This month, the African National Congress’s national election congress in Johannesburg had a chaotic start. Thus, the ANC contingent from KwaZulu-Natal, which has the largest number of ANC members, arrived with one delegate, whom they lauded with praise songs: the disgraced ex-President Jacob Zuma. However, during his address, President Cyril Ramaphosa was constantly mocked, with his words on occasion drowned out by songs and chants of “change.”
In the end, Ramaphosa emerged as the victor. He beat KwaZulu-Natal’s presidential candidate and former health minister, Zweli Mkhize, who was running against him for the ANC presidency. As a result, four of the president’s supporters made it to the party’s top echelon, while two marched to another tune—an improvement on the president’s previous position. Indeed, none of KwaZulu-Natal’s candidates made it to the top level of party officials.
Mkize, a medical man and a politician, has an apartheid “struggle” history as a member of the ANC’s paramilitary wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe. He had held several government posts, including KwaZulu’s Premier (2009–13) and the ANC’s Treasurer General. However, when his involvement with a state contract awarded to a communication company called Digital Vibes was alleged, he was forced to resign as Minister of Health in 2021.
Ramaphosa may now sleep better at night. He must be satisfied. He also recently overcame the threat of impeachment in connection with “sofagate,” when a Parliamentary report was not accepted by the ANC, with critics claiming it was “one-sided” and based on “hearsay.”
The report concerns an odd incident that happened at President Ramaphosa’s game Phala Phala game farm in February 2020, where allegedly a robbery of a large sum of forex by a gang had taken place. In June 2022, the ex-head of the intelligence service handed a dossier to the police in which he accused his former boss of kidnapping, bribery, money laundering, and a cover-up.
The president issued a statement saying he had done nothing criminal. He explained that the cash had been the proceeds of a game sale. He had reported the robbery to the head of his protection unit, who had assembled an investigation team. The robbers were traced, as was the person who had informed them about the funds, which had been recovered. What was not explained was why this had been stowed in a sofa and elsewhere, nor why the incident had not been made public. Moreover, the person who had tipped the gang off was still employed at the farm, though in another capacity.
It is hardly a coincidence that the report was made in mid-2022, before the ANC’s election congress. Ramaphosa has earned the enmity of a group within his party who oppose his determination to carry out the recommendations of the Zondo Commission, which investigated the “state capture” and spreading corruption that had occurred during Jacob Zuma’s presidency. As a result, many people on the long list in the Zondo report have been kicked out of the government, and others have been charged.
Despite the case, the financial markets were relieved by Ramaphosa’s victory in Congress. The upward movement of the currency and shares was swift. Insiders have said that “Cyril is the best we’ve got.” Now he will have to prove that he can deliver. He has to solve the many economic and other problems the country faces. While a start has been made with endemic corruption, more action is needed. That also applies to other issues, such as the failing energy supply, service delivery, and job creation. He now faces an election campaign in 2024, when he has to persuade voters disappointed by the leadership to turn out on election day for the ANC. It will be seen whether “sofagate” has been forgotten.