people most responsible.
But Ramaphosa was a board member of the mine company. He has admitted that he seriously erred. Whether he has made an adequate approach to the widows of the men killed is also disputable. By characterising the miners’ behaviour in the days leading up to the massacre as “criminal” he gave a brutal police force all the license they needed. As the chair of the transformation committee at Lonmin, he should have been far better informed about the appalling working conditions of the rock drillers and how desperate they had become, prepared to lay down their lives.
Ramaphosa should at once have concentrated on the labour dispute which was the root cause of the “criminality”. This short-sightedness I suspect may have been as a result of his loyalty to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) which he founded. But NUM had lost the trust of the workers and was even helping clandestine labour operations for management. Rival union AMCU took the lead and most of the workers with it. The murders of NUM officials blindsided Ramaphosa to what was going on.
Furthermore, Julius Malema had also interceded at Lonmin and appeared to be having success. The ANC panicked.
Marikana showed how dangerous these political games are for the country. The nation has to hope that Ramaphosa has learned that misplaced loyalty and pressurising utterly incompetent people to do one’s bidding is a recipe for disaster. Another Marikana massacre is possible.
Malema will use the pitiful conditions of workers at Lomin and elsewhere to feed his populist rhetoric. He will try to outdo the ANC in the push for “radical transformation” and land redistribution, and he will probably smear any attempts by Treasury to try and correct the macroeconomic picture.
But without Zuma, Malema will find it much harder to win votes. Malema will probably resort to finding ways to try and sink Ramaphosa’s presidency. That could be dangerous for the country.
The official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) ought to be worried too. The inroads they have made in gaining black middleclass voters sick of Zuma and his entourage will probably close. Gauteng voters, including some white liberals, may well return to the ANC, at least with their national votes if they feel Ramaphosa is doing the right thing and that he needs support if he is to continue to do so.
How the DA responds to Ramaphosa is going to be tricky. Criticising him risks alienating the gains the DA have made with black voters, while cooperating with him will likely strengthen Ramaphosa not them. They will have to find ways of growing the party within the framework of a “loyal opposition”.
This is the second article in a series on what the Ramaphosa presidency might mean for South Africa