In what is already a fierce factional contest, Northern Cape Premier Sylvia Lucas is one of two contenders to be the ANC’s chairperson in the province. If her campaign is successful, she will become the first woman to lead the party at a provincial level.
The vacancy arose when John Block, the party’s former chairperson in the province, resigned after being found guilty of money laundering and corruption. He is due to appeal his 15-year jail sentence.
This week, Lucas told the Mail & Guardian that she was ready to become party chair: “The issue of chairpersons being premiers, it should be natural. It shouldn’t be a fight in the ANC. If we are genuine about 50-50 representation, we must empower [women]. As women, we are contesting … on the basis that we are ready to lead,” she said.
Her rival is the party’s provincial secretary, Zamani Saul, who is known to have the backing of Luthuli House boss Gwede Mantashe and the anti-Jacob Zuma camp in the ANC’s national executive committee.
The battle has further entrenched divisions in the provincial executive committee and the regions. Both factions have formulated lists of people they’d like to join them in taking charge of the province.
Lucas made waves for spending R50 000 on her government-issued credit card to buy KFC and Wimpy takeaways during her first 10 months in office. Less known is that she led a rent boycott in Rosedale in Upington in 1980 and that she became the first woman chair of an ANC region — the Siyanda region — in 2000.
But Lucas’s campaign to chair the ANC in the Northern Cape has been dogged by accusations of racism and the corrupt use of money.
Anele Gxoyiya, Northern Cape secretary of labour federation Cosatu, said: “We condemn the introduction of racism and tribalism in the ANC, people who are desperate for power who use racism to win … They say it’s time for us as coloureds to take over the ANC. If that’s their argument, we cannot support such a thing.”
Cosatu doubts Lucas’s suitability because she worked as a typist for the National Party before joining the ANC in 1992. A year later, she was elected leader of the ANC Women’s League branch in Upington.
“[Lucas] joined the ANC, unfortunately, very late. There are comrades who are using dirty money, trying to sway votes in their favour. These are people who use their positions in government to steal the ANC from the people and further loot the resources,” Gxoyiya added.
Lucas hit back at the allegations of racism and vote buying this week. “These are just malicious rumours and ill-informed propaganda to cast doubt on processes. Government is subjected to credible audits … and no wrongdoing has been identified.”
“Anele is a racist. That is why he’s got racist thinking. At no stage was there an assertion that this is a campaign for coloureds run by coloureds. Possibly, that’s how they [Cosatu] think and that’s why they say it must be Zamani [who is elected chairperson].”
Gxoyiya said Saul should lead the ANC in the province because he is supported by all alliance partners and “grew up in the ANC”. Zamani was not recruited from another party. He comes up as a very humble servant of the people under Cosatu and the South African Communist Party [SACP],” Gxoyiya added.
But Lucas has the youth league, the women’s league and the still-powerful Block behind her. In her State of the Province address this year, she focused on creating jobs for young people and launching skills development initiatives, finding favour with the youth league.
“She convened a watershed youth development [initiative] in Upington last year and one of the recommendations was skills development. The premier also increased the budget for bursaries to ensure access to higher education is achieved. That’s very important for us,” the youth league’s Northern Cape secretary, Neo Maneng, told the M&G.
Maneng believes Lucas’s election as provincial chair would help to dismantle patriarchy in the ANC.
“We still have the kind of men who are refusing to be led by women,” he said.
“It cannot be that the positions of chairperson and secretary are reserved for males. We are challenging that mentality,” he added.
Lucas said she had been “pleasantly surprised” that it was the men who were leading the campaign to get her elected.
If elected, Lucas said she would employ the same strategy she used when she headed the Siyanda region to increase ANC membership numbers.
“What we said is let us give the ANC back to the people of the ANC. We opened up the ANC and we built relationships with churches, and with commercial and emerging farmers.
“The ANC was so accessible to everyone. That’s exactly what I intend to do if I’m elected. I say, the ANC belongs to no one because the ANC belongs to everyone,” Lucas added.
The contest between Lucas and Saul appears to repeat — at provincial level — the factional divisions in the ANC’s national structures ahead of its national elective conference.
Also lining up behind Lucas are the influential premiers of North West, Free State and Mpumalanga, known as the premier league. They are believed to be backing Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for ANC president.
Saul is the preferred candidate of tripartite alliance partners Cosatu and the SACP, and is rumoured to be backing deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to take over the ANC presidency from Zuma.
Although Lucas refused to name her preferred leader, she believes the time is right for a woman to take control of the ANC.
“The ANC has invested in women. Taking away all the other issues, there is no reason why a woman can’t lead the ANC. I have not said which woman should lead, but it’s clear that women are capable of leading the ANC at that level,” she said.
Chip off the old Block
Former chairperson and convicted fraudster John Block resigned as chairperson of the Northern Cape and all other public and party positions in October 2015 after being convicted on charges of corruption. He is out on bail while preparing an appeal of his conviction.
Block is seen to be firmly behind Sylvia Lucas. A source in the provincial executive committee (PEC) claims he is trying to “rule from the grave through her”.
A day before the ANC lekgotla in Kimberley on February 13 was disrupted and ANC Northern Cape provincial secretary Zamani Saul almost attacked, Block reportedly went to meet Lucas’s supporters.
The provincial conference was due to take place at the end of March but has been postponed indefinitely. This was agreed to by the PEC because of the alleged “cloning of membership, illegal branch meetings” and a violent nominations process that required a police guard.
Lucas wouldn’t speculate on who was behind the violence but said the postponement was necessary because, “if we allow unhealthy processes to take place now, how will we stop it in the future?” she asked.
“We must never take the ANC and make it a monster or make it something that we can’t heal,” she warned.
She doesn’t believe the divisions are genuine, but rather a fabrication by leaders who are “hungry for power”.
“If you go down to the grassroots level you will find that this is artificial division. It’s just about leadership ambitions and people who want to be elected,” she said, hinting that Block’s uniting personality is sorely missed.
“John’s personality and character really made sure we were united on how we approach things in the province. I share the view that the Northern Cape misses John Block,” she said. — Govan Whittles