Cyril’s last SONA? These ‘major threats’ could derail Ramaphosa’s presidency

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On Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver his fifth State of The Nation Address. We’ve had four years of promises, but in terms of delivery, South Africans have been left wanting. A wave of optimism and hope swept the 69-year-old into office, but with the goodwill now gone, is our head of state now preparing for his final SONA?

It seems like a bold suggestion to make: Ramaphosa is only just halfway through his first term. But, after replacing Jacob Zuma in February 2018, it would be another 15 months before the electorate rubber-stamped Cyril’s leadership. He is slated to run the country until at least 2024 – but there are many obstacles on the road ahead.

SONA 2022: What are the biggest threats facing Cyril Ramaphosa this year?

The ANC’s 2022 Electives – there will be blood…

First and foremost, Ramaphosa HAS to survive the 2022 ANC Electives. It’ll be five years since his dramatic victory at Nasrec, where Cyril pipped Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to the post. He won the right to rule the ANC, and yet, his vow to unify the party has fallen comically short.

The factional battles plaguing the president have intensified over the last few years. Recriminations from the State Capture Inquiry and the chickens of Jacob Zuma coming home to roost have created two very distinct camps within the ANC: You’re either ‘Thuma Mina’, or ‘RET forces’. The middle-ground is as good as none-existent.

Factionalism was rattling the ANC long before Cyril took charge – but he’s done very little to quell the rising tides of anger. The bitter divides are now more vast than they were in 2017, and that leaves Ramaphosa stood on some very unsteady ground. What is more, challengers to his throne are now emerging.

It’s no secret that Lindiwe Sisulu fancies herself as the ANC leader, and a future president. There’s more to her recent attacks on the judiciary than simple point-scoring. The veteran politician is openly courting support from the pro-Zuma RET forces of the party. And this poses a major threat to Ramaphosa.

If ‘Cupcake’ wants to deliver SONA 2023, he’ll have to survive the December Electives first.

The threat of more unrest

South Africa is, as it stands, looking a little unstable. Most major metros and large municipalities are being held together by flimsy coalition agreements. The ANC themselves have also lost the majority of public support, polling at just 45% in the 2021 Local Elections. The ground is fertile for a seismic political shift in SA.

As thrilling as those winds of change can seem, that also brings a lot of trouble. In a country where the president’s authority is already being undermined by factions in his own party, the ability to ease tensions surrounding mass poverty, huge inequality, and a tidal wave of unemployment becomes much more difficult for Ramaphosa.

Uneasy coalitions and leadership agreements may impair service delivery schedules. And, as we learned in July 2021, this can be the spark for waves of unrest and violence. Mzansi remains a tinderbox after last year’s deadly riots, and the outlook for 2022 is still quite concerning.

Both the World Economic Forum and the Centre for Risk Analysis believe that South Africa is lurking towards ‘failed state’ territory.

Should another protest-fuelled wave of destruction rip through the nation once more, it would be very difficult to see how Cyril Ramaphosa would cling on to his position of authority.

Possible corruption bombshells

At the end of February, the third and final part of Raymond Zondo’s State Capture Report will be released to the public. This happens to be the volume that contains testimony from Cyril Ramaphosa, and allegations against him.

Just how credible Brian Molefe’s input is remains a mystery. But it would be naïve to think that Ramaphosa is already home and dry with this one. Scandals such as Bosasa-gate and the CR17 donations never went away quietly for the president – and the same might happen with state capture.

Have you seen Ramaphosa’s testimony at the Zondo Commission, by the way? It’s not great, and much of it isn’t convincing. There was certainly some convenient memory losses, thrown in alongside vague and uncomprehensive responses. It wasn’t car-crash material, but not everyone was impressed by his account of the Zuma years.

Given he served as JZ’s deputy for a large chunk of the ‘wasted nine years’, Ramaphosa’s obliviousness in the face of rampant government corruption is still a difficult pill to swallow. And, if he is in anyway implicated in Zondo’s next State Capture Report, the president *did* say he’d step aside from his role.

So forget SONA 2023… Ramaphosa should probably be focused on getting through this next month.

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