It is not correct that President Cyril Ramaphosa sat idly by while he was deputy president and the ANC government veered off course, Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom said.

On Saturday Hanekom sat down with News24 for a frank discussion on the party of which he is an NEC member.

While there has been much talk that the administration of former president Jacob Zuma has been a “wasted nine years”, Hanekom, one of the senior ANC members who challenged Zuma in cabinet and the ANC NEC, doesn’t quite buy that reasoning.

“But during that period, it is not like things ground to a halt. There was massive damage done to our state-owned companies – that’s our big, big challenge right now – and institutions,” Hanekom said. 

More could have been done

“But meanwhile, schools are being built, roads are being built.” He also used the example of the completion of the Square Kilometre Array telescope.  

However, it was wasted in the sense that so much more could have been done.

“What we saw in the last nine years and especially the latter part of the four years as things came to a head, things started happening in the first five year term [of Zuma] that you couldn’t see, that you didn’t know about, that we didn’t know about even sitting in cabinet. But you got a sense of some things… and then things came to a head.”

“The first sign of it was the almost missionary zeal to get the nuclear deal through. And then, the action against Nene at the time,” he said, referring to former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene’s dramatic axing as minister of finance in December 2015.

The question of many South Africans (this interviewer included) is: What did cabinet do about it?

Hanekom doesn’t try to dodge the question.

‘A strong statement’

“You are in cabinet when something comes to cabinet and you know it is wrong, you say it is wrong. So you block. 

“People like [former deputy finance minister, Mcebisi] Jonas were blocking attempts, and subsequently Pravin [Gordhan] is blocking attempts to steal money and Pravin would not have known the extent of what is happening in Transnet and Eskom and Denel etc.”

He said while they were not always successful in blocking things in cabinet, “had we not been there, some of us, much more damage would have happened”.

“Even though cabinet included people like myself and Aaron Motsoaledi and Ebrahim Patel, um, we could block things and raise arguments, including the president, by the way, the now president. If the perception is that he just went along with things, that is not true. There were many occasions when he evoked the wrath of the then president, even though he [Zuma] did his utmost to hide it,” Hanekom said.

But the main site to effect change was the ANC itself, and so in November 2016, Hanekom brought a motion of no confidence in Zuma to the ANC NEC, to remove Zuma as the country’s president, not the ANC’s president.   

“He was the elected president of the ANC whether we liked it or not.” 

The motion didn’t succeed. 

“We failed, but we made quite a strong statement at least.”

A “very tense” period followed, which saw Hanekom and Gordhan, among others, dropped from cabinet. Hanekom said that was no surprise. He said he and Gordhan made a conscious decision to remain MPs and not chair committees to play an activist role. 

They also encouraged like-minded colleagues who survived the cabinet chop to remain there. 

Zuma also survived a motion of no confidence in the National Assembly in August 2017 when some ANC members, about 30, broke ranks and voted with the opposition.

A hard fought battle

But, in December that year, Ramaphosa won the ANC presidency at the Nasrec-conference, and by February 2018, change came when a majority in the ANC NEC wanted Zuma to resign as president of the country.

On February 15, at 13:30, half an hour before the National Assembly was scheduled to elect a new president, only one of the Chamber’s 400 seats was occupied. That solitary figure belonged to Hanekom.

It was totally by chance, he dismisses the recollection with a laugh.

But what went through his head as he sat there, given everything that led to that moment.

“A tremendous sense of relief. You will remember, I think there was a national sense of relief after the president announced his resignation.

“It was a big relief because we fought a hard battle to get there.”

However, he knew there was a road ahead that was not going to be easy. 

“I had no expectation to be reappointed to cabinet, neither had Pravin.”

“I think it is a bit wrong to say, actually [Ramaphosa] has done nothing. I think his first act was to drop ten people from cabinet.”

“The bit by bit stuff is happening.” 

“We have said several times in public meetings the truth must come out, and of course the truth is coming out. It might be an uncomfortable truth, but it is coming out. 

“And the interesting thing is some people are saying we are just whacking ourselves before elections.

“But actually this is what the public want to see. They are more favourably disposed towards the ANC, notwithstanding the truth coming out that talks of wide-scale corruption and wrongdoing.”

He said an ANC trying to cover up would have been worse than an ANC dealing with the hard truths.

Service delivery 

He said on the campaign trail, at house meetings, undecided voters ask him: ‘Ok, these commissions, but what action?’ 

“Now, I mean, your response is things needs to be done properly, you can’t just take action because you’re angry because it seems like people are guilty. The investigations should be done properly and you need to be case ready before you take people to court, before you charge people. People want to see some action, and a little bit of action can tilt the balance as well.”

He counts the recent firing of the NPA’s Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi as such an action.

However, in his experience, people are more concerned with service delivery issues than state capture. 

He says a positive aspect of campaigning is that you are forced to face the realities of ordinary South Africans daily lives. 

He referred to the criticism on Ramaphosa saying that he is shocked.

“And I understand where people come from – ‘Why are you shocked, we all know it?’ On the other hand, during an election campaign, you confront these realities every single day. Of poverty of squalor of desperation. It strengthens your resolve. 

“I cannot feel satisfied with myself if we go another five years and we have not made significant inroads in addressing poor service delivery and the stubborn persistence of poverty and unemployment.”

There is currently much speculation suggesting that Ramaphosa will be removed as president after the election. While admitting that there are some in the ANC “who are not very enthusiastic about Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership” he does not see an organised campaign to get rid of Ramaphosa. 

“The overwhelming majority of NEC members were either supporters of Cyril Ramaphosa in the first place, and I think a number that weren’t in the run-up to Nasrec, have fully accepted the change. So, there is no possibility of the NEC standing against the president.”

“I think what is a more likely scenario is that the Cyril Ramaphosa consolidates his position as president of the country and as president of the ANC.” 

“I don’t think he’ll compromise on the principle that he sees the next five years as critical to firstly, getting ourselves out of the trouble we find ourselves in, and then ourselves beyond it and into a growth trajectory and dealing more effectively with the big challenges in front of us.”

Hanekom was the chairperson of the ANC’s disciplinary committee in 2012 when then-ANC youth league leader Julius Malema was suspended, subsequently to form the EFF. 

On Friday, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule said it is time for Malema to come back home to the ANC.

According to Hanekom, there is no such talk in the ANC ranks.

‘We need strong leadership’

He referred to the EFF’s “savage attacks” on Gordhan, using racial invectives, in apparent defence of Tom Moyane.

“I’m not going to put out any accusations, but you have to ask the question: why are they defending Tom Moyane so fiercely?”

“Nothing is impossible. But I would have my own reservations.”

“We can’t identify with that behaviour or be associated with that behaviour.”

At the moment, Hanekom said, he is campaigning with the most enthusiasm since 1994. 

He said there are three reasons why he still votes for the ANC: One is the sentimental attachment, two is because it is the “most effective if not the only vehicle for real change”, and the third is a belief that the ANC’s programmes are “fundamentally sound”.

“So some people will say, well the change we now need is to kick out the ANC. But, interestingly analysts like Peter Bruce – he’s got no attachment to the ANC – his analysis is we need a strong leader, we need strong leadership, a leader obviously with the backing of a strong party. It’s not going to come from any other party. 

“Things might change in decades to come, but right now the ANC’s mission should be and is the most effective vehicle to bring about the change. We’ve got a leader we can look up to now, a leader that can lead us out of the morass that we’re in.”

“We do have some leadership challenges, but we also have some good and capable people in leadership.”

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