As ANC branches finalise their presidential nominations, a change in focus in Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign has sparked speculation that her drive for the ANC top office is losing momentum.
Questions are being asked why the Dlamini-Zuma wave of memorial lectures and rallies, which preceded the branch nominations process, has seemingly dried up. She has not addressed an ANC rally or lecture since mid-October.
Sources in the ANC and government said Dlamini-Zuma wanted to pull out of the contest, but was dissuaded by those close to her, including President Jacob Zuma.
“The old woman can see it’s not going to be easy. She has been hinting to several people that she might have to withdraw, hoping that by doing that she is making positive overtures to [Cyril] Ramaphosa to include her and find a role for her.
“But her supporters have made it clear they will not allow her to collapse the campaign. This thing is bigger than her. If it collapses and CR [Cyril Ramaphosa] takes over, they lose everything. Some of them might even end up in jail,” a senior government official said.
But Dlamini-Zuma’s supporters on Thursday dismissed these rumours as propaganda. ANC national executive committee member and Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association leader Kebby Maphatsoe described the claims as rumour-mongering to destabilise her campaign.
He said her campaign had merely eased off in the past few weeks to allow the branches to complete their general meetings. “We don’t want to have rallies when the people who would normally attend were attending BGMs [branch general meetings],” said Maphatsoe.
Kwazi Mshengu, one of the Dlamini-Zuma campaign’s managers in KwaZulu-Natal, denied that her election machine had slowed down. But there was a decision to halt public events while targeting the branch general meetings, at which nominations are made and delegates to conference are selected.
“We have deliberately changed focus to work on the branch general meetings. And that is why we are far ahead in this process … There was a decision to stay focused where it matters most. It doesn’t help during the BGM period to fill up halls with people who are not members or voting delegates.’’
Mshengu said, once the branch general meetings were concluded, public activities “will pick up”. The ANC youth and women’s leagues were planning rallies featuring Dlamini-Zuma in the weeks before the December 16 conference.
Meanwhile, intense negotiations have started between leading candidates in the presidential race.
Dlamini-Zuma’s lobbyists are understood to have started meeting representatives of other candidates to consolidate leadership. But ANC KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Sihle Zikalala said the meetings did not signify uncertainty about support for Dlamini-Zuma.
“We are willing and can engage with anyone but that does not mean we doubt our support in terms of conference. It’s only for the sake of unity,” Zikalala said.
Ramaphosa’s lobbyists have been meeting nearly all his opponents. A senior ANC leader campaigning for Ramaphosa said the deputy president’s group was in discussions with several presidential candidates and had met ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize, Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza and Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu to discuss working together as a team.
“Zweli and I meet every day. We [Ramaphosa campaign team] have opened dialogues. Lindiwe Sisulu’s people are talking to us. We are talking to DD [Mabuza]. The key is to make sure we have a successful conference and maximum unity. There’s lot of informal discussion,” said the senior ANC leader.
Mkhize said he was planning to meet other presidential hopefuls to discuss consensus leadership. “I think there’s ample space between now and the conference for those engagements, and I would encourage that we should not see them in a sinister way,” Mkhize said.
The point is to “build inclusivity” and do away with “slates”, he said. The ANC treasurer has not announced his slate publicly because he believes that a unity campaign didn’t entail building another faction, but rather uniting around the values of the ANC and its processes.
Sisulu’s campaign manager, Mogomotsi Mogodiri, said the minister would only begin discussions with other candidates after nominations had closed, because that would form the basis of the talks. So far, Sisulu has been nominated for the deputy president’s position alongside Ramaphosa, despite him announcing he would prefer Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor as his deputy.
Mogodiri said consolidating leadership preferences before the nominations were closed risked usurping the power of branches.
“In principle, comrade Lindiwe doesn’t have a problem with engaging with anyone. But there hasn’t been formal discussions between her and other candidates, because her view is that anything that is done to undermine the power of branches runs against internal democracy.”
Another ANC presidential hopeful and the party’s former treasurer general, Mathews Phosa, said he has started negotiation on consensus leadership.
“Yes, I have met with all but two of the candidates vying to be ANC president. The contents of those meetings remain confidential but I can confirm that I have been called into meetings by some candidates.”