/ 21 July 2017

ANC Free State leadership tussle could upset apple cart

Thabo Manyoni is ready to stand as Free State party chairperson
Thabo Manyoni is ready to stand as Free State party chairperson

Supporters of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa are working hard to oust long-standing Free State ANC chairperson Ace Magashule from his position in the province.

A senior ANC leader, who spoke to the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity, said Ramaphosa allies in the province have been mobilising support for former Mangaung mayor Thabo Manyoni to replace Magashule at the party’s Free State elective conference next month.

They are confident that they will triumph. “This time around, we are going to make sure that there are no bogus members at the conference. Only members in good standing will be allowed to participate in the provincial conference,” said the ANC member.

Manyoni is deputy provincial chairperson and Magashule, the premier and a close ally of President Jacob Zuma, has served as ANC provincial chairperson since 1992.

In the past, Magashule’s detractors have accused him of sidelining ANC members aligned to his political rivals by preventing them from participating in provincial conferences. But Manyoni appears undeterred.

He told the M&G this week that he would make himself available for election to the province’s top position if branches nominated him.

Manyoni and Magashule have had a turbulent relationship. Once close allies, they fell out when Magashule recalled Manyoni as Mangaung mayor in 2016. They now stand on opposite sides of the divide in the national leadership battle.

Magashule has been a key figure in the Zuma-aligned “premier league” faction. Manyoni has previously indicated that he believes Ramaphosa should become party president, saying he believes in the culture of a deputy president succeeding the president.

Magashule has his sights set on becoming a national office bearer and has been widely tipped to take over as party secretary general. Despite this, his supporters still want to have him re-elected as provincial chairperson next month. They believe this will work in Magashule’s favour when he contests the crucial position of secretary general and will also act as a failsafe should his bid for a national position not be successful.

The Ramaphosa faction, however, has experienced interference with its plan to propel Manyoni to the position of Free State provincial chair.

The M&G has learned that Maga-shule’s faction has tried to persuade Manyoni not to stand because he would become the automatic successor in December should Magashule move up to national office.

But Manyoni supporters believe the suggestion of maintaining the top five is being used by Magashule’s backers to manage his ambitions.

“He [Magashule] must explain those three months [that he wants to remain as chairperson] and what difference they will make. Why would he do that and what does that say about our appetite to always be in power?” said one of Manyoni’s supporters.

Others, however, are wary of the effects of Magashule losing his position. “The man has united the province and we feel that, if he may move, the province may be divided, especially ahead of December,” said Motheo regional spokesperson Ncamile Nxangisa.

Should the Ramaphosa camp succeed in getting Manyoni to replace Magashule as provincial chairperson next month, the latter’s chances of success in December could be affected, because the province would then probably abandon the pro-Zuma line it has adopted.

It would also mean that the “premier league” could lose a member province, affecting Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s chances of victory in the ANC presidential race.