If Ramaphosa plays the wrong cards, Ace is going to come up trumps

By: Howard Feldman, Head of Marketing & People at Synthesis

As one of the world’s worst poker players, it is hardly appropriate for me to give anyone advice on how to play the game. I have, in fact, long suspected that the invitations that I do receive to participate in an evening of cards, says nothing about my skillset and personality and everything about the fact that this fool and his money are easily parted. I have yet to win a game, but I remain comforted by the words my late grandmother, who on stuffing my money into her ample bosom, would always say: “Don’t worry Howard, you will be lucky in love.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa, on the other hand, seems to know what he is doing when it comes to a high-stakes game. Against the odds and against the corrupt, he has managed to secure and retain the position of leadership in the ANC.  A few well played hands don’t, however, secure the win, which makes the current round against Ace Magashule a particularly dangerous one.

The ANC has long enjoyed a difficult relationship with the judiciary. Former President Jacob Zuma is himself a veteran when it comes to playing that particular game. The fine balance of demanding his “day in court” but then spending the next 10 years making sure that it doesn’t happen, is a skill he has perfected and one that has become synonymous with the ruling parting. It is a strategy that is now clearly being adopted by other members of the party. “Innocent until proven guilty” is the refrain that is, of course, valid and reasonable, but becomes less convincing when there is little intention of ever having the case presented.

Despite the perceived support for Magashule, there is widespread acceptance across the country that the ANC has a credibility and morality problem. Corruption has become part of the ANC brand identity, which means that Ace and the allegations against him are not seen as being separate from the party, but rather very much part of it. No matter what smart speeches the leadership of the ANC make, the bottom line is that it is the ANC who are perceived to be corrupt and not just Ace.

Whereas there is little indication that the party actually cares what the citizens of the country think, failure to recognize this, will cost them. And the longer they leave it the more they will struggle to reverse the perception.

The solution is ridiculously simple. The ANC needs to separate itself from the nefarious behavior of its members. It needs to make it clear that alleged criminality by one of their members will not be tolerated. 

They could, if they cared, follow these guidelines: If the National Prosecuting Authority have issued a warrant of arrest for criminal charges against a member of the party, that member should be suspended (without pay) until his or her name is cleared. The removal from the party and the removal of a salary should provide at least some incentive for party members to have their name cleared. The corollary is also true:  Non suspension provides every incentive for the accused to delay the case as long as possible and avoid ever having “a day in court”.

The current approach of allowing the member to continue working until the matter is resolved, almost guarantees the removal of all incentive to resolve the matter. The consequence is that the ANC continues to brand itself alongside the accused, which further entrenches the perception of corruption.  The delays also mean that the taxpayer is burdened further, and that the system is overburdened.

A simple solution doesn’t mean easy implementation. It is clear that there is support for Magashule within the ANC. It is further no secret that the party is divided and that any image of unity is an illusion. This makes the current situation particularly dangerous for President Ramaphosa and for the party.

It also makes the next few hands critical ones for Ramaphosa, the ANC and the nation.

At the end of most poker evenings, I get to look at my empty wallet, shrug my shoulders and remember the words of my late grandmother. President Cyril Ramaphosa doesn’t enjoy that luxury. The whole nation is watching and analyzing his next move. And if it plays out poorly, no one will pat him on the shoulder and say: “Don’t worry, you are lucky in love.”