The ANC Women’s League is divided over the nomination of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as its preferred presidential candidate for the ANC’s elective conference in December.
The league initially took a decision to support the principle of a woman president but deferred the naming of a particular candidate, leaving it for discussion at a later date.
But some in the league have now accused senior leaders, including its president Bathabile Dlamini of pushing Dlamini-Zuma against the wish of the members.
They argue that there are other capable women in the ANC who could be presidential candidates, including National Assembly speaker and ANC chairperson, Baleka Mbete, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
Mbete said the league’s pronouncement of Dlamini-Zuma as its candidate took the ANC by surprise, because it had asked its structures to refrain from naming candidates.
“The truth of the matter is there is a decision that there is a specific time that will come when officially the debate is opened up. And, of course, they took us all by surprise, but it has happened,” Mbete said.
The Mail & Guardian understands she was furious about the announcement. She was first approached by some of the league’s members regarding it. Her concerns, according to ANC insiders, were that the league’s leaders did not have the decency to inform her she was no longer their preferred candidate.
Mbete is also understood to be unhappy with President Jacob Zuma for endorsing the choice of Dlamini-Zuma, despite having told Mbete she would succeed him.
Mbete dismissed these claims. “In politics, if you are going to have that kind of approach to things, then you will always be tense because there has been some view that has been put forward that some people don’t agree with, we’re not going to work. So they have expressed their view, life goes on,” she said.
“Even in the last few days, a lot has been going on and that continues. So the fact that certain viewpoints have been expressed, its fine. It’s part of politics.”
Last year, the ANC chairperson told guests at a traditional ceremony held in her honour by the Hlubi tribe in the Eastern Cape that she had been approached by many party leaders to stand for the position of party president in 2017.
Despite not receiving the backing of the women’s league, Mbete said she was still committed to serving the ANC. She dismissed claims that she threatened to resign from her position as ANC chairperson because of the divisions in the party.
The only time she considered resigning and retiring from active politics was in 2008, the same year that former president Thabo Mbeki was recalled by the ANC, she said.
“There was a time moving towards the end of the third term that I started to think and to talk to those that were close to me about retirement. But that personal conversation with myself was disrupted,” she said.
She was appointed the country’s deputy president when Mbeki was recalled, with Kgalema Motlante appointed caretaker president.
“It [the appointment] just dashed all those thoughts [of retirement] and really those thoughts have not returned to me. So I’m still here for as long as I have energy,” she said.
Party branches could still call on her to avail herself to succeed Zuma. Mbete said, if they took that decision, she would be willing to follow the ANC’s processes.
“At a time when I was beginning to think of ‘what next’, the ANC came into the space and said, ‘We know what’s next’, and they took me [in] a different direction I had never anticipated. So I’m saying, I’m here, in the ANC and in its process.”
Asked if the national executive committee resolved that the league would lobby for Dlamini-Zuma to be president, spokesperson Fundi Skweyiya could only confirm that the NEC endorsed the principle of lobbying for a woman to replace Zuma.
Additional reporting by Govan Whittles