Let’s assume that Ramaphosa’s emails were uncovered by an ANC faction to smear his name before the December elective conference. Should we be passive spectators? I’d say please let’s not.
But here’s the deal: it doesn’t matter whether popular opinion exonerates Cyril. By December, he’d have had a “scandal” to his name. “The public” would have been “upset” by it. That will ostensibly be reason enough for the conference delegates to prefer Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma over him.
This smear campaign’s purpose isn’t necessarily that the public turns on Ramaphosa. If people support him through this, the Dlamini-Zuma faction can still say (as the ANC) that his public life has created unfair bias and sympathy towards him, pitting ANC against ANC. And since theirs is a listening party that learns from past mistakes and is acting to purge out factionalism, they’re taking people’s complaints about scandal-ridden ANC leaders into consideration going forward. They’ll then argue that scandal that incurs public sympathy foreshadows scandal that incurs public outrage, tacitly admitting they gave Jacob Zuma a chance when people rallied around him during his scandals only to find he was good for nothing but scandal. The point is they can reduce any conversation about those emails to “scandal”, Ramaphosa to a “moral liability” and our reactions to “upset” regardless of our conversations’ tones, contents, natures, directions or general conclusions about the Ramaphosa emails.
I suggest we instead channel our conversations about those emails against the whole ANC’s chances of winning 2019 general elections. This way, even if the Dlamini-Zuma faction wins in the December elective conference, its choice to use Ramaphosa as a sacrificial lamb would have cost it more than it was willing to sacrifice.
Turning the tables like this would serve even people who want Ramaphosa to become the national president in 2019 by warning the Zuma faction to put aside dirty tactics now, ahead of the December conference. This would force the ANC to contest elections with a candidate who won the 2017 elective conference fairly, cleanly, or not bother contesting the 2019 elections at all. This matters because what a political faction is prepared to do to win within their party today tells us what they’ll do to the country tomorrow, and there’s a good chance we’ll get an ANC president replete with the karma of however (s)he got there. And when karma collects in the form of favours owed, it’s the country that pays.
Ensuring the ANC doesn’t get a leader who’s prepared to play dirty may sound too much like helping it clean its act up for your liking. In that event, look at it this way: if the ANC is beyond salvation, then leveraging its factions’ dirty tactics to work against the whole party is the fastest way to deepen the ANC’s losses because if it’s beyond salvation, it won’t stop playing dirty. What does this leveraging look like? Like taking every accusation against any of its members and make it about the whole party — like the motion of no confidence taught us to do.
If we apply that principle to Ramaphosa, it means exchanging the discussion on whether he used his status and wealth to prey on economically vulnerable young women, for a discussion that encompasses the role played by the ANC-led government in letting inequality, and the connected economic displacement of women, grow to the extent that a culture of preying on them could be fostered among male members of its party. That would incorporate and centre the example set by its current leader, Jacob, and the rest of the party’s choice to protect him from the motion of no confidence.
Indeed, if that motion taught us anything, it was to always impute any of the ANC member’s failings to the whole group. The question, “Did Ramaphosa do what he has been accused of?” makes us pawns in their game of scapegoating their own; on the other hand, the narrative, “They’ve all been doing it anyway” makes them one another’s albatrosses. We must threaten them with the latter so they clean up their act or destroy themselves; we cannot afford to get swept away by the former.
It’s tempting to discuss whether the women Ramaphosa was associated with were financially independent mistresses with true agency or mere acquaintances whose studies he was paying for. As I’ve said already, whatever those conversations conclude on Ramaphosa, they can be weaponised against him to Dlamini-Zuma’s favour in December. And if that faction can do that now, why would it not steal the ballot in 2019?
The pro-active conversation is on whether this confusion of who these women really were in Ramaphosa’s life would be necessary if the ANC-led government had done a better job upholding women’s rights and the economy, even if these particular women were exceptions to the norm created by the ANC’s failure. Questions on if he took advantage of the circumstances must be secondary to what is definitely known about their structural origins in the ANC’s nature. We have videos of Mduduzi Manana; we don’t have videos of Ramaphosa.
Between now and 2019, we all have a moral duty to also ensure the proper contestation of ideas and elevation of discourse go as far and wide as they can. If you agree with any of this, tweet me. Let’s talk about translating it. Offer that translation to a newspaper in that town you know has stagnated discourse, all controlled by one sector of the political establishment. Let’s talk about hosting seminars where we thrash thoughts about for clarity. We were passive spectators to the campaigns in 2009 and ’14; as a result, the state was captured under our noses from 1994 and even before that.
Ask yourself whether can we afford to do less than everything in our power to influence the political discussion.
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