Our politics at the moment is in a twilight zone, where one leader is still at the height of power, and his successor hasn't yet been identified. This means there's a small window to think out of the box, to ponder what could be done differently. So we seriously propose that the best possible outcome for the African National Congress is for Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to join forces. Right now. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
It is probably the first time this has happened in this country since 1994. Thabo Mbeki was always the heir apparent to Nelson Mandela, and Jacob Zuma was always going to challenge Mbeki for the leadership at Polokwane.
It is sometimes forgotten what the contestation between Zuma and Mbeki did to the African National Congress (ANC). For literally years, the party’s leadership was divided, and the Alliance was polarised. The leaders were in open conflict, and people in the party had to pick sides or be trampled by the elephants. This led directly to the splitting off of the Congress of the People (that later became just a splinter, but a splinter through which some urban black votes may have passed on their way to the Democratic Alliance), and the loss of support for the party in some urban areas. It also meant that which the party most feared, an opposition black political party with struggle legitimacy, was now contesting for votes. And people who had supported Mbeki first had to be accommodated in Zuma’s cabinet to keep them on-side, and then either turned, or turfed out.
And, in a way we seldom examine, it meant that those who supported Zuma had to be rewarded, often with patronage, sometimes at great cost to the country.
But perhaps the most damaging dynamic this introduced to the party, was the system of “slates”, where a group of people run together against another group. In the past, if someone voted for a person for say the job of ANC leader and their candidate lost, the person they voted for for deputy ANC leader may have won. It forced unity, in that people who maybe disagreed on many issues suddenly had to work together, to keep the organisation moving forward. Since Polokwane, virtually every provincial and national conference has seen slates being used. Which is one of the reasons why the fights are so damaging: the loss these days means you are left completely out in the cold. It is because of this that the ANC’s eThekwini region has tried and failed three times to hold a simple elective conference.
For this to happen again on a national level could be more damaging than what happened at Polokwane for the simple reason that the ANC is weaker now than it was then. In 2007, there were no questions about the legitimacy of the party, corruption was present but not on the scale it is now, and the public image of the party was very different. Now, with corruption almost the biggest political issue there is, the spectre of Nkandla hanging over every newspaper front page and, possibly more dangerously, a slowing economy, the party can’t afford to go through this kind of process again.
And more importantly, the break-up of the political machine that drove Zuma to power could be very messy indeed. As the party’s biggest region, eThekwini was at the heart of his operation. The fact it can’t actually hold a successful meeting suggests that serious damage could be done. As a result, people could decide to fight it out; and their fight could damage the party further in their own drive for power, and create a situation that is unstable and unsustainable.
What the ANC needs to do is ensure it regains its legitimacy, to behave more in line with its policy documents and public positions than it does in the real world, and to actually show itself to be unified. This kind of public display of unity could well boost its legitimacy, and at the same time ensure a proper transfer of internal power. In other words, it needs to avoid the damage that it was subjected to after Polokwane.
So what should be done? It is rather simple: Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma need to join forces on a unifying ticket that would ensure the ANC emerges stronger and better.
Firstly, it important to start moving now. This window will not last very long, and once one side looks like it is actually campaigning, it will be impossible to make this suggestion publicly. Also, the earlier the move, the harder it would be for entrenched interests on various sides to demand patronage and position as a thank you later.
Secondly, both Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa have to come to some sort of agreement about who occupies which position, who would be president and who deputy. Considering that Ramaphosa came back into politics as Zuma’s deputy, and that Dlamini-Zuma took time out from a busy job in Addis Ababa to attend the ANC Women’s League Conference, presumably both have ambitions that can be described with only one word: ‘Presidential’.
Any deal would probably require some sort of public assurance that the person who does get the hyphenated title would actually have a proper job, and very real power. Neither of them would surely accept the position Ramaphosa is in now; very little real power, and with headaches (e-tolls, Eskom, South African Airways, Sudan, Lesotho, etc) being administered on a regular basis.
Under the Constitution, the deputy president has the role and powers assigned to them by the president; under the law, they are only an ordinary member of the cabinet. Which means this agreement would have to be public, as there is no other way it could be enforced.
Then there is the problem of other ambitions. What would you do with someone like Zweli Mkhize, for instance, who has been quiet as ANC Treasurer, but is probably keen on a bigger job himself? But the real problem might well be Gwede Mantashe, who has been a very public and vocal secretary-general. It appears he may consider himself a good candidate for, say, the deputy presidency on the Ramaphosa ticket. And he is surely heartily sick of the impossible job of running Luthuli House by now. To make him a cabinet minister would be insulting. This means some people may well oppose such a move by Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma. And they would be in a position to sabotage it from the beginning, if they so chose.
That the ANC is in a tough spot is not in doubt. The party’s own discussion documents go into detail about where and how it is losing the votes of people who were previously guaranteed to tick the box marked green, gold and black. Just last week it lost a by-election to the United Democratic Movement, and even that saw the party’s own spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa saying it was because of their own “arrogance”. To stay in power the ANC needs to think long and hard, and make sure it retains the legitimacy it has, and rebuilds that which it has lost.
It’s hard to think of a better first step than a Ramaphosa/Dlamini-Zuma joint ticket. But in the end it’s up to politicians, human beings. Which means the only prediction you can make is that they will act in their own self-interest. Anyway, this is my suggestion. Use it, don’t use it. DM
Photo: (LEFT) Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks at Nedlac’s labour relations indaba in Johannesburg, Tuesday, 4 November 2014. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA (RIGHT) South Africa’s Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma speaks to her Cuban counterpart Felipe Perez Roque during a meeting at Cuba’s foreign ministry in Havana August 25, 2008. REUTERS/Claudia Daut (CUBA)
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