ANC presidential race wide open

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa line up for a selfie at the ANC’s policy conference in July. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa line up for a selfie at the ANC’s policy conference in July. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

News analysis

Official branch nominations for leadership positions in the ANC open on Friday, with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa expected to emerge as the favourites.

Unlike previous years, ANC branches will send nominations for leadership positions directly to Luthuli House in a bid to eliminate manipulation by regional and provincial leaders, as has been the case in previous years.

With reports of fraud on the increase leading up to the elective conference in December, the party has launched an investigation into allegations of membership fraud and gatekeeping in its branches — which has resulted in legal action in KwaZulu-Natal, where more than 40 branches are challenging the legitimacy of the party’s 2015 provincial conference. Some ANC members in the Eastern Cape and North West have threatened to challenge the validity of the OR Tambo and Ngaka Modiri Molema regional conferences respectively.

The branch nominations will be processed by the party’s headquarters and may yield some unexpected entrants in the leadership race, which, until recently, appeared to be a two-horse race between Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma.

Several ANC structures have already endorsed Dlamini-Zuma, whose campaign is themed #WeAreReady, as the next ANC president. These include the women’s and youth leagues, Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association and the regional structures of Tshwane, Ethekwini, Ekurhuleni and Ngaka Modiri Molema.

She is also expected to secure the endorsement of some regions in KwaZulu-Natal, the North West, Mpumalanga and the Free State.

Ramaphosa’s campaign, dubbed #CR17 Siyavuma, is now running at full speed. He has already publicly secured the support of a provincial executive committee, that of the Northern Cape, and has also made inroads in KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and North West.

In KwaZulu-Natal, Ramaphosa was endorsed by the Emalahleni and Lower South Coast regional executive committees — which were later disbanded by provincial leaders.

Last month the ANC’s national working committee met the disbanded Lower South Coast leadership after complaints about unfair treatment by the provincial leadership were taken to Luthuli House.

The national ANC leaders have not yet announced whether they will reverse the disbandment.

It is likely that KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and North West will go to the national conference divided, with some of their regions even backing contenders other than Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma.

The ANC deputy president has been publicly supported by a wide range of other individual, provincial and regional leaders in other parts of the country, including in the Western Cape and Gauteng. But, besides the Northern Cape, no other ANC structure with voting power at the December conference has officially backed him.

A former unionist-turned- businessperson, Ramaphosa is largely supported by the ANC’s alliance partners, the South African Communist Party and trade union federation Cosatu, some of whose members double as ANC branch members.

Meanwhile, ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize and Minister of Human Settlements Lindiwe Sisulu have emerged as the dark horses in the party’s succession race.

Mkhize has been keeping a relatively low profile but he has been lobbying branches consistently and travelling around the country to speak at memorial lectures and cadre forums, often by special invitation.

His campaign slogan #AbantuBathi is gaining traction on social media and his backers have been growing his support base over the past six months.

He has a significant constituency in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal. A former provincial chairperson, he has already been endorsed as a candidate by the vast majority of branches in the province’s Phongola region. He was also publicly guaranteed support by the Alfred Nzo region in the Eastern Cape.

Sisulu has been nominated by women’s league branches in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape and she has accepted the nominations. Her supporters are running her campaign under the theme “It’s a Must”.

Trailing behind the frontrunners are former ANC treasurer, Mkhize’s predecessor, Mathews Phosa, ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete and the party’s head of policy, Jeff Radebe.

Phosa was nominated by a branch in Khayelitsha in Cape Town and another in East London. Mbete’s #BM17 campaign is being driven mostly by the women’s league after she was nominated by the league’s branch in Cape Town and she received the blessing of her family in rural Eastern Cape to run for the position. She is also supported by the Ngaka Modiri Molema region for the position of second deputy president.

Phosa’s “Saving the ANC” movement has gained traction among churches, where he has been invited to speak almost every week. But invitations from ANC branches, though, have been few and far between.

Radebe was nominated by an ANC branch in Midvaal in June. He later accepted a nomination at another ANC event in Tshwane. He is being punted as the ANC’s “longest-serving Cabinet member” and some people are joking that he is mobilising support under the slogan “P.R.E.S.I.D.E.N.C.Y is requested”.

This refers to the sexting scandal Radebe was involved in earlier this year with a government employee assigned to work in the presidency. He apologised publicly after it emerged he had asked for a picture of the photographer’s clitoris, texting “C.L.I.T is requested”.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga believes the ANC’s decision to instruct its branches to send nominations directly to Luthuli House will not affect the influence of provincial and regional power brokers.

“It’s essentially just about forwarding the instruction to the branches. Even if the branch nominates directly, those who have constituencies in the provinces and regions will inevitably see their preferences emerge from branches,” he said.

The legitimacy of the ANC’s December conference, and the ability of branches and regions to follow through with their campaigning, hinges on the outcome of a membership audit and investigations into fraudulent membership and alleged vote buying.

The Eastern Cape and Free State have postponed their provincial conferences over disputes about the membership audit, and 21 branches in Limpopo are contesting a report that found fake members, bulk payment and the buying of membership forms.

The audits have been further delayed by the legal challenges in KwaZulu-Natal and the OR Tambo and Ngaka Modiri Molema regions.

The investigation is being spearheaded by the offices of the ANC secretary general and treasurer general. In a recent interview, Mkhize said the membership fraud investigation was expected to be concluded before the December conference.

Mathekga said official branch nominations for the party’s presidency and the top six leadership could also propel ANC heavyweights from the provinces in the top positions.

“This is the first time where people with a constituency are not the frontrunners. [Free State chairperson] Ace Magashule and [Mpumalanga chairperson] David Mabuza have a constituency. Neither Ramaphosa nor Dlamini-Zuma really have constituencies,” Mathekga said.

“JZ’s [Zuma’s] people are giving Dlamini-Zuma a constituency at a cost. The question is, what will be the cost of getting that constituency?

“If Mabuza says to Ramaphosa, ‘I can bring a piece’ [of branch support], what will be the return?’ There has to be a risk. The cost could be being seen with Mabuza, who is associated with corruption.”

Mathekga said the “second tier of candidates” in the succession race are the strongest. These include Mkhize, Magashule, Mabuza, secretary general Gwede Mantashe and Gauteng chairperson Paul Mashatile.

“Actually, Paul Mashatile has got a better shot than Ramaphosa as a frontrunner, because Gauteng knows Paul Mashatile, we know where he comes from. Those people who have better support are actually coming behind. They are saying: ‘We can bring something, but what’s in it for us?’ ” Mathekga added.

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