Having elected its new leadership, the ANC must address the destruction left behind by its national elective conference, including in the Free State, which now lacks a legitimate leadership structure.
The province will have to convene a fresh elective conference supervised by a task team, which is expected to be appointed by the newly elected national executive committee at its first sitting next week.
This follows a decision by the Free State High Court to annul the outcomes of a December provincial conference, which it found had irregularly re-elected former chairperson Ace Magashule and the rest of the provincial executive.
Magashule has since found his pot of gold in the form of his election as ANC secretary general, but there are fears that planned legal action to challenge his election could leave him and his province in limbo.
His departure and the dissolution of the provincial executive committee have left a leadership vacuum in the troubled province. But supporters of his former opponent and provincial leadership hopeful Thabo Manyoni have celebrated Magashule’s rise to national office, saying it represents the end of tyranny in the Free State, where Magashule had served as chairperson for 25 years.
“We are happy that he is gone. He is no longer going to be a problem of the Free State. Now he is going to be a problem of the country, and they will see for themselves,” said a party member who backed Manyoni to fill the position of chairperson.
Magashule and Manyoni, who were once close allies, had a falling-out in the year leading up to the national elective conference, which put them in opposing factions in the ANC’s succession race.
Their dispute has been viewed as the source of the Free State’s deep divisions as they tussled for control of the province in order to sway how it would vote in the national conference.
Magashule was a known supporter of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, whereas Manyoni backed Cyril Ramaphosa.
Manyoni’s supporters believe Magashule’s departure leaves his camp without the glue that binds it together and that the appointment of a task team will ensure that the manipulation of processes, found to have been prevalent in the province, would be done away with.
Before the national conference Magashule was criticised by some Free State ANC members for contesting provincial leadership, despite having national ambitions. Party members, including Manyoni, said he was “greedy for power”.
The threat of legal action to contest his election as secretary general could place him and his Free State supporters in a difficult position.
The Mail & Guardian understands that there are plans to take legal action by a group of party members whose votes were not counted at the national conference. The uncounted votes are believed to have been the reason Magashule narrowly defeated his opponent Senzo Mchunu.
Should the court bid see Magashule removed as secretary general before the Free State holds its elective conference, he could still return to contest provincial leadership. This would mean that his supporters would have to ensure the flexibility of their slate to make provision for Magashule’s possible return to a province where there is already mounting hostility against him.
And if he is removed as secretary general after the Free State elects its new leader, he will have missed his window to return to the province and may find himself without the power he has tried at all costs to secure.
One of his Free State supporters said it was unlikely that Magashule would go down without a fight. “He did not stay chair for more than two decades for nothing. He is a fighter. You saw even with the issue of the 68 votes, he was implicated but he still went there on the stage to speak about it as if it was something he was not suspected of. You can tell that is a man who is willing to do anything and everything to stay in power.”
Manyoni’s camp has already consolidated its list of candidates. It includes former provincial secretary Sibongile Besani as deputy chairperson, Dihelele Motsoeneng as secretary, Letsatsi Madia as deputy secretary and Mongi Ntwanambi as treasurer.
On the other hand, Magashule’s camp is believed to still be deciding who it will choose to fill his position.
Manyoni’s supporters believe this indecision will help his group secure victory.
“When you have many kids and all of them are fighting for your attention, once you’re gone it’s going to be chaotic. So basically that is what’s happening among them. Everybody is seeing themselves as chair and premier,” said Manyoni lobbyist Raymond Sibambani.