July 13, 2024

Can Ramaphosa Afford To Alienate Mantashe?

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Mantashe has been at pains to implore the country not to abandon its coal-fired plants as the main source of energy generation.

FILE PHOTO: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (right) and his Minister of Mining and Energy, Gwede Mantashe. PICTURE: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP

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Mantashe has been at pains to implore the country not to abandon its coal-fired plants as the main source of energy generation, writes MOLIFI TSHABALALA

In his book, Eight Days in September, a freedom fighter who has served in an African National Congress (ANC)-led government for nearly 14 years, Frank Chikane, illuminates how some among his fellow comrades have managed to survive the dog-eat-dog politics of the ANC. “In the name of survival,” he wrote, “many of my comrades have successfully remade and remoulded themselves to fit within whatever environment they find themselves in.”

It is, after all, a nature of politics, especially in a deeply factionalised party, such as the ANC, which is in degenerative factionalism, a third and final factional phase in which personal interests greatly outweigh organisational interests. In this regard, members tend to defect from one faction to another. This often happens towards an elective conference.

For instance, towards the ANC’s 52nd National Conference, held in December 2007, for example, Ngoako Ramatlhodi defected from a faction led by Thabo Mbeki, then as an ANC president, to a faction led by Jacob Zuma, then as an ANC deputy president, while he was under investigation for fraud. This he did in search of political protection from prosecution, of course.

The president wields a great deal of control over law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system as a whole. He can even use them to fight his own intra-party factional battles.

Ramatlhodi had allegedly received R785 000 from Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), a company that had won a lucrative tender to pay social grants, and its subsidiary called Northern Corporate Investment Holdings. In 2008, following Zuma’s election as ANC president, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), which acts on behalf of the state, ceased its investigation into the former Limpopo premier.

Writing in his memoir, My Second Initiation, co-authored with Mandy Wiener, a multi-award winning South African author and journalist, former National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Vusumzi ‘Vusi’ Pikoli suspects that the NPA had been put under immense political pressure to cease the investigation. Understandably, it would have been arduous for the incoming president to appoint Ramatlhodi as minister of mineral resources with a dark cloud of ongoing investigation swirling over his head.

In fact, the incumbent Zuma’s successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, would not have promised to fight corruption and the so-called state capture without a greater degree of control over the law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system. The promise, however, has pitted him against some among his own comrades who have been implicated in and charged with corruption, fraud, and other crimes. The majority of them belong to a minority faction, better known as the Zuma faction, largely comprising extreme dissenters.

To deliver on his promise, Ramaphosa requires political protection from the ANC, more specifically, from prominent leaders within his majority faction, as he has his own major scandal, namely Phala Phala, which has greatly impugned his political legitimacy.

One such leader is Gwede Mantashe, a national chairperson who serves in his cabinet as minister of energy and mineral resources. However, the president has failed to defend him against a barrage of concerted attacks by his trans-national clients-cum-handlers through their neo-liberal agents, most notably the Democratic Alliance (DA), a right-wing party, and the media as well as some elements within the punditocracy, as he has done with Pravin Gordhan, a public enterprises minister, thereby politically weakening him.

Prior to Kgosientso ‘Sputla’ Ramokgopa’s appointment as electricity minister, they had been calling on Ramaphosa to fire Mantashe, laying the blame on him for ongoing load shedding, which has reached a nadir with frequent stage 6 power outages. The ANC national chairperson, argues the renewable energy proponents, is a “coal fundamentalist” who is vehemently opposed to the country’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

Nevertheless, Mantashe has been at pains to implore the country not to abandon its coal-fired plants as the main source of energy generation. He is of a firm conviction renewables on their own cannot resolve the power crisis.

This has, in fact, even pitted him against the president and his 2023-27 Just Energy Transition – Investment Plan (JET-IP). At the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, the United Kingdom (UK), the International Partners Group (IPG) – comprising France, Germany, the UK and the United States (US) as well as the European Union (EU) – has pledged measly US$8.5 billion to accelerate South Africa’s JET, which outlines the country’s scale and pace to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with Paris Climate Agreement’s goals.

Politically, the Phala Phala scandal had given Mantashe the edge over Ramaphosa and, by extension, the clean energy proponents who had been calling on the president to fire him, until Ramokgopa’s appointment as the electricity minister.

On 9 February 2020, a robbery occurred at Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala game farm near Bela Bela, Limpopo province, and stashes of undeclared money (in US currency) hidden in a sofa went missing, alleged Arthur Fraser, a former State Security Agency (SSA) director-general, laying a criminal complaint against the president and Wally Rhoode, a former head of presidential protection services (PPS), among others, to be investigated for corruption and money laundering.

Acting on a complaint by Vuyolwethu Zungula, an African Transformation Movement (ATM) president, a speaker of the National Assembly, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula instituted a Section 89 Expert Panel to ascertain whether prima facie evidence of an impeachable case exists against the president or not. The three-member panel, chaired by the Retired Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo, concluded that, based on information at its disposal, the president ‘may have’ committed impeachable offences.

By his own instant conscience following the release of its damning report, Ramaphosa sought to resign as the South African president a few days prior to the ANC’s 55th National Conference, where he would vie for a second term as the party president, but his political clients, including Mantashe, friends, and business clients, of course, convinced him against his decision.

Mantashe, who has been implicated in the so-called state capture, chaired a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, urgently convened to discuss the report. Unprecedentedly, the meeting was adjourned without some members, somewhere in the region of 20, including Mbeki, who has been unreservedly critical of Ramaphosa, having been afforded an opportunity to express themselves on the matter.

The ANC instructed its Members of Parliament (MPs) to vote against a move to establish impeachment proceedings against Ramaphosa. Although some among its members – most notably Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Supra Mahumapelo, the duo of which has also been critical of the president from an intra-party factional perspective – did not toe a party line, the move failed to meet a threshold.

In lieu of defending Mantashe amid the national crisis, which poses a national security threat, Ramaphosa had been on a strategic mission to alienate him on energy matters. In his 2023 State of the Nation Address (SONA), the president announced that he would appoint the electricity minister to attend to the energy crisis, the decision he made – by his own admission – without consulting the ANC and its tripartite allies: the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP).

Fighting back, Mantashe described the electricity minister as a ‘project manager’. A few months later, the president transferred his executive responsibilities to Ramokgopa.

The question arises: “Can Ramaphosa afford to alienate Mantashe”? He cannot, not by a long shot.

To begin with, the Phala Phala scandal is far from over. The Constitutional Court (CC), as a final arbiter, has denied the president direct access to take the panel report on a judicial review.

With no other viable avenue left, he claims that the Parliament’s rejection of the move to institute the impeachment proceedings against him has, in essence, brought the matter to its finality. Not taking the matter lying down, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has written to Mapisa-Nqakula, urging her to reconsider establishing an impeachment committee. Given the litigious nature of our latter-day politics, it is very likely that the speaker herself may be taken to court on the matter if she cannot heed the request.  

Apart from the Phala Phala scandal, the president needs Mantashe’s continuous protection, as he has dismally failed in his first term. In line with Chikane’s illumination, it remains to be seen whether the ANC national chairperson would remake and remould himself to fit within an environment of ‘alienation’ in which he finds himself amid the national crisis.

In fact, Mantashe and Ramaphosa need each other’s political protection. Mantashe needs his from prosecution. However, the one who needs the other’s protection the most is the president.

Molifi Tshabalala is an Independent Political Analysts, Political Writer and Author

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