An 11th-hour meeting between President Cyril Ramaphosa and Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has prompted speculation that she may be selected to take over as deputy president of the country.
On Thursday afternoon, Ramaphosa was sworn in as South Africa’s president after Jacob Zuma resigned on Wednesday night, leaving a vacancy in Ramaphosa’s previous position.
A party leader, who spoke to the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity, said Ramaphosa chose Sisulu to watch Zuma’s resignation address with him.
“They were together last night; they were watching the resignation together … at Cyril’s place in Cape Town. There were also some few NEC [national executive committee] members. They [Ramaphosa and Sisulu] were watching together but as to what they discussed, I do not know,” the source said.
With current ANC deputy president David Mabuza still wanting to serve as premier of Mpumalanga, Ramaphosa has to choose someone else to serve as his deputy.
Because Ramaphosa’s camp indicated its desire for a woman deputy president in the lead-up to the ANC’s December elective conference, it is likely that his choice will be between Sisulu, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete and ANC MP Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Sisulu is a favourite for the position of deputy because of the support she generated at the elective conference.
She was viewed by some as a preferred alternative to Dlamini-Zuma in the party’s quest for the ANC’s first woman president. But, after some negotiation, she dropped her bid to become party president to join Ramaphosa’s slate as his candidate for deputy president.
Although she was eventually defeated by Mabuza, she is still viewed as a favourite among party structures.
“From a logical point of view, Lindiwe was on the ballot for election at the conference. She received a significant amount of nominations and votes — a significant amount that you cannot overlook,” the party leader said.
“The only thing is that politically, Lindiwe comes across as someone who is stronger than Cyril. And I think Cyril is aware of that, so he might not be comfortable with Lindiwe. He is politically insecure,” the leader said.
Although Sisulu is a darling of the ANC branches, she was not Ramaphosa’s personal preference to be his deputy at the elective conference.
Instead, Ramaphosa chose Pandor to be his second-in-command, a decision he announced at a rally in November. His preference was, however, rejected by ANC branches which continued to push for Sisulu, saying they had not been consulted about endorsing Pandor.
There is still a chance, however, that Ramaphosa could use his prerogative to appoint Pandor to the deputy president position.
“The president can get whoever [to be deputy]; it’s his prerogative. But his prerogative should be measured against the popular demand and the popular choice within the ANC,” the party insider said. “The people at the conference pronounced on Lindiwe. You don’t want to antagonise that rank and file because of your personal preference.”
The National Assembly speaker only recently made a switch to supporting Ramaphosa, when she announced on the first night of the ANC’s elective conference that she would endorse him to become president.
The sudden about-turn followed Mbete’s long-standing allegiance to Zuma. It is alleged that Zuma had promised to have her succeed him once he left office.
Mbete was left disappointed, when Zuma had a change of heart, giving his endorsement to Dlamini-Zuma.
Although Mbete has often been accused of frustrating parliamentary processes to shield Zuma, her willingness in the past two weeks to accommodate efforts to remove him has been seen as an indication that her allegiance to him is dead.
But the ANC leader who spoke to the M&G said she was not viewed as having the political weight to lead the ANC to a 2019 election victory.
“What is she bringing? We are coming from a conference [where] she had no nomination … she had nothing. This [2019 election] campaign is going to be one of the toughest campaigns,” the leader said.
“You need somebody who will be able to fight and I’m not sure about the fighting instincts of Naledi. I’m not sure about the fighting instinct of Baleka.”
The M&G understands informal discussions took place where some ANC leaders agreed on Dlamini-Zuma as a preferred deputy president to minimise the effect of Zuma’s removal, particularly in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal.
Mabuza is believed to be among those who would like Dlamini-Zuma to occupy the position until 2019.
But the party leader said the type of campaign that Dlamini-Zuma and her supporters had run was no longer likely to find favour among most ANC members.
“They are no longer needed now; they have messed up the country. Their campaign was based on ethnicity and perpetuating the looting and the protection of the Guptas. So why would you bring them back after such significant gains?”