Motshekga gives league a headache

Angie Motshekga lost her presidential re-election bid to Bathabile Dlamini at the ANC Women’s League’s elective conference in 2015, but she still has a lot of support on the ground. (Delwyn Veresamy/M&G)

Angie Motshekga lost her presidential re-election bid to Bathabile Dlamini at the ANC Women’s League’s elective conference in 2015, but she still has a lot of support on the ground. (Delwyn Veresamy/M&G)

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has become a thorn in the side of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign to become the next ANC president. A former ANC Women’s League president, Motshekga is calling on all her supporters in the league’s branches to back Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as the next ANC leader.

In 2015 Motshekga, who enjoyed significant support within the league, failed in her bid to be re-elected to the body’s top position, losing to Bathabile Dlamini.

In the past few weeks, a number of women’s league structures have contradicted the position taken by the league’s national leadership to support Dlamini-Zuma. Motshekga has been a central figure in rallying several league branches behind Ramaphosa.

With three months left before the crucial ANC elective conference, the league’s national leadership finds itself having to muzzle voices that appear to be showing dissent against its decision to support Dlamini-Zuma.

Last month, the league lambasted Motshekga for allegedly holding rallies under its banner to campaign for Ramaphosa.

An ANC leader close to Motshekga told the Mail & Guardian this week that she was hard at work mobilising support for the deputy president ahead of the party’s national conference in December.

“Wherever she goes, she pulls a huge number of women to her side. That’s why they are threatened. She is a ground worker. If she believes in something, she goes for it. The tension that you see now … she turned them,” a senior ANC insider said.

Motshekga was seen alongside Ramaphosa during a women’s league event in Randfontein, west of Johannesburg, early this month. Sporting her green-and-black league blouse, Motshekga watched as members sang, signalling with their hands a call for a change of leadership.

There was amusement as a popular song, sung originally for Dlamini-Zuma, was adapted to declare open support for the deputy president.

“On your marks, get set, we are ready for Ramaphosa,” some women’s league members sang. 

This has caused anxiety among the league’s national leadership as Motshekga, despite no longer serving in any official women’s league structure, still has the influence to pull numbers in favour of her candidate of choice.

In addition to the West Rand region, the Vhembe district in Limpopo as well as some branches in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape have declared their support for either Ramaphosa or Lindiwe Sisulu, the latter being tipped to take over as Ramaphosa’s deputy.

ANC sources sympathetic to Motshekga claim that, despite losing her 2015 bid for the women’s league presidency, she had the upper hand at the start of the conference and is believed to have entered it with the support of at least 70% of the delegates. Her popularity became clear when 75% of the delegates voted in favour of the adoption of credentials confirming the legitimacy of delegates when Dlamini-Zuma’s supporters were opposed to it.

But a senior ANC leader told the M&G that a desperate move by Motshekga’s opponents saw her fortunes quickly shift.

“After the adoption of credentials, the ‘premier league’ came to the conference and threatened members of the [league] from Free State, Mpumalanga and North West that, if they did not support Bathabile, they must remain in Johannesburg. That’s when everything turned,” the leader said.

“The first night of the conference they disbursed a truck full of blankets and tracksuits to members of the [league who were] supporting Bathabile. It was a very cold night. There was no way those members would not support Bathabile’s group.”

The divisions sown in 2015 have contributed to the unprecedented rebellion the league now faces as it tries desperately to preach unity and the need to toe the national line.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said, although there was room for an alternative view within the league, the current disunity was more representative of factional opportunism.

“They know how to use the women’s league for those factional battles. In fact, they are opportunistic rather than [being] an alternative,” he said.

Mathekga said that, despite her influence, Motshekga would struggle to establish herself as a credible leader of the alternative voice because of her long history of allegiance to President Jacob Zuma. 

“The space exists for an alternative, but the problem is the individuals who want to occupy that space have been part of the problem,” he said.

“The problem with Angie is that she is a former ally of … Zuma and with them, it’s so sad because it’s a family. The Motshekga family aligned itself with the president so closely. She can do all she can, but the question will always be [around] her legitimacy as an alternative.”

A senior league member said fears about Motshekga’s influence were an exaggeration of one person’s power. She said it was likely dissenting structures were trying to use Motshekga as the face of their resistance without her awareness.

“Sometimes, if you have led before, people will invite you. You get invited, you respond to that invitation and then, when you get there, say: ‘Eish, maybe I shouldn’t have come here,’” she said.

But she acknowledged that Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign was facing difficulties, with structures only now starting to revolt after months of the league delivering a consistent message. “It’s clear that some people choose to process the decision [to support Dlamini-Zuma] differently. And I don’t think there’s anything she can do about it. She has no control at all.”

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