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The politics of being in charge

As democracy tries to swim out of the rough rapids caused by an egocentric liar in the U.S., and is being buffeted by strong winds in other world democracies, in […]


As democracy tries to swim out of the rough rapids caused by an egocentric liar in the U.S., and is being buffeted by strong winds in other world democracies, in South Africa, the continent’s most important showcase for an evolving democratic government, Cyril Ramaphosa, the current president of the country, is having a very rough time of it at the wrong time.

In a few weeks, the African National Congress (better known as the ANC), the country’s top political party, is having its annual national conference. The leader voted on at that conference will not only be the head of the ANC, he or she will also have the party’s backing to be, or to remain, president of the country.

The ANC, though having lost some of its luster over the years, still has that kind of clout and dominance in the country, in spite of South Africa being a regular multi-party democracy. The previous two presidents, Jacob Zuma, and Govan Mbeki, the latter a very good president, both lost their jobs after negative results at such ANC end-of-year conferences.

The major problem for Mr. Ramaphosa this time is the presence of a just released federal report that blames him of possible corruption in the episode of over $500,000 in cash being stolen from his private farm. The report, by a panel of respected jurists, is not definitively conclusive that Mr. Ramaphosa actually stole anything, but it does say that he paid for the silence of associates on his farm and that he did not report the presence of the cash money (over a million dollars) to the proper authorities.

By federal law, South African presidents can only have one major source of income, the national salary provided to them as head of the country. The presence of a major amount of undisclosed money on Mr. Ramaphosa’s farm which presumably belonged to him, would violate that law.

There are several shouts from opponents that impeachment proceedings should be instituted against Mr. Ramaphosa, there is a pending floor bill to reprimand and remove him from office, and other developments. However, the ANC holds the majority of seats in the National Assembly (similar to our Congress) and the ANC still publicly supports Mr. Ramaphosa. There will very likely not be any impeachment proceedings or any other move to strip Mr. Ramaphosa from the South African presidency.

Mr. Ramaphosa has been a very effective president for South Africa, and he has provided the country with international respect and important diplomatic heft. He is highly respected in the international arena.

However, that ANC conference is coming up very soon, and Mr. Ramaphosa, who has regularly campaigned hard against public corruption by ANC officials and has had several of them publicly removed from office, will most certainly face a stern test from current ANC members he has chastised and/or fired. The list is not short.

But as long as Mr. Ramaphosa keeps the ANC Women’s League, the ANC Youth League, and the core of the ANC Political Wing solidly in his camp, he has a very good chance of surviving the test and remaining president.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was a very strong supporter of South Africa’s constitutional government and South Africa’s importance to the African continent. Were she still alive, she would most likely be a solid advocate for Mr. Ramaphosa’s continuance as head of state and keeper of the country’s constitutional relevance.

Keeping an eye on this situation is also important for all those interested in Africa’s governmental maturation in this post-colonial world. South Africa is not a fictional Wakanda, but its fate is critical to what Africa can do and will become. It is the African model most watched for its growth and full development.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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