ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize has rejected President Jacob Zuma’s call for the loser of the party’s succession race to automatically become deputy president.
Zuma made the proposal during his closing address at the ANC policy conference in June, arguing that it would foster unity if the two leading candidates to replace him at the ANC’s December national conference were to become leader and deputy leader of the party.
The outgoing ANC president suggested that the candidate who loses out on the party presidency should become its first deputy president, with branches nominating candidates for a second deputy.
Mkhize disagrees: “What you can never do is to give someone a position simply because they failed to get another position. You have to go through the nominations and allow the space for alternative candidates’ names to be put on the table,” he told the Mail & Guardian this week.
Mkhize, who has been tipped for both the president and deputy president positions, believes the branches should be allowed to nominate their preferred candidates for any position in the party.
“You don’t ever disqualify branch nominations; it’s always important to make sure that branches’ views can also be heard. So, that process needs to be protected,” he added.
Those likely to contest for the position of party president include Mkhize, former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, ministers Lindiwe Sisulu and Jeff Radebe, and Mkhize’s predecessor as party treasurer, Mathews Phosa.
Each of the candidates has emerged with a preferred “slate” of ANC leaders who would join them in the deputy, secretary general and national chairperson positions, and these are in turn aligned with different factions in the party.
This week Mkhize warned that “slate politics” could lead to a lower calibre of leadership ascending to the ANC’s highest structures.
“And one other problem is that sometimes you will have in the leadership people who may not be as capable … [They are] only coming in because of the slates that have propelled them in.”
He said that, although the branches should be free to nominate who they choose, a consolidation of leadership preferences is a step in the right direction.
The ANC’s December conference, he said, should revise the process the party uses to nominate and elect its leaders.
“We need to create an environment where leadership issues are discussed openly … because even if you disagree, you get a more united organisation if people have discussed issues openly,” he explained.
He criticised the culture of gatekeeping within the organisation.
“Hopefully, the conference will make sure there’s no gatekeeping, where certain candidates can only be there because they are favoured by some of the leadership … and others can’t get there because they are not favoured by other leadership,” Mkhize said.
Meanwhile, Mkhize, who is the treasurer and former chairperson of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, said the party leadership’s decision to allow potential candidates to be discussed ahead of official branch nominations has led to social media campaigning taking place without any rules.
In effect, some of the party’s leaders are campaigning for positions that no one has nominated them for.
“The risk of doing something that is new and has got no rules is that it’s going to be very difficult to manage,” Mkhize said.
Without an agreement to regulate how candidates for ANC leadership positions are allowed to campaign on social media, the will of the branches risks being subverted, Mkhize warned.
“Part of the strain the ANC is going through is because of the approach we’ve used, which no one has used before,” he said.
“We can only hope that what has been happening now won’t create a situation where branches feel they are bullied to take certain nominations.”
Mkhize added: “We didn’t [set rules for social media campaigning] and I think the approach has had very serious weaknesses. The only thing that one can say is that we need to formalise the process and make sure that the rules are clear.
“This time around, we allowed a process where people announced [their candidacy for positions] outside the process of the branches,” Mkhize said.
“So what we are engaging with in public is not really branch nominations.
“We are engaging with candidates that have announced themselves.”