Two years ago, as the ANC was preparing for its 53rd national conference in Mangaung, the ANC in Gauteng were seen as the playmakers. These were the guys riding against the wind, agitating for a shakeup in the ANC leadership and wanting a new party leader. They were at the forefront of the Forces of Change campaign. They failed, horribly, leaving the provincial leadership on the back foot. This weekend they start the comeback at the Gauteng provincial ANC conference. But will the Gauteng ANC again set their sights on a national overhaul at the next national conference or just insulate themselves against the raging storms in the ruling party? By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
It was a poignant moment. The results of the election of the ANC national executive committee (NEC) was being announced in the giant hothouse on the grounds of the University of the Free State in the blistering December heat. Cheers were going up all over the marquee as names of the 80-member NEC were being announced.
The Gauteng ANC leadership sat stunned as the names reeled out, with not even the provincial chairperson Paul Mashatile making the cut. As the ANC’s 53rd national conference was drawing to a close, it was apparent that those that led the campaign to have President Jacob Zuma replaced as the party leader were being severely punished.
It was a setback that would prove to be difficult to recover from. Gauteng dynamics were further complicated by the fact that there were two centres of power: Nomvula Mokonyane as Premier and the provincial ANC led by Mashatile and provincial secretary David Makhura.
Mashatile and Makhura know their province well and were alive to the fact that the corruption scandals and poor image of the national leadership would have an impact on the 2014 election campaign. They attempted to box cleverly – wanting to strategically deploy national leaders who would appeal to rather than further aggravate their middle-class constituencies. They were overruled by the Luthuli House barons, who saw this as an affront to Zuma.
The 2014 election results, particularly in Gauteng, were a huge wake-up call for ANC. Support for the ANC slid by 11 percentage points to 53.59%, with the metros taking a beating. Rather than acknowledge that the Gauteng leadership had been right to worry about the impact of scandals at national level as well as the electronic tolling on the Gauteng freeway system, there were attempts to blame the provincial ANC for the poor election performance. There was even talk that the Gauteng ANC should be disbanded. But that would not have been easy to justify as the ANC dropped support in all provinces except KwaZulu-Natal.
Had Luthuli House attempted to disband the Gauteng leadership, the backlash would have been severe. There would in all likelihood have been a messy rear-guard action against the national leadership. Any semblance of unity would have been shattered and the organisation would have been destined for a hell run on the way to the 2016 local government elections.
The strength of the provincial leadership is visible in how they resisted attempts by Luthuli House to impose a conforming candidate as the provincial premier. After putting up Mokonyane as the Luthuli House conduit for five years, the province buckled down firmly behind Makhura. Mashatile seemingly paid the price for his province playing hardball, losing his Cabinet position and taking a salary cut to become an ordinary MP.
The province is now on the comeback trail, with Makhura charting the course through his leadership of the provincial government. The province’s leaders are aware that their political future is dependent on how they rebuild their support in the province – both the Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters have chipped into their constituencies – and regain lost ground. They need to reclaim their lobbying power for the next ANC national conference, and the way to do so is to improve the party’s showing in the 2016 local government elections.
With the support of the provincial ANC, Makhura has embarked on a process to tap into the discontent in Gauteng. The panel he set up to assess the impact of e-tolling might not be able to pressure national government into scrapping the system but it is telling the citizens of the province that its leaders are willing to listen to them. A large portion of the public rage around e-tolls has been over the sheer arrogance of national government and the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) in managing the project.
In the run up to this weekend’s provincial conference, the ANC’s Gauteng leaders are being extremely forthright about their problems so that they play with an open deck. Mashatile has admitted that they lost ground in the middle class due to corruption, inefficiency in government and e-tolls.
“There is a perception that the ANC government is soft on corruption, that we allow public representatives to do wrong things, we don’t act, we allow officials to mess up administration and that resources for ordinary people are diverted to corrupt activities,” Mashatile told the SABC.
After Mokonyane’s defeat at the last provincial conference, nobody has been willing to risk humiliation by taking on Mashatile for the position of provincial chairperson. Makhura is having to surrender his post as provincial secretary due to his position in government, and is set to be elected as Mashatile’s deputy. Former Health MEC Hope Papo is tipped to replace Makhura as provincial secretary, with former deputy health minister Gwen Ramokgopa as his deputy. Gauteng legislature speaker Ntombi Mekgwe is likely to be elected treasurer.
The question though is whether this team will be formidable enough to salvage the province’s standing and influence. So far KwaZulu-Natal remain the province with the highest membership and lobbying power. They are likely to be the kingmakers in the next ANC conference but also keep the ring of steel around Zuma. The president remains untouchable as long as his home province is able to squash any attempt from within the ANC to lobby for an early exit from office. Dissent has been killed off in other provinces such as Limpopo and the North West and the NEC is devoid of any form of resistance.
The Gauteng leadership is unlikely to go kamikaze once again to take on Zuma, considering how the last attempt panned out. This time they are in an even weaker position because no other province is showing any willingness to swim against the tide and challenge the status quo. The province’s leaders have already indicated that they will throw their weight behind Cyril Ramaphosa for the position of ANC president at the next conference.
But KwaZulu-Natal still holds all the cards, with the numbers overwhelmingly in their favour. Although they drew Ramaphosa onto the Zuma ticket at Mangaung on the understanding that they would back his candidacy for president in 2017, it is looking increasingly doubtful that KwaZulu-Natal would do so. KwaZulu-Natal now has three contenders for the post – African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, national treasurer Zweli Mkhize and Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe. Lobbyists in the province consider any of these three as a safer bet to maintain the power networks rather than risking an outsider like Ramaphosa, whose intentions and leadership style remain unknown.
The Gauteng leadership needs to stabilise the province and win back support they lost amongst the middle class and township dwellers. This will not be easy, with corruption scandals still dominating the national agenda and the EFF working hard to tap further into their base. It will therefore be a fine balancing act for the Gauteng ANC to insulate themselves from the national scandals, try to excel in the performance and image of the provincial government and still not be seen as dissenting from the national leadership.
Their survival strategy is dependent on them not agitating Luthuli House too much and working quietly behind the scenes. Do not expect the new Gauteng leadership to be the voices of reason or change agents, at least not any time soon. They have to set in place a three-year timeline and not make sudden moves prematurely that will cause the guillotine from Luthuli House to fall.
So for anyone hoping that the campaign for leadership change is being consummated this weekend, do not hold your breath. The Zuma-Mantashe juggernaut is still very much large and in charge. The provincial conference in Gauteng this weekend is simply making up the opening credits for the next ANC blockbuster. But it is by no means insignificant.
Watch this space. DM
Photo: Newly elected Gauteng premier David Makhura announces his executive council in Johannesburg on Friday, 23 May 2014. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA