Northern Cape premier Sylvia Lucas’s allies are preparing for another high-stakes battle to defend her from an attempted recall by the ANC, after her faction withdrew from participating in elections at the 8th conference in Colesberg.
The piercing winds befitted the palpable tension between the rival factions. By the end of the gathering, the branches were further divided, with a boycott of the newly elected chairperson Zamani Saul’s closing address by Lucas’s support base.
Now discussions to have her recalled from office have been sped up and there are already indications from Saul that the new leadership intendeds to act.
“Simply put, the ANC has the right to deploy or recall its deployed cadres and take decisions on strategic policy matters,” he said in his closing address, stating that the ANC would be the “only centre of power” in the province.
But the premier is known to have the support of president Jacob Zuma, who holds the prerogative to hire and fire premiers, and is under pressure over taking decisions without consulting Luthuli House.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has already called on the national leadership to take action against Lucas, after her “unilateral” cabinet reshuffle a day before the conference. Lucas fired Saul’s supporters and appointed her own allies, angering provincial and national leadership.
“If there were honest motives [to the reshuffle], the ANC and broader [tripartite] alliance would have been consulted. This a matter the PEC must urgently deal with,” Saul told delegates.
The leaders who campaigned with Saul took control of most of the PEC at the conference after Lucas and her allies withdrew from the elections.
The premier left the conference on Saturday morning, while commissions were being constituted. Her support base followed, arguing that that they could not partake in a conference they considered illegitimate.
In the PEC election, the premier’s allies were also largely sidelined. Her support has dwindled “from nearly half of the members to about a third or even less”, one of the returning PEC members told the Mail & Guardian.
But she will not go down without a fight within the party structures, Women’s League leader Roseline Tyler told the M&G.
“One thing we are saying is ‘Hands off our premier’. We are going to protect the premier and the women that are leading this government, and anyone who wants to threaten the premier and the women, they will really get it,” she said.
“Not only from the branches of the ANC, but the communities that the premier and her cabinet [lead],” she added.
The divisions between the branches were acknowledged by the national executive committee (NEC) member deployed to the province, Mcebisi Skwatsha. He pleaded with the leadership to extend an olive branch to Lucas’s faction.
“We call on the PEC [provincial executive committee] to deepen unity… [which] means all of us should be worried about people we know are not here,” he said at the conference closing.
The declaration, read by newly elected secretary Desh Nxanga, also acknowledged the disunity caused by the divisions during elections. “The conference was highly contested, brought strain and threatened the unity of the organisation,” the document read.
Saul asked branch delegates to remove the Zamdesh and Sylvin profile pictures on Facebook, which has become the norm for politicians campaigning for a position in the party.
The two names symbolized the rival factions of Saul and Nxanga, and Lucas and MEC of Co-operative Governance Alvin Botes.
Lucas plans to give her reasons for her actions to the ANC’s national officials within the next week.
Her supporters are also preparing an urgent submission to be made to the NEC for a review of the conference outcome, after withdrawing from the top leadership contest.
Their attempts to disqualify delegates attending the conference from parallel branches and expose “membership cloning” were dismissed. They have disputed the legitimacy of the Frances Baard, ZF Matthews and John Taolo Gaetsewe regions, which hold large constituencies and Lucas’s support base.
But Skhwatsha endorsed the conference as “successful”, indicating that an attempt to nullify the elections may be thwarted by support from the NEC deployees to the province.
“It has not only been sweet. There have been moments where it has been difficult and some even doubted whether we would one day have the conference. We stand here proudly and say the Northern Cape has convened a successful conference,” Skwatsha told delegates.
Inside the party, any attempts to dislodge the top leadership could be viewed as ill-discipline, Saul said.
“As soon as the conference settles a dispute through a resolution, that binds everybody that belongs to the ANC, even those who held different views. If any member, disregarding your station in life, finds it difficult to abide by the decisions of conference, then that member defines him/herself outside the organisation,” he said.
But the premier’s concern is primarily about how the overwhelming defeat will affect the ANC’s relevance in the province.
“The outcome of this conference will have to be managed very [well] for us as the ANC to make sure that we don’t lose relevance in the eyes of the people in the Northern Cape,” Lucas said.