But Ramaphosa reluctant to confirm he will stand until officially nominated
The leadership battle for the ANC’s presidency has begun, with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa unofficially kicking off his bid to lead the party after its December elective conference yesterday.
Sharing the stage with him was, among others, former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas.
Speaking to a rousing crowd of hundreds of supporters in Uitenhage, all calling for President Jacob Zuma’s head, Ramaphosa lashed out at a new culture of ANC members who were creating divisions and hurling insults at those with opposing views.
Repeatedly referring to the road to the December conference, where Zuma’s successor will be chosen, Ramaphosa said the party had to unite and renew or risk losing power altogether in 2019.
“We need renewal. That renewal is coming in December,” he said.
“It will make or break whether we have a united ANC or if we are a shell of the ANC.
“The ANC has lost its position as a leader of society. Society is walking away from us.”
Ramaphosa is one of several senior ANC members tipped to run for the president position.
Other names bandied about include Zuma’s ex-wife, former African Union chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize, parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete and Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.
Ramaphosa would not confirm yesterday whether he would stand, saying he would only respond if he was officially nominated when the process was finally opened up in July.
Jonas, meanwhile, described the recent term “radical economic transformation” as “radical economic looting”.
“We have a country being stolen before our very eyes. We are facing a coup,” he said.
“It is too easy for us to see each aspect of state capture as separate but the truth is that state capture equals stealing our country.”
Delivering the Chris Hani memorial lecture at the Babs Madlakane Hall in Kwanobuhle, Ramaphosa spoke about the attributes a leader of the ANC should possess today, saying all of them should look at the “Chris Hani mirror” and see if they measured up.
He said the national elective conference would be the opportune time for the party to renew itself and unite its members against a culture of name-calling, insults and disruptions.
“I am confident – and many in the leadership share this confidence – that the branches of our organisation will use the upcoming 54th national conference to chart a new path of political, organisational and moral renewal,” Ramaphosa said.
“At a time when there is great distress – even anger – inside and outside the movement, it is the responsibility of all cadres to ensure that they are respectful, honest and constructive in their engagement.”
Touching on state capture allegations, he admitted that he had the sense that critical decisions were being made elsewhere.
“The allegations that there are private individuals who exercise undue influence over state appointments and procurement decisions should be a matter of grave concern to the movement,” Ramaphosa said.
“These practices threaten the integrity of the state, undermine our economic progress and diminish our ability to change the lives of the poor. These activities, if left unchecked, could destroy the revolution.”
Ramaphosa threw his weight behind the idea of a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate state capture claims, saying the truth would set the ANC free.
He also criticised the cabinet reshuffle, saying it had heightened tensions and further polarised the alliance
At a media briefing later, Ramaphosa said he had noted the strong calls from various organisations and civil society for Zuma to step down.
He expressed concern about the death threats made against senior ANC members Lindiwe Sisulu and Makhosi Khoza for speaking out against some of the problems in the party.
“When her [Sisulu’s] name surfaced, mine too surfaced. It’s worrying,” Ramaphosa said.
Although he had not been threatened directly, he had heard that his name was on a list of those targeted.
Earlier, the crowd erupted as Ramaphosa and Jonas entered the hall.
They sang: “We don’t want Zuma, we want Cyril.”
Jonas said the ANC had to accept responsibility for recent mistakes. “It is not only Nkandla, but many more blunders. We have wronged the nation,” he said.
“We lost metros and ignored the message from the people. We did not take our cue from the people.”
Jonas said the country was at a critical juncture and needed to stop ignoring the signs “or else our hard-won democracy will be lost”.
SACP district chairman Msingathi Sipuka said people were losing faith in the ANC.
“People are getting out into the streets against the leadership of this country,” he said.
“There are marches and many protests against the president.
“This is not the first time the ANC has had challenges, but in the past people have never doubted our moral standing.”
Sipuka said hundreds of people had gathered at the hall because they were thirsty for direction and desperate for leadership.
Cosatu provincial chairman David Toyis said that while leaders come and go, the organisation remained.
“Why now when the people ask them to step down, leaders ask why should they step down?
“When people tell you to step down, you should step down – Zuma must step down,” Toyis said to enthusiastic applause.