The ANC Leadership race: What will happen?
South Africa’s political landscape is heating up again. In the first of a series of articles ahead of the ANC National Elective Conference starting on 16 December, commentator JUSTICE MALALA outlines some of the key issues to watch as tensions rise.
The news cycle has gone into a feeding frenzy. Every day now there is a new twist in the ANC race to succeed president Jacob Zuma as leader of the party and, if the organisation wins the 2019 elections, president of the country.
Our political landscape is a bit like watching a horse race, say the Durban July, with evenly matched contenders fighting it out for supremacy. Who will win? Should we be making major decisions now or should we just hold back and wait?
That’s the ANC presidential race for you. It has the country on tenterhooks. It has brought us two main scenarios: if deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa wins then our country will rise up once again. If, however, president Jacob Zuma’s preferred candidate Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma wins, then we will continue pretty much as we are right now – poor economic growth, high unemployment, uncertain policy trajectory, decaying social cohesion and less than ideal prospects in general.
It has not helped that luminaries such as ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe have pointed to such dire and binary scenarios. “The choice that the ANC has in December is a choice between life and death. It’s a choice between prosperity and disaster,” warned Mantashe in September.
Is it that cut and dried, though? And is there a signal which we all should be watching for that will tell us who will win?
The answer to the first question is that election results in the ANC seldom produce absolute winners and losers. Instead, the divisions that pertain before such national conferences tend to perpetuate themselves after these meetings and can be seen in the make-up of leadership structures, such as the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC).
Will the conference even happen?
First, we have to be open to the possibility that the elective conference could be postponed, or even called off, if political tensions heighten within the ruling party.
There are major risks that come into play in the process of mounting this conference. Corruption and manipulation in branch nominations is the first. It has already been reported that by the 19 November 2017, “almost 100 KwaZulu-Natal ANC branches have lodged appeals against the nominations process”.
Simply put, they believe that the process is being manipulated to ensure that Dlamini-Zuma wins. In October, in the first week of branches sitting to nominate candidates, “leaders backing Ramaphosa said 30 ANC branches in eThekwini, 19 in the Lower South Coast, 11 in Harry Gwala, 8 in KwaDukuza and several in other regions had lodged complaints (about membership manipulation)” by the Dlamini-Zuma faction.
Even major leaders are not immune to these problems. ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize and his wife arrived at their branch general meeting to find that they were not listed as members. This is a trend that has appeared forcefully in KZN. Further, there are legal challenges to the legitimacy of the KZN, Eastern Cape and Free State leadership structures. A legal challenge to the December conference may yet be mounted. At the moment, the probability of this conference going ahead can be placed at between 55% and 60%.
The Mpumalanga ANC’s recent vote to support Dlamini-Zuma has caused a stir, as the province is now the second-biggest voting bloc in the ANC after KwaZulu-Natal. Mpumalanga’s share of voting delegates to the conference has increased by 57.6% since 2012, from 467 delegates to 736 delegates. It was a close race, however: 123 branches voted for Dlamini-Zuma against 117 for Ramphosa, with 223 branches abstaining from voting for a presidential candidate.
This has given new impetus to the Dlamini-Zuma campaign, which had been stuttering somewhat, with some institutions such as the SA Institute for Race Relations previously indicating that (using informal branch nominations) Ramaphosa was ahead in the race. It will mean that the race remains neck-and-neck right up to the vote on 18 and 19 December.
What should we all do now? The next three weeks will be full of noise and speculation. Within the ANC bargains will be struck and allegiances will change. Zweli Mkhize is a name which may yet appear as a strong candidate for the position of deputy president. Other names will also come up. Branches and branch delegates may change allegiances.
Three weeks is a long time in politics. This is therefore not the time to rush to decisions, but to hold tight and wait for decisive news when the conference concludes on December 20. The outcomes may well surprise us all.
Until next time, take care.