As some within the ANC lobby for president Jacob Zuma’s successor to be a woman, Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile has openly declared his support for deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to become both the party’s and the country’s next head.
Although Gauteng is not the largest ANC province, it plays a crucial role in the party’s succession battles. Rampahosa is without a definable constituency but has tried to penetrate KwaZulu-Natal – the ANC’s largest province, albeit one that is no longer solidly behind Zuma.
Ramaphosa was not Gauteng’s choice for deputy president at the ANC’s Mangaung national elective conference in 2012, preferring Tokyo Sexwale, but there has since been a change of heart.
Gauteng senior leaders say the province is now trying hard to court Ramaphosa – against the wishes of the so-called Zuma camp.
A Gauteng provincial executive committee (PEC) member told the Mail & Guardian that, before the country’s polls in May, a faction in the Zuma camp attempted to prevent Ramaphosa from accepting invitations to the province’s election campaign events. They wanted him to establish his credentials in KwaZulu-Natal instead.
But the PEC member also said the province “believed in Cyril”, despite earlier concerns that he was part of the Zuma camp. Gauteng’s attempt to embrace Ramaphosa was confirmed by Mashatile this week.
He was speaking a week after ANC Women’s League national executive committee member and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini told the M&G she will support African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma or ANC chair Baleka Mbete for the ANC’s top position in 2017.
Some women’s league branches want Dlamini to replace Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga as league president. Dlamini is keen for the league to discuss a resolution to support a woman president for the country in 2017.
AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is the first choice for many should South Africa gain its first woman president. (Mulugeta Ayene, AFP)
The issue of a female head of state has received support in some ANC structures since Zuma said in April that the country is ready to be led by a woman, although some in the ANC have interpreted the suggestion as a strategy by Zuma and his supporters to block Ramaphosa from succeeding him.
This week, Mashatile said his province will throw its support behind Ramaphosa to become the next president. “I know in Gauteng, as things stand, there is a lot of support for the deputy president. We see him [Ramaphosa] as a potential future president. If there is a view that it should be someone else, we should be convinced about the appropriateness of such.
“We do support women leaders, but in a situation where you have a deputy president who is available and you want someone else, you will have to engage us,” said Mashatile.
A senior women’s league member said the problem is that the league never makes decisions based on principle, but is always caught up in the ANC’s factional battles. That is why there was no solid league position prior to the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane elective conference, with some supporting Kgalema Motlanthe for ANC deputy president while others backed Dlamini-Zuma.
The highly placed women’s league member said the only way the body could show the courage of its convictions would be to do some work on the ground and not merely lobby through the media.
The M&G this week spoke to a number of provincial and national alliance leaders on the matter of succession.
“It’s fine if national leadership raised the issue, but with us we will only discuss it when we are there [the 2017 conference],” said Sihle Zikalala, the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary.
Although Zikalala did not want to comment on Dlamini-Zuma, he was firm in his support for Ramaphosa if he were to lead the party come 2017. “He is a leader of the ANC; he can lead the organisation.”
ANC Free State secretary William Bulwana said it is healthy for the organisation that Dlamini started the debate about a woman president. “It triggers debate. I don’t see any wrong, really,” he told the M&G.
Declining to be drawn on Ramaphosa’s abilities, saying it would be wrong to “single him out as a person”, he nonetheless spoke glowingly of Dlamini-Zuma. “I think Nkosazana is a very good leader and she has qualities of leadership.”
The party’s Mpumalanga secretary, Lucky Ndinisa, said he agreed with Dlamini on her choice of candidates. “If Bathabile [Dlamini] feels we should support women I won’t have a problem with that, but it is early for us to talk about it,” said Ndinisa. “We need to focus on the resolutions and manifesto of the ANC.”
But Ndinisa also said he holds Ramaphosa in high regard as a leader.
ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete is a contender for the presidency. (Sipho Maluka, Gallo)
ANC heavyweight and Minister of Small Business Lindiwe Zulu said it is only a matter of “when” the ANC will have its first female president. “It’s never too soon. It’s up to the women to make it happen and we will be supported by those men who have gone beyond those arguments of ‘are we ready or not?’ It’s up to us.”
The ANC Youth League’s national task team co-ordinator, Magasela Mzobe, said Dlamini is brave to have started the debate about a woman leader now. “In principle it is possible: the ANC branches can elect a female, male, gay or straight president any time they identify a capable person,” Mzobe said.
“The only organisation in South Africa that can give South Africa a female president is the ANC. Only the ANC has capable women who are given an opportunity to lead.”
Senzo Mahlangu, general secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union, said Ramaphosa is the best candidate to replace Zuma. He warned against pushing Dlamini-Zuma or Mbete – both hail from Zuma’s home province – saying it could be seen as tribalism.
“If I were to decide, I would say Cyril. He is not new to politics. He is smart and has a lot of experience as a leader. He is not moved by money or power,” said Mahlangu.