South Africa: Embattled Ramaphosa accused of purging rivals on eve of elective congress

By Ray Mwareya
Posted on Wednesday, 14 December 2022 11:52

South Africa's Ramaphosa to make first public appearance since 'Farmgate' report published
South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa arrives ahead of his keynote address at the opening session of the World Science Forum in Cape Town where he is to make his first public appearance since the publication of a report that found he may have committed misconduct over cash at his private game farm, in Cape Town, South Africa, December 6, 2022. REUTERS/Esa Alexander

Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African president who is battling to survive a money-laundering scandal ahead of a party elective congress that starts on Friday, has been accused of purging rivals to clear his path to a second consecutive party presidency. 

“I have no previous conviction or sentence,” Tony Yengeni complained bitterly on Tuesday on news of being barred from contesting any leadership position in the ruling ANC party’s bi-decade elective congress. He is not the only one being purged.

Yengeni, who is president Ramaphosa’s boldest critic in the party’s politburo is a former anti-apartheid militant and former high-profile lawmaker who was jailed for four years in 2003 for bribery but served only four months.

The ANC party’s electoral commission headed by former South president Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday told Yengeni, a key ally of former president Jacob Zuma, of his disqualification from contesting for positions.

“After more than 10 years of the sentence, I applied to (justice minister to) expunge my criminal record. My application for expungement was accordingly approved,” Yengeni was quoted in local media, calling his disqualification unfair.

Rolling purges?

Hot on the heels of Yengeni being barred from standing for any leadership position at Friday’s elective congress is Carl Niehaus, a former spokesperson of Nelson Mandela, and a former spokesperson of the ANC party’s war veterans association.

On  Monday, he was expelled from the ANC party on six charges of ‘misconduct’.

Niehaus who physically stages one-man anti-Ramaphosa pickets across the country is the chief propagandist of the ANC faction rallying around former president Zuma and plotting to oust Ramaphosa.

“I reject this expulsion with the contempt it deserves,” Niehaus, a 43-year veteran of the ANC party, said, angrily accusing president Ramaphosa of going ‘rogue.’

Last week, Bathabile Dlamini, a former welfare minister, outspoken politburo member and vocal critic of president Ramaphosa, threatened to sue ANC after being told by the party’s ‘vetting committee’ that her fine for perjury will bar her from standing for politburo re-election.

Grassroots members of the ruling ANC party had overwhelmingly voted Dlamini, a former president of the ANC’s women’s league, for a return term in the politburo.

“It’s a last-minute night of long knives, a cornered president Ramaphosa suspected to be imposing bans on key party foes ahead of an elective conference where his own defeat or victory is uncertain,” independent political analyst Kudakwashe Magezi told The Africa Report from Johannesburg on Tuesday night.

“It’s a high-risk strategy that could either be genius or foolish.”

Gunning for big foes

President Ramaphosa has been accused of orchestrating the suspension or expulsion of leadership rivals as a way to clear himself for victory.

A high-profile example is that of Ace Magashule, the ruling ANC party secretary general, the party’s power broker and staunch backer of former president Zuma.

Magashule was suspended from the ruling ANC party in May 2021 after he was charged in a multi-million dollar roofing scandal.

He was initially told to vacate his party’s position and refused to do so until forced.

He has never been brought back to his highly influential job, and last month, local reports speculated that ring-leaders in president Ramaphosa’s party faction were agitating for the ultimate expulsion of Magashule from the ANC party.

‘Step aside’ rule

“These suspensions are all within the realm of what the ANC party calls a ‘step aside’ rule. It means if you’re charged with any civil or criminal offence, you must vacate your party positions until allegations against you are cleared by the court,” explained Magezi, the political analyst.

“It’s noble and ethical on paper – however, president Ramaphosa is accused by foes of abusing the rule to purge power rivals.”

Key provinces that make up the ANC party’s biggest voting bloc like the volatile KwaZulu Natal, where former president Jacob Zuma is kingmaker, want the so-called ‘step aside’ rule binned.

They see the policy as a way for president Ramaphosa to dispatch his rivals using the law.

“The problem is president Ramaphosa himself may become the next victim of the ‘step aside’ policy, which he created if the constitutional court affirms the parliamentary probe that found him guilty of misconduct recently,” added Magezi, referring to the scandalous ‘Phala Phala’ case whereby president Ramaphosa is being accused of stashing foreign currency at home without declaring it to monetary authorities, among other accusations.

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