More than a year ago, I asked an ally of Cyril Ramaphosa how the deputy president reconciled remaining silent over the dishonourable conduct of President Jacob Zuma; and when he planned to show his hand regarding his own presidential aspirations.
Timing was everything in politics and patience was required, he replied.
He used this metaphor to describe Ramaphosa’s quest: “Cyril doesn’t need to catch the first wave that comes his way, or even the next. There will be another.”
A sizeable wave rolled in on March 31 last year after Zuma got pummelled by the Constitutional Court over his refusal to be held accountable for public money spent on non-security upgrades at his home in Nkandla.
But Ramaphosa sat waiting.
Thereafter, he watched one wave after another pass him by.
Complicit in his silence, Ramaphosa even verbally protected Zuma in Parliament.
Along with the rest of the ANC caucus, he also blocked various votes of no confidence – brought on largely as a symbolic gesture by the opposition.
This week, Ramaphosa finally showed he had a backbone.
He publicly rebuked Zuma over his “unacceptable” decision to oust Pravin Gordhan in a Cabinet reshuffle, and questioned his ready-made list presented to the ANC leadership.
He also called for citizens to get rid of “greedy, corrupt people”.
Ramaphosa’s outspokenness got the thumbs up from one of his fiercest critics, Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema.
For the first time, the deputy president had spoken sense, said Malema.
“We encourage him to grow like that. If he wants to be president of the country, he must speak out more against this kleptocracy. He has to fight,” said Malema.
But Ramaphosa’s robustness was short-lived. He retreated after seemingly getting a bollocking from Zuma.
So where does that leave the deputy president?
ANC national executive committee member Joel Netshitenzhe this week warned that an individual was “running roughshod over not just the ANC’s interests, but also society’s interests”.
Saying that the ANC risked losing the 2019 elections, Netshitenzhe suggested that the party reopen the debate on the recall of Zuma and “call for a reversal of the more outrageous of the latest Cabinet changes”.
If these efforts failed, he said, the ANC may need to consider allowing MPs to vote with their conscience in a vote of no confidence, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
Alternative leadership is being sought in a bid to rescue the country from political and economic turmoil.
There is a groundswell of mobilisation against Zuma.
Gordhan and others are calling for action, and Deputy Public Works Minister Jeremy Cronin – in his capacity as a member of the SA Communist Party – delivered a call for Zuma’s head at a memorial service for Ahmed Kathrada on Thursday.
Conditions are right for Ramaphosa to catch the wave.
But with less than nine months to go until the elective conference, he is running out of time.
If he hesitates, he risks a spectacular wipeout.
If he holds back, he risks giving a more enthusiastic contender the opportunity to catch his wave.
* This article first appeared on Media24 platforms.
Many of the 400 members of Parliament (MPs) are often neither seen nor heard from, and don’t deserve their annual R1.03 million pay packets (plus perks).
But a sizeable number of public representatives are not just plodding along; they do have an effect. The recent performance of the MPs in the ad hoc committee that investigated the SABC is an example of such grit and purpose.
There are achievers across the political spectrum, but a handful of overextended MPs from the smaller political parties also deserve special mention.
Instead of being drowned out by the larger parties, their familiar faces pop up all over the show, often with well-considered input.
While the ANC has 249 members, the DA 89 and the Economic Freedom Fighters 25, members of the smaller parties do not have the luxury of having an MP represented everywhere.
They are spread thinly across more than 50 committees, with the fourth largest party – the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) – having 10 members. The others only have between one and six.
These “rats and mice” parties have tough choices to make every day in the parliamentary programme.
For instance, IFP whip Liezl van der Merwe is a member of two committees – the department of women in the presidency and the department of social development, which has been a pressure cooker due to the grants debacle at the SA Social Security Agency.
She is also an alternate member of the department of telecommunications and postal services, and of the department of communications, which this week selected an interim SABC board.
Every Wednesday morning, Van der Merwe should be in three meetings at once – the chief whips’ forum, social development and telecommunications.
Van der Merwe (36) has persistently sought accountability on the social grants problem – not only now, but for at least the past year. She has raised the issue in the committee and the National Assembly, and has twice questioned Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and the president.
Van der Merwe is so busy that she often misses weddings, family celebrations and dinner dates, instead taking reams of documents home so that she can formulate targeted questions and arguments for the next day.
Her colleague Narend Singh is also effective and visible. He was present everywhere this week, asking pertinent questions and making astute observations in the National Assembly, and also when Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown briefed the portfolio committee on Eskom and her “problem child”, SA Express.
Other MPs from smaller parties who are adept at multitasking include the IFP’s Mkhuleko Hlengwa, who, at 29, represents the younger generation of MPs who are stepping up to the plate, and the United Democratic Movement’s Nqabayomzi Kwankwa, who plays an active role in the House and is on least three committees, including the Finance Standing Committee.
Kwankwa’s colleague, Mncedisi Filtane, was named the hardest-working MP for attending the most committee meetings – 70 – in 2015, according to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group. The Congress of the People’s Deidre Carter is another energetic MP from a minority party who has a large footprint in Parliament.
The smaller parties represent a few pieces of the multiparty puzzle in Parliament, but, thanks to the consistent dedication of some, Parliament would be incomplete – and poorer – without them.
* This article first appeared on Media24 platforms in March.