ANC will be a battleground over policy and prosecutions in 2021

Cyril Ramaphosa, president, South Africa

A TOUGH political and economic year lies ahead. Perhaps in the forefront of the questions is how the balance of power between the state capture forces and those trying to eliminate the phenomenon in the ruling party is going to pan out. However, it goes beyond that, because some of the most important issues related to the economic rescue strategy have different faultlines.

One of the most important tailwinds that has materialised in the last few months of 2020, and promises to continue into 2021, is the reinvigorated performance of the National Prosecuting Authority. As has been reported, there have so far been over 100 arrests related to state capture issues .

The most prominent person under arrest is ruling party secretary-general Ace Magashule. There have been other senior politicians and public sector officials, including a former minister, a deputy national police commissioner, and a mayor. And, promisingly, included among them are not only allies of former President Jacob Zuma, but allies of President Ramaphosa himself. His spokesperson has been suspended, too, for the alleged misdoings of her husband related to a COVID-19-related personal protective equipment tender.

Of course, the quality of these prosecutions is yet to be seen.

The strength of the headwind will be seen in the effectiveness of the fightback already underway from Magashule and his supporters. Zuma, under increasing pressure from the Zondo Commission, will obviously continue to be part of the fightback.

Of course, from the political perspective, reading the weathervane will be through observing how long (if at all) it takes for Magashule and others who have so far refused to do so, to step down from their positions as per the ANC’s current policy. That they are resisting is an indication of a level of residual power. The latest NEC meeting resolved they should face hearings before the integrity committee.

One of Ramaphosa’s biggest headaches in 2021 may eventually be his deputy, David Mabuza, to whom Ramaphosa (and the country) owe his presidency and against whom there apparently exists much evidence.

Beyond that, as mentioned, are the battles that lie ahead over the economic recovery strategy. Politically most difficult is the fate of the salary increases for public sector employees. Their cancellation, or near cancellation, within this budgetary period, is essential if steps towards fiscal stability can resume.

The rump of Cosatu is the public sector unions which, without this issue, would be among the President’s closest allies and supporters. They have shown no sign of accepting the salary freeze quietly. How this pans out is one of the other major straws in the wind.

Alan Fine is an associate director of R&A Strategic Communications, and a former deputy editor of Business Day.