Cyril Ramaphosa will not succeed Jacob Zuma if the current president's supporters in KwaZulu-Natal have their way. Barely two months after the ANC's conference in Mangaung, a caucus of Zuma's supporters in KwaZulu-Natal have already started informal lobbying to have former home affairs minister and current African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma succeed Zuma instead of ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.
Zuma, who overwhelmingly defeated Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe to retain the party presidency in December, made it clear in a recent interview with the SABC that he would not stand for a third term as ANC president. But political observers both in and out of the party believe he plans to anoint a successor.
Until recently, Ramaphosa, a former unionist turned businessman, was seen as the automatic choice for the party's hot seat. However, the Mail & Guardian has established that Zuma's supporters are planning that his ex-wife, Dlamini-Zuma, replace him, as they do not fully trust Ramaphosa.
Motlanthe was the first ANC deputy president since 1994 not to be elected ANC president.
The move to elevate Dlamini-Zuma to the ANC's top job was confirmed by eight senior ANC leaders who spoke to the M&G this week on condition of anonymity.
"The plan was never to have Ramaphosa as ANC president. He was never an ultimate choice. He just happened to be at the right place at the right time. He was invited to fill the space in Mangaung only after Kgalema Motlanthe turned them [Zuma supporters] down and contested Zuma for the position of president. To them, he [Ramaphosa] remains an invitee," said a senior party leader in Gauteng.
Although Ramaphosa appeals to both labour and business, Zuma's supporters are worried that he cannot be trusted not to reopen the corruption investigation into Zuma.
The 20-year plan
"They [Zuma supporters] can't afford to take that risk. As things stand, it is not a given that the president will appoint Ramaphosa his deputy in government," said an ANC leader sympathetic to Zuma. "He is even thinking about convincing Motlanthe to stay as the country's deputy president beyond the 2014 elections. If he fails to convince Motlanthe, he will approach Baleka Mbete [ANC chairperson] or another senior female leader within the ANC to occupy the position until the party elects a new deputy president in 2017."
Zuma's supporters would then prefer KwaZulu-Natal premier and party treasurer Zweli Mkhize to take over the party's deputy presidency and would also like Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba to replace Gwede Mantashe as ANC secretary general.
ANC insiders said this week Zuma supporters had drawn up a 20-year plan to draw leaders from KwaZulu-Natal to lead the ANC. Mkhize and Gigaba would be groomed for the party's top post after Dlamini-Zuma, according to the insiders.
Although the province appears to be calling the shots now, its unity appears to be threatened by an internal leadership battle to replace Mkhize, the provincial chairperson.
KwaZulu-Natal education MEC Senzo Mchunu and ANC deputy provincial chairperson Willies Mchunu are vying for the top provincial position. The ANC is scheduled to hold a provincial general council next month to elect a successor to Mkhize. The M&G understands that the leadership battle has caused serious tension between supporters of the two leading candidates.
Asked to comment about the province's 20-year plan to lead the ANC, Mantashe said: "I can't comment on conspiracies. I am not from KZN. How am I supposed to know issues that are discussed there? This is not a formal ANC plan. I can't comment on it."
KwaZulu-Natal ANC secretary Sihle Zikalala also denied the existence of a succession plan.
"That's totally wrong. It's misleading. It's not worth commenting on.
'Not a new thing'
"How do you think of such a thing? There is nothing of such [a] nature. We don't know about that [the 20- year plan]. It would be wrong to say this is KZN's time to lead the ANC. Even President Zuma is leading because he is acknowledged as the leader in the whole country. KZN alone would not have made him president," said Zikalala.
However, two ANC provincial executive committee members, one from the Western Cape and the other from Limpopo, said in separate interviews this week that they had been aware of the province's plan since last year.
"This is not a new thing," said the Western Cape provincial executive member. "It was raised prior to the ANC conference in Mangaung. The danger they [Zuma supporters] foresee is that if someone comes in [to lead ANC], there will be investigation into the corruption allegations against Zuma and the people close to him. If you look at how the ANC's national working committee is designed, you will realise it was done to ensure the success of the 20-year plan."
"Cyril and Gwede are going to be the first victims. It is no longer a secret that these people are using Cyril. He was never their candidate. He [Ramaphosa] must also be aware [of this], unless he is naive," the member said.
"Their [Zuma's supporters] attitude is that KwaZulu-Natal should be consolidated. And in other provinces they want people they can control. Now, the move is to deal with Limpopo, Northern Cape, North West and Western Cape.
"In Gauteng, their strategy is to play the divide-and-rule game. They are going to make sure that they create tension between ANC chairman Paul Mashatile and provincial secretary David Makhura. Mpumalanga and Free State are the most corrupt provinces, but no one will touch them because they toe the line."
'Zweli's own circle'
A KwaZulu-Natal leader in the ANC-led alliance said the succession plan had come to the fore because some party leaders knew that Zuma would not be re-elected for another term.
"There are certain groupings with ambitions beyond Cyril and they are saying to Zweli: 'Prepare yourself to be the deputy president because age is on your side'."
The leader said this plan had been hatched by "Zweli's own circle".
"I don't think there can be that kind of a bullying from the province."
The leader said Ramaphosa was not resting on his laurels and continued to work on increasing his popularity in the ANC, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, which he visited frequently.
"The psychology of the people of KwaZulu-Natal is that when you are always with them, they support you," said the leader, who pointed out that electing another president from the province would risk raising the issue of tribal preference.
"Comrades in KwaZulu-Natal are sensitive about tribalism. Without it being said openly, this thing [tribalism] also becomes a factor and you're careful not to perpetuate that. As a cadre, you must always be sensitive to these things, otherwise you'll create another Rwanda."
The leader said the province had lost out on the opportunity to make Dlamini-Zuma deputy president in Mangaung last December.
"There is also an age issue. In politics, once you lose out on an opportunity, five years becomes a long time and you are unlikely to get that opportunity again."
A Gauteng leader who knew only about a plan to make Mkhize deputy president said it was too ambitious of KwaZulu-Natal to come up with a succession plan.
The leader alluded to the way power broking had changed since the ANC was unbanned in 1990.
"To say you've got a 20-year plan is not wise, because things change in the ANC," he said.
The Gauteng leader said the problem with the KwaZulu-Natal plan was that "it assumes that all other provinces are spectators. In the ANC, there is no province that can win the conference on its own.
The assumption that you will have a 20-year plan and everyone will support you is [incorrect]."