/ 17 December 2022

Ramaphosa could sink his own ship

Anc 55 National Conference 9609
With no clear line of march from the ANC president, his allies are left to their own devices, racing against time to find each other and solidify a slate. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)


The ANC’s elective conference has been thought to be President Cyril Ramaphosa’s to lose.

Unlike his opponent, Zweli Mkhize, the ANC president had the advantage of being the incumbent and, for a long time, the man without a single cloud hovering over his head until February when Arthur Fraser fired an almost lethal blow to his untainted image. 

While Ramaphosa and his allies cruised through the ballot for presidential nominations with an almost 55% lead over Mkhize, the latter was reclaiming the KwaZulu-Natal province. 

Until late 2021, Mkhize had been thought of — both locally and internationally — as the face of South Africa’s Covid-19 response. His reputation made him popular among the general South African public and, most importantly, his comrades. 

Unlike many who did not belong to the Ramaphosa faction, Mkhize did not identify with the radical economic transformation faction. He was impartial, on the fence, and willing to work with Ramaphosa in the cabinet and in the ANC. 

For the first time since Ramaphoria took hold of the country, the ANC had an alternative for its presidency. Mkhize, many whispered, could be the yin to Ramaphosa yang. A possible deputy president contender. 

Mkhize’s allies say that was the moment where people around Ramaphosa saw the danger signs. They believe it was this cohesiveness between the two that made “them” nervous. 

To cut a long story short, Mkhize would resign after he was implicated in a career limiting scandal that rocked the health department. 

This is where the story starts. 

It was then that Mkhize saw an opportunity to take the ANC away from Ramaphosa or, at the very least, his allies. 

He made his way home and worked the ground, resulting in ardent supporter Bheki Mtolo landing the prized role as the ANC’s provincial secretary in KwaZulu-Natal . 

Mkhize knew how to play his cards. He had witnessed former president Jacob Zuma successfully play the victim before. 

“I was a victim of a faction that wants to close the door on KwaZulu-Natal” worked. 

By March, Mkhize had solidified his strength in the province when many political journalists and pundits had written him off. 

But this was not enough. He needed to win over the rest of the party. 

One province alone, no matter how powerful, cannot win a conference. 

Mtolo had to get busy. 

Mkhize and Mtolo found sympathetic ears while crossing provinces. Limpopo’s don, Danny Msiza, was a victim of the step-aside rule, Babalo Madikizela had lost the Eastern Cape conference despite having made it clear that Ramaphosa was his preferred candidate and Gauteng was disenchanted with the party president having had to contend with Eskom in the local government elections. 

The stars were aligned for Mkhize. 

At the same time, Ramaphosa made severely compromising blunders. He refused to take charge of his own campaign and, with no clear line of march from him, Ramaphosa allies scattered

At least three streams were paving their own path. Unlike before, ANC leaders who had ambitions of making it to the ballot were left to their own devices. No coherent slate meant everyone had to fend for themselves. 

Ramaphosa’s process-driven attitude could be the very thing that sinks him. 

As late as Friday evening, his allies were still chasing their tails to find a coherent slate. No one is willing to back down and without a leader taking control of the situation, Mkhize could find himself at an advantage. 

It was Ramaphosa’s conference to lose, but seemingly only the ANC president is blind to that reality. If he doesnt take charge of his soldiers, he might just find himself in the wilderness.