NUM wants Ramaphosa to lead the ANC, saying a KZN boss would be ‘tribalistic’

National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) Secretary General, David Sipunzi, at his offices in Johannesburg. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) Secretary General, David Sipunzi, at his offices in Johannesburg. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has warned that the election of any candidate from KwaZulu-Natal to succeed Jacob Zuma as the ANC’s president in 2017 could be interpreted as tribalism.

In an exclusive interview with the Mail & Guardian, NUM general secretary David Sipunzi endorsed Cyril Ramaphosa to take over from Zuma, saying the former union leader has the capacity to lead the governing party and the country. He also said exceptional reasons would be needed to justify why the long-standing tradition of the deputy succeeding the president should be broken.

“We say, if that tradition has to be broken, there should be convincing reasons out there. And we don’t want to make it sound as if this thing has some tribalistic element in it.
Now because it is a Venda boy that has to lead the country, that’s a no-no. We don’t want it to take that route,” Sipunzi said.

Ramaphosa’s bid to take over the ANC will probably be contested by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, outgoing chairperson of the African Union Commission, or Baleka Mbete, speaker of the National Assembly. 

The ANC’s dominant faction, that includes the Mpumalanga, Free State and North West party chairpersons, has indicated it would support a woman candidate to succeed Zuma. Zuma has said South Africa is ready for a female president. 

Labour federation Cosatu took a resolution at its national congress last November endorsing the ANC’s tradition that its deputy automatically becomes the leader of the party and the country when the current leader’s term comes to an end.

Sipunzi sees no contradiction in backing Ramaphosa despite his close affiliation to big business. He does admit there is a perception among the working class that Ramaphosa sold them out when he left trade union politics and entered private business.

“The [workers who think he sold them out] are a lot but if you were to compare those workers with those who would favour him to be president, they are a fraction,” Sipunzi said.

The NUM general secretary’s assessment of the ANC’s leadership under Zuma was not flattering, with accusations that the party was openly prioritising “other classes” ahead of workers.

“We are disappointed at the level of them [ANC] working in favour of [us]. However, we understand that being president of the country means you have a broader constituency. So, we are disappointed … but we wouldn’t give them zero out of 10, we’d give them four out of 10. It’s a very low score,” he said.

Asked how this score reflects on Zuma personally, he said “the score tells it all”.

An endorsement of Ramaphosa’s bid to win control of the ANC was almost certainly expected from the NUM and other Cosatu affiliates. 

Sipunzi said he was aware of to the campaign to prevent Ramaphosa from succeeding. In an apparent reference to the so-called premier league, Sipunzi said campaigning within the party seemed to have already begun. “For now we don’t want to talk because campaigns are not officially open, although other sections are campaigning openly,” he said.

As far as his own political future is concerned, Sipunzi said he has no ambition to reach the top of the ANC, as had his predecessors  such as Ramaphosa, former president Kgalema Motlanthe and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe. But does see himself as a politician: “I don’t see myself only being the general secretary of the NUM. I avail myself to wider politics out there. Politics may take you backwards or forward.”

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