The five regions that bolstered Oscar Mabuyane’s campaign to be reelected ANC chairperson of the Eastern Cape have already hit the ground running in a bid to see him become the ANC’s next deputy president.
Mabuyane and his supporters believe his experience as a leader in the rural province will benefit the ANC come 2024, when the country’s general elections will be held.
The ANC will hold its national election conference in December this year.
The ruling party does not have the leisure to worry only about its internal dynamics; has to think about the 2024 general elections and fears it may be pushed under the 50% mark in provinces such as Gauteng.
The Mail & Guardian has been reliably told that ANC Eastern Cape regions are expected to start targeting regions in other rural provinces in the hope to build up momentum for the election of Mabuyane as ANC deputy president.
Several leaders in the party have put their hands up for the position.
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola hinted to the M&G in January of his ambition. The name of Human Settlements Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi has come up in conversations about who should be the deputy president. And ANC treasurer general Paul Mashatile, who has been dubbed the kingmaker in certain sections of the ANC, is said to have divided the Eastern Cape in the hope that its conference this past weekend would have had a favourable outcome for his own ambitions to take the deputy president post.
A regional leader and known lobbyist for Mabuyane, who did not wish to be named, said ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa was not opposed to the idea of Mabuyane becoming deputy president when the proposal was put to him.
Regional leaders aligned with Mabuyane met Ramaphosa in April to discuss the future of the province.
According to the regional leader, Ramaphosa said the makeup of the top six in the party should have an idea of the challenges in rural and urban areas in the country.
“Someone like Mabuyane fits into this. Mabuyane is qualified as an economist. How passionate he is about the economic setup makes you realise that he is someone who could be in that space full-time. Also, people want to see themselves in their leaders. If the ANC is now being forced to rely more on provinces like the Eastern Cape to save them in the elections, you have to give them a face they can relate to,” said the regional leader.
“Oscar represents that in my view. The president spoke to us for over 30 minutes about his plans to develop the economy of the Eastern Cape. This tells you that the focus in future will be on the Eastern Cape, which means that there is no other way but to bring someone from the Eastern Cape to the table.”
But it is understood that those in the president’s camp are yet to make up their mind about who will join Ramaphosa in the top six.
The regional leader said they will first concentrate their efforts on consolidating the province behind Mabuyane before they start consolidating support in other provinces.
“We must first build an infrastructure that can help us move forward. It’s always best to consolidate what we have and then build. We already have regions with a view of other provinces. What we don’t want is for the Eastern Cape to be isolated from the debate. However, it cannot be the Eastern Cape leading the pack; it must be regions, because ultimately we have to look at the numbers of regions. The conference is about numbers in as much as it is about content.”
Another provincial leader and ally of Mabuyane said that relations were already solidified in some of the provinces: one region in Mpumalanga, two in Limpopo, one in KwaZulu-Natal and two in the Western Cape.
The Eastern Cape conference highlighted the divisions in the province. Mabuyane won with only 150 votes between him and the other contender, Babalo Madikizela.
The result may mean that whoever Ramaphosa wants to see rising in the party as his deputy and secretary general will have a much tougher battle without the Eastern Cape’s full support in the lead-up to the December conference.
Those behind Mabuyane are aware of the possibility but pointed to the party’s provincial elections in 2017 when — even after a violent conference — those who emerged victorious were able to unite the province behind Ramaphosa in a matter of three months.
A senior leader in the Mabuyane faction told the M&G previously that if it was possible to unite the province within that time frame, they were confident the same could be done in the six months to December.
“It’s a fact that you need someone who understands the rural set-up of the country and the isolation of the rural province to integrate them into the main economic hub. That is an issue that will be interesting. All that we are saying in the province will be a futile exercise if there is no national stability and focus. We are holding the fort in certain provinces but national; we are going down, that is almost collapsing all of us while we are holding this fort, the roof is falling on top of us,” the senior leader said.
Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the provincial conference on Monday, Mabuyane said the province had been isolated nationally in terms of economic development.
“We are an untapped potential, we need leadership, we need vision. We need visionaries. If you just elect people for the sake of electing them, it’s a problem,” he said.
Mabuyane added that there was political will to see that projects in the province were implemented to help improve the lives of people in the Eastern Cape province.
Mabuyane’s political report has been considered a hint of his willingness to make himself available in the national debate.
In his report, he said the ANC has accepted that among its weaknesses is an inward-looking tendency and social distance from its core constituency.
“The leadership required is that which will appeal to and connect the broader progressive forces within society as the strength of the ANC is in its ability to be a leader of the broader front which has the ability to mobilise and lead the whole oppressed.”
Mabuyane’s modus operandi can be likened to that of another prominent leader from Eastern Cape, Gwede Mantashe, whose relationship with those left of the party and the labour movement catapulted his rise from chairperson of the South African Communist Party (SACP) to the ANC secretariat and now ANC national chairperson.
Mabuyane’s relationship with the SACP and labour federation Cosatu has remained intact despite growing tensions between the ANC’s alliance partners and the ANC in other provinces.
His relationship with the alliance was pronounced when the SACP’s Eastern Cape chairperson, Xolile Nqatha, SACP leader Mncedisi Nontsele and Cosatu provincial secretary Xolani Malamlela led the call for a united slate.
Only Mabuyane gave them an audience during a meeting last week but regional leaders from his camp refused to listen.
A relationship with the alliance could bolster his ambitions for a top-six position.