South Africa

South Africa

Feel it: The succession season is here

Feel it: The succession season is here

Leadership election periods within the ANC appear to be a bit like election cycles in other democracies. They are coming closer and closer together, to the point where it’s really impossible to tell when people are campaigning, and when they are governing. If the culture of the “perpetual campaign” has taken hold in the US and other places, one could argue that our system, with an ANC conference eighteen months ahead of national elections, along with provincial and league elections all over the place, is becoming similar in some ways. We’re still three years away from the ANC’s 2017 Conference, but already senior ANC Women’s League members are suggesting the League should support a female candidate. Feel it. The succession debate is here. And Cyril Ramaphosa might be starting in second place. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

At first blush, the comments by Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini that the Women’s League should support a woman candidate for ANC leader are simply too obvious to merit a headline. “Women’s League wants women leaders” won’t sell many newspapers. But while it does seem to be a progression from the dark days when the League stood silent as supporters of President Jacob Zuma chanted “burn this bitch” during his rape trial, and from when it said the “time wasn’t right” for a female leader of the ANC, there may indeed be a more cynical interpretation.

The people running the League haven’t changed since its previous pronouncements. Which means that we have to question what changed their minds. Why was South Africa not ready for a female leader just eighteen months ago, but suddenly it is now? No explanation has been given on that score.

Then we have to ask the usual question that applies when wanting to understand what is happening in all politics, everywhere: Who benefits? In this case, should the League decide to formally adopt this position that there should be a female leader of the ANC, then obviously current African Union Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would benefit the most. She is one of the two candidates mentioned most often as a possible successor to Zuma. And you could imagine how a conference in 2017 could find compelling the argument that after a hundred and five years, it’s time for a woman leader.

It would surely be unanswerable. And thus Ramaphosa, the other candidate in that famous category of “people most likely to take over from Zuma” is now in a bind. Dlamini-Zuma’s big advantage here is that she has that most priceless weapon in an ANC leadership battle; a way of sending signals without having to actually say in public what she is doing. In other words, the issue of gender is a stalking horse for her: the more you hear it, the more you know she’s campaigning, while she maintains a public stance that “one doesn’t campaign in the ANC”. Ramaphosa has no such weapon.

It is also hard to see how he is going to acquire one.

All of this could strengthen the case that in fact the League is not really fulfilling a mandate of gender equity; rather it could be playing the same political role it has since 2006, acting in support of Zuma. In fact, the main aspect of this story could really be that Zuma himself may well support his ex-wife when the leadership battle comes to its climax.

The case of Ramaphosa has always been complex. It seems hard to believe that one of the continent’s richer men would come back into active politics just to occupy the position of Deputy President. Which means that for now, we have to assume he does have ambitions. If that is the case, the key to his future could be his relationship with Zuma himself.

For the moment, Ramaphosa appears to be playing a similar role to the one Zuma assigned to his former deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe. Ramaphosa has been sent to all points of the compass, an inauguration in Mauritania, a quick visit to Sri Lanka, playing envoy in South Sudan. He’s also had to take on the role of leader of the ANC’s task team in a bid to bring peace to COSATU.

None of these jobs could really be described as politically rewarding. As Zuma has himself played a role in assigning him these tasks, and has not appeared to give him any heavyweight duties, we may now be able to assume that he does not indeed trust Ramaphosa. Considering Zuma’s own personal retirement problems, once he loses his grip on the National Prosecuting Authority, he will need to trust his successor.

Rather the ex-wife you know than the capitalist you don’t, you might say.

All of that said, it’s worth now examining what signals we will receive over the next few months, which could indicate whether this leadership campaign is really underway.

The first is the old hoary ANC claim that “there are no divisions in the ANC”. The more you hear it, the more you know there’s a good old-fashioned power struggle underway.

The second signal is likely to be Ramaphosa’s own testimony at the Farlam Inquiry into the Marikana shootings. He will have to balance the need not to be seen as legally liable in any way for what happened, with the desire to also ensure he emerges clean in the court of public opinion. It is also a chance for him to do what he does so well: look presidential on television.

Then there are the moments when both Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma choose to appear in public. Dlamini-Zuma is probably sure enough of her own reputation for competence considering her time as Health, International Relations and Home Affairs Ministers to not have to make too much running in public. She has never been one for the limelight anyway. Ramaphosa has a different problem. He needs to appear from time to time, to appear to be the voice of reason within the ANC, while also not stepping over all of those imaginary lines the myths of ANC culture have created.

However, as always in these fights, he, or she, who has the best control of the ANC structures wins. Suddenly the ANC Youth League, which is supposed to be reconstituted later this year, starts to look a little more interesting: there are surely votes, and more crucially voices, up for grabs there. And it could be important to counter-balance the Women’s League here.

But it’s in the provinces where the electioneering really matters. And here, surely KwaZulu-Natal will still maintain its numerical veto. It doesn’t have the numbers to necessarily elect someone on its own, but it can almost stop someone from becoming ANC leader if it wants to. And thus we’re back to the one person who really seems to have some power over this process: Zuma himself. While there are some small signs that the KZN machine may be cracking a little, he still seems to be very popular there. And therefore could hold sway over almost the entire process.

It’s early days yet, but it now appears Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is already the person to beat. DM

Photo: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Rampahosa (Sapa)


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