/ 11 September 2009

Stage set for tense ANC election battle in Eastern Cape

The streets of East London’s city centre were fraught with tension on Thursday ahead of the first provincial conference of the ANC since the 2009 elections on Friday.

The eagerly awaited conference will see more than 2 000 delegates from regions in the province come together to choose new leaders for the Eastern Cape ANC, which was originally seen as the powerbase for the party.

The most crucial part of the conference will be the voting for the leaders, who emerge from the faction in the province previously supporting president Jacob Zuma in his bid to become party president in 2007.

The two contenders are provincial finance minister Mcebisi Jonas and provincial health minister Phumulo Masualle, who is also the national treasurer for the South African Communist Party (SACP) and a member of the ANC’s national executive committee.

Stone Sizani, the incumbent chairperson, was deployed by the ANC to be the chairperson of the portfolio committee for rural development in Parliament and is not standing for re-election.

The two factions used different venues to consolidate their support. The faction supporting Masualle convened at the East London town hall while those supporting Jonas gathered at the Orient Theatre on the beachfront, which also served as the party’s registration venue for the conference.

By 9pm, the Riverside Park Hall was empty as delegates were still preparing their onslaught in their respective caucus venues.

The conference is being closely watched by the ANC’s national leadership as the regional conferences have been characterised by severe infighting that led to violence and one major injury when a delegate was hit on the head with a brick in Mthatha.

An assessment of support for the two candidates show that Jonas holds a majority, especially after he managed to win the support of the biggest region, OR Tambo (around Mthatha). He also holds an overwhelming majority of the votes in the Amathole region (around East London), where he hails from.

The venue of a provincial conference is crucial, because traditionally the candidates have the upper hand if they live in the province where the conference takes place.

Masualle’s supporters have not lost hope and are convinced they will be able to pull at least 1 100 votes in the provincial ballot.

Rumours on Thursday that Masualle may withdraw from the race before the voting starts were summarily dismissed.

Masualle has made the minister of rural development Gugile Nkwinti his running mate and promised Nkwinti the position of deputy chairperson of the region if Masualle gets elected.

Masualle can count on support from the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions in the province, while Jonas’ key supporters are members of the provincial government.

The ANC in the province was hit hard with the emergence of the Congress of the People and lost a big chunk of its provincial leaders to the new party. Cope also replaced the Democratic Alliance as the official opposition in the legislature after the national and provincial elections and has slightly weakened the ANC’s overwhelming majority in the province.