Peter Bruce | North West spooked Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa
Image: Screengrab / YouTube

I defy anyone to accurately explain to me what is going on in the North West. Its “premier”, Supra Mahumapelo, is allegedly crooked, and little in his province works.

His agriculture department once donated R1.5-million worth of cows to former president Jacob Zuma. He backed Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the race for the ANC leadership last year, and just weeks before the vote in December was confidently predicting her victory was all but done. He built a garish statue of Zuma.

Last weekend, his province and capital, Mahikeng (for Mafikeng), exploded in violent protest against his alleged corruption. Citizens calling for his head took to the streets. Others, presumably the remains in the North West of the Zuma tendency, were seen armed and waiting for anyone to actually threaten the premier.

President Cyril Ramaphosa had to cut short his visit to the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in London to come home and deal with the issue.

My wife was on the same South African Airways flight as the president. He travelled business class and was let off the plane first when it landed in Johannesburg, to huge applause.

That’s nice, but what was buried in the North West violence that spooked Ramaphosa into coming home?

The fact that it isn’t obvious scares me a bit. Our politics are so complicated and dark, and the levels of government in which those politics play out are so many, that it is simply impossible to know what is going on.

If he is corrupt, Mahumapelo has been corrupt for years. Why go for him now? What is Ramaphosa supposed to do about it?

He can’t just fire a provincial leader, so if those people doing the protesting in Mahikeng are Cyril’s supporters, why would they put their man in such a difficult position?

And is the core problem a government one or a party one?

I would reckon party first, then government. The protesters might be going after the right people – Mahumapelo doesn’t strike me as the sort of leader South Africans need in their lives. But their protest puts Ramaphosa’s back against the wall.

He would far prefer to deal with the rot in his party and our body politic in his own way.

Mahumapelo will one day find himself in court, facing possible jail. But that has to be part of a process where he is charged for a plausibly criminal event (buying cows for Zuma with money stolen from the provincial coffers does it for me).
Then Ramaphosa would be able to hold up his hands and say “look, sorry, I cannot interfere with the law”.

The same will apply to former Free State premier Ace Magashule and even to Zuma, Duduzane Zuma, Brian Molefe, Matshela Koko and the Guptas when they are finally returned to South Africa.

What Ramaphosa can’t do, and would be very bad at should he try to, is strong-arm people like Mahumapelo out of office. He can do that to officials. Not politicians.

It is, I suspect, one of the reasons Ramaphosa reaches out (as I predicted long ago he would, to much insulting commentary) to Julius Malema. Much as Malema and Ramaphosa have a history, he is a real antidote to the Magashules and the Mahumapelos.

Somewhere in Ramaphosa’s calculating is the faint possibility that Malema and the EFF leaders around him are not one and the same. Floyd Shivambu is a pretty hardline Marxist. Chairman Dali Mpofu is too.

I don’t think Malema is. He is a sentimental African nationalist.

But that rapprochement will take a very long time, if it ever happens.

What Ramaphosa needs to happen much more urgently is for the Zondo commission on state capture to start its work and for the public to watch. What is taking so long? Remember, Zondo has made it clear that the people called to testify can be charged criminally afterwards. Mahumapelo, a Gupta acolyte, will have to testify. So will the entire cast of the Zupta burlesque. It is going to be a blast and should go a long way to helping Ramaphosa clear the decks, particularly in the provincial ANC lobbies.

Zuma’s power in the provinces is exaggerated anyway. He could not even deliver his own province to his former wife in the ANC leadership race.

Last weekend’s rioting shows North West is no longer under its Zupta premier’s control.

But Zondo needs to get a move on. The country can sometimes seem borderline hysterical. Imagine trying to run this place.

The one constituency solidly behind Ramaphosa is business. But they should not be complacent.

Ramaphosa needs two full terms to repair the damage Zuma did. Business needs to have his back.