Ramaphosa throws the dice for the ANC as he signs NHI Bill into law

Lee Rondganger

Lee Rondganger

Published May 15, 2024


On the Saturday morning of December 16, 2017, President Jacob Zuma threw the dice.

It was on the morning of the ANC’s 54th National Elective Conference and the anti-Zuma tide within the ANC was in full swing.

His deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa had been pitted against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — Zuma’s preferred candidate for the presidency of the ANC — and all indications were that she was going to lose to Ramaphosa who had campaigned on the “new dawn” ticket of clean governance and anti-corruption.

Despite the recommendations of the Heher Commission into the Feasibility of Fee-Free Higher Education and Training and warnings by the Treasury, Zuma announced, on that Saturday morning, that the government would subsidise free higher education for poor and working class students.

It was not just the timing of Zuma’s announcement of free education — one of the most pivotal Bills signed into law in democratic South Africa — that raised eyebrows, but how he did it.

The announcement was first published on the presidency website and later a press release was issued to the media.

To political observers at the time, the move seemed rushed for such a monumental piece of legislation — almost desperate.

There was no government communication brouhaha, no staged photo opportunity. Just a press release.

Zuma had thrown the dice.

And it was a move that many believed was aimed at swaying ANC voting delegates from the Ramaphosa camp back to his.

On 18 December 2017, Ramaphosa was elected president of the ANC after beating Dlamini-Zuma by a mere 179 votes.

Fast forward to May 15, 2024 and it seems that Ramaphosa has thrown the dice himself.

Just two weeks away from the most crucial elections in a generation for which poll after poll shows the ANC losing a huge chunk of its support to other parties, including Zuma’s new MK party and Julius, Malema’s EFF, Ramaphosa has signed into law the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill.

The Bill had been sitting on the president’s desk for months after it was passed by the National Assembly (NA) and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) last year.

Many believed that the president did not want to sign the Bill as he was considering the vociferous push back against the Bill by the private medical aid sector, civil society and private doctors who have all said it was unworkable. Many believe the Bill will see an exodus of skilled doctors and nurses.

After all, Ramaphosa could have made a big deal about this historic legislation at his State of the Nation address in February but he could not “find his pen”.

His pen arrived two weeks out from an election in which some polls suggest the ANC could fall below the 50% threshold.

Ramaphosa, it seems, has thrown the dice on the NHI Bill in one final move to sway voters back to the ANC.

Whether this is an act of a desperate man or stroke of genius, only time will tell.

* Lee Rondganger is the Deputy Editor of IOL.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.

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