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Explainer: Who is the ATM and why are they gunning for Cyril?

A small party you’ve probably never heard of wants to oust President Cyril Ramaphosa from power on Thursday. Why? ANC internal factional politics.

On Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa will face his first motion of no confidence in the National Assembly. The motion was brought by a political party, the African Transformation Movement (ATM), a party formed in 2018 which has two seats in Parliament.

Essentially, this means the ATM wants the National Assembly to decide to remove Ramaphosa, and that would mean that his whole cabinet would have to resign, too. To do this, the ATM will need a majority of the National Assembly, which comprises both houses of Parliament – Parliament itself and the National Council of Provinces – to vote with it.

The ATM believes Ramaphosa should go because of the state of the country’s economy and a range of other social ills that his government has not been able to solve, like gender-based violence and load shedding.

As City Press reported this week, the ATM appears to be counting on the faction of the ANC led by secretary-general Ace Magashule to back the motion. But the ANC has promised that it will vote together to keep the president in power.  

So who is the ATM? And what is its beef with Ramaphosa really about? The answer comes down to internal ANC politics.

Who is the ATM?

The ATM’s tag line is “Putting South Africans first!” 

It’s manifesto is pretty standard stuff for SA political parties: ending corruption, ensuring peace and security, investing in education, and the empowerment of youth, women and people with disabilities. It also advocates for “the African way of living and the African way of resolving problems”.

Its leader is the previously unknown political newbie Vuyolwethu Zungula.

Source: Facebook

So far, so uncontroversial.

Enter Mzwanele Manyi

The ATM flew under the radar for a while, but shot to fame when the former head of government communications, Mzwanele Manyi, signed up after 30 years as a staunch ANC supporter. Manyi is also famous for buying the Guptas’ former media empire, the ANN7 TV station and The New Age newspaper, before the media houses closed down. Manyi joined the ATM in early 2019 after being removed from a political party he founded, the All Africa Decolonisation Congress. That party accused him of trying to get the Gupta family to fund it. Manyi denied the allegation.

Then things got really interesting.

Enter Ace Magashule… and his lawyers

One Buyisile Ngqulwana – erstwhile (and alleged, confusingly enough) secretary-general of the SA Council of Messianic Churches in Christ – defected from the ATM and made the astonishing claim that the party was actually a front operation for Magashule, Jacob Zuma, and friends. So far, there appears to be no evidence of this. But the rumour stuck.

Magashule and the ATM sued Ngqulwana for damages, and the ANC instituted an internal probe into the claims. The ANC integrity commission’s probe reportedly said there was insufficient evidence that Magashule was involved in the ATM’s formation.

The ATM also lawyered up. Zungula told explain.co.za on Tuesday that the ATM is also suing Ngqulwana for defamation. And it wants the courts to prevent Ngqualwana from making the claims.

The defamation case (separate from Magashule’s case) has yet to be heard. Zungela said it’s repeatedly been postponed due to problems with Ngqulwana’s legal team.

But Ngqulwana was temporarily stopped by the courts from making his claims in public, pending a full judgment on the issue. That judgment has not yet been handed down.

Zungula also said the party is upset that the media hasn’t reported widely on the integrity commission’s findings.

Magashule’s attorneys couldn’t be reached on Tuesday and the status of that defamation case is unclear.

Politics

Lawfare aside, Magashule is still a theme in this saga. In an interview with eNCA, Manyi said the ATM believed that certain members of the ANC wanted to remove Ramaphosa. But they could not do so unless Thursday’s vote was held by secret ballot. In other words, the public would not know who voted for or against Ramaphosa. Speaker of Parliament Thandi Modise ruled against this, arguing that the principle of openness had to apply unless there was a really good reason for the vote to be held in secret.

But Manyi said the ATM could challenge this ruling in court. He said that images of ANC members burning t-shirts featuring Ramaphosa’s face outside Magashule’s recent court appearance proved that many ANC members wanted to remove the president.

Magashule appeared in court last month over his alleged involvement in a corrupt asbestos housing scheme in the Free State.

READ: Ace off base: will he see the signs?

What happens on Thursday?

With all of this in mind, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the ATM might have a shot at removing Ramaphosa on Thursday. But the ANC usually closes ranks in situations like this – just as it did when former president Jacob Zuma faced numerous motions of no confidence. It’s unlikely to enter into open warfare on Thursday, despite the fact that many people in the party might not support Ramaphosa. The ATM, and the ANC’s politics aside, the President is likely to win the day on Thursday.