African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma appears to have taken an early lead in the race to replace Jacob Zuma as ANC president, with the ANC Youth League expected to become the latest party structure to throw its weight behind her during its national executive committee (NEC) meeting at the weekend.
The league’s public endorsement of Dlamini-Zuma will come days after Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign to become the ANC’s number one suffered a major blow when labour federation Cosatu reversed its decision to endorse him.
Behind the scenes, senior ANC leaders are discussing ways to avoid a contest between leaders from different factions when the party holds its elective conference next year.
In what appears to be a desperate attempt to avert another costly split ahead of the 2019 national elections, the party is encouraging its provincial structures to propose names of suitable candidates for the party’s “top six” office bearers, as well as its NEC and its national working committee.
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa confirmed this week that party leaders wanted to prevent an unpleasant contest and “slates” – which have previously seen leaders being elected to key positions not on merit but because they belonged to a particular faction in the party.
“What matters for me is the issue of principle. We are trying to avoid a situation where leaders contest each other, to bring about unity, and do away with the politics of slates,” said Kodwa.
There has been talk in several ANC structures that secretary general Gwede Mantashe has told Zuma and alliance leaders that he wants out. ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete has apparently also sounded out leaders about stepping down.
In addition, Zuma supporters are apparently worried that NEC members frustrated by the president are planning to resign en masse.
Kodwa said he was aware of the rumours but denied there was any truth in them. Yet ANC NEC member Billy Masetlha said he had picked up on the whispers of mass resignations two weeks ago.
“I decided not to confront the people rumoured to be considering resigning until establishing all the facts,” Masetlha said, adding: “There are a lot of rumours in the air.”
ANC elective conferences in 2007 and 2012 produced splinter parties – the Congress of the People and the Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Mosiuoa Lekota and Julius Malema respectively. Political observers believe these spin-off parties have contributed to a decline in ANC support during municipal and national elections since then. The ANC lost control of three key metros – Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Johannesburg – after the 2016 local government elections.
Cyril Ramaphosa should not be ruled out just yet, analysts say. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)
Youth league secretary general Njabulo Nzuza said party structures should discuss the kind of leaders that were needed to take the ANC forward.
“The [ANC] conference must not be contested. Even though we cannot deny anyone a chance of standing and being available, we believe that it serves the organisation if discussions on leadership are held openly by structures.” He said the ANC should be united at its elective conference to enable the NEC to focus on its work.
The Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association agrees, saying that provincial leaders should meet ahead of the 2017 conference to iron out divisions. Its leader, Kebby Maphatsoe, said: “It would be proper if the structures engage each other to reach a consensus, not to disagree about all the positions … to avoid people going out of the conference feeling they have been defeated.
“Preferably, you would allow provincial leadership to sit together and come up with a proposal. We don’t want a highly contested conference … Ultimately the branches should decide, not the NEC.”
Cosatu resolved at its national congress last year that the ANC deputy president should take over from Zuma. The motion was first raised by member unions whose leaders sit on the South African Communist Party’s central committee, which is behind Ramaphosa’s bid.
Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said the federation’s decision this week not to endorse Ramaphosa was a compromise to appease worker leaders who doubted his suitability.
He told the Mail & Guardian that Cosatu would announce the names of its preferred leaders after all its affiliates had stated their preferences.
“We were endorsing an ANC tradition and we are dealing with the principle, not with names. That principle says the deputy should succeed the president. But we won’t only be announcing the names of one individual, it will be the collective top six … Affiliates are debating, saying it may be necessary to repeat the strategy of 2007 to come up with names ourselves. The environment may force us to add our voice to these issues,” Ntshalintshali said.
Affiliates understood to be opposed to Ramaphosa’s presidential bid include transport union Satawu and municipal union Samwu. Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini, who is one of Zuma’s most vocal allies, is also not in favour of Ramaphosa becoming party leader.
Those opposed to Ramaphosa say his involvement in the Marikana massacre would make it difficult for Cosatu to defend its decision in the future, should it opt to back him.
But cracks have started to appear in the pro-Dlamini-Zuma faction. Although the “premier league” of provincial premiers – Ace Magashule, David Mabuza and Supra Mahumapela – appears united behind her presidential bid, the divisions centre on who should occupy key positions in the party’s top six. The premier league is said to want ANC Free State chair Magashule to be party secretary general and Mpumalanga chair Mabuza as deputy president. The group is considering including Gauteng ANC chair Paul Mashatile to appease the anti-Zuma faction. But current and former youth league leaders are said to want ministers Malusi Gigaba, Nathi Mthethwa and Fikile Mbalula in the top six.
Political analyst Susan Booysen said Dlamini-Zuma’s supporters hold the upper hand because of an early campaign conducted through official ANC structures, whereas Ramaphosa appears to be making the same mistakes as his predecessor, Kgalema Motlanthe.
“We all know how Motlanthe lost: he played by the rules and when they [the ANC] said no campaigning, he didn’t [campaign]. In one way, Cyril seems to be going by the no-campaigning rules, which is a loser strategy because the leagues have been openly campaigning since the [ANC] Women’s League conference,” she said.
Booysen believes that the dominant faction’s willingness to work towards an uncontested conference is a positive sign for Ramaphosa. “The move for an uncontested conference is maybe the strongest positive indicator for Cyril’s campaign yet, because that suggests Dlamini-Zuma will be threatened if there is a competition.
“That might show us there is some panic there and the panic is appropriate, given the closeness between Zuma and his ex-wife. In many respects, the baggage Zuma comes with, she will come with,” Booysen said.
Kodwa said the next NEC meeting, scheduled for the end of September, would discuss a number of issues that contributed to to the ANC’s poor election outcome. This includes the Constitutional Court ruling that Zuma broke his presidential oath of office by refusing to pay back taxpayers’ money spent on Nkandla, e-tolls and the unhappiness over the ANC’s list process.
Kodwa said even though the party had forgiven Zuma for the Nkandla saga, the party could not ignore the public outcry. He said the ANC needed to find a lasting solution to the scandal.