The ANC's not-so-secret seven gunning for party leadership

Zweli Mkhize: ‘A significant transition is taking place’.

Zweli Mkhize: ‘A significant transition is taking place’.

There are now seven ANC members in the race to become the 14th president of the 105-year-old party. After accepting a nomination on Monday, Jeff Radebe joins Cyril Ramaphosa, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Lindiwe Sisulu, Baleka Mbete, Zweli Mkhize and Mathews Phosa in the scramble to gather support among ANC members ahead of the party’s electoral conference in December.

The number of candidates vying for the ANC’s top post is an indication of how deeply fractured the former liberation movement is. The multiple controversies surrounding the current leadership have divided the party and it has suffered a loss of support in strategic metropolitan areas, as evinced by last year’s municipal election results.

ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize, however, believes the party is confronting its challenges.

Mkhize, who spoke to the Mail & Guardian on the sidelines of a media engagement in Johannesburg this week, said the level of participation in this year’s succession race signalled changing tides within the ANC.

“You’ve got a very significant transition that’s taking place because it’s literally a change of guard, in the sense that this president [Jacob Zuma] is the last of president Oliver Tambo’s national executive committee.
So it’s almost a whole generational change [and that] might create a situation where there are going to be a lot of different views,” Mkhize said.

“There also is a challenge of factionalism that we have to resolve and it could have an impact on this. But by and large, it’s not the first time in the history of the ANC that you’ve got several candidates.”

Last month, Mkhize was nominated by the Alfred Nzo region in the Eastern Cape, which said it believed he had the credibility to unite a deeply fractured ANC.

“We need trusted comrades. As we speak, he [Mkhize] was never involved in such scandals of state capture and other things, including while he was the premier of KwaZulu-Natal. We trust that calibre of comrade; that’s what the ANC needs at the current juncture,” regional chairperson Sixolile Mehlomakhulu told the M&G at the time.

Although Mkhize has not yet accepted the nomination, he said he would announce his decision at the appropriate moment.

“I am ready to continue serving as a member of the leadership of the ANC and so I will wait to see the nominations of what branches wish us to do,” he said.

The ANC’s policy conference in July was followed by a flurry of public endorsements and accepted nominations by senior ANC leaders. The names of Mkhize, Minister in the Presidency Radebe and Human Settlements Minister Sisulu were added to the leadership pot following the conference. Sisulu and Radebe have since confirmed their willingness to run for the top job.

Radebe was the most recent to make his intentions public when he accepted an endorsement by branches in Pretoria on Monday.

“I thank you for your confidence; I thank you for your trust. I am ready to serve the organisation,” Radebe said. He was also endorsed by the ANC in the Midvaal region in June. With Radebe being the longest-serving Cabinet minister and the ANC’s head of policy, those who support him believe his experience in government would serve him well.

The search for a leader to unite a divided ANC has also seen Sisulu’s name thrown into the ring. She launched her anti-corruption-themed “It’s a must” campaign in Kliptown, Soweto, last month. “We have to save the ANC; saving [the] ANC is to save South Africa. Saving South Africa is saving all of us. Our lives and destiny are in the hands of the ANC,” Sisulu said.

Those backing her believe her family’s legacy ensures that she won’t “sell the party” or incite any further divisions. Sisulu is one of the most senior women leaders in the ANC, and her backers support her as the ideal candidate to become the party’s‚ and the country’s, first female president.

Former ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa accepted his first endorsement from a branch in Langa in the Western Cape in April. In June he also welcomed an endorsement by branches in Khayelitsha. It may not yet be clear who Phosa’s backers are, but he has also positioned himself as the face of an anti-corruption campaign. Like Sisulu, Radebe and Mkhize, he is likely to receive support from those who seek a unifier who is not linked to any faction.

ANC chairperson and parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete is another candidate in the succession race. Although she has not yet been nominated by any structure, she indicated to the M&G in January that she was amenable to running, saying: “I’m here, in the ANC and in its process.”

During a traditional ceremony held in her honour last year, she told members of the Hlubi tribe in the Eastern Cape that “many people” had approached her to become the next president. One of them was Zuma, who is believed to have promised to make Mbete the ANC’s first woman president. His view is understood to have been shared by the ANC Women’s League at the time. But Mbete was dealt a blow early this year when Zuma and the ANC Women’s League began endorsing Dlamini-Zuma.

Dlamini-Zuma kicked off her campaigning fresh from her term at the African Union Commission and was viewed as the ideal candidate, untainted by recent politics in the ANC. She was publicly endorsed by the women’s league in January.

“Having made this examination about Comrade Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, we are of the firm view that her capacity, experience and credentials are second to none. She is an undisputed seasoned leader that the ANC deserves,” the league said in a statement.

Since then, she has also been publicly endorsed by the ANC Youth League and the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association. She is believed to have the support of the Zuma-aligned so-called “premier league” provinces, such as the Free State and North West. The third of these provinces, Mpumalanga, is yet to make its position known, but is understood to broadly support Dlamini-Zuma.

Though fractured in its allegiance, KwaZulu-Natal is also believed to be backing Dlamini-Zuma. She accepted an endorsement for the leadership in Limpopo in June, saying: “There’s no way I can refuse the responsibility given by the ANC. I accept the nomination.”

Her greatest rival is Ramaphosa, who first indicated his readiness to contest the party’s presidential election during an interview on Power FM in December last year.

“It would be very humbling to get into a key position like that, to lead,” Ramaphosa said. “I am available to stand.”

Those who support Ramaphosa believe there is a party tradition of the deputy succeeding the president. He has been publicly endorsed in the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, as well as by Cosatu and former KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairperson Senzo Mchunu, who could help Ramaphosa to exploit the KwaZulu-Natal split. He is also believed to have the support of Gauteng, parts of Limpopo and the Western Cape.

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