Comments last week by the new ANC Youth League president Collen Maine have reintroduced the idea of a third term for President Jacob Zuma as leader of the ruling party. Talk about Zuma staying on for another term had subsided after the ANC Women’s League, backed by a powerful lobby known as the “premier league”, indicated it would campaign for the next president to be a woman. Now there appears to be two divergent campaigns that the premier league is running. All this should make the hitherto heir apparent Cyril Ramaphosa, and those in less influential camps, such as the SACP’s “Mvela league”, very nervous. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
The one thing the “premier league” has not been able to do very effectively up to now is play down its existence. If anything, this lobby led by the premiers of the North West, Supra Mahumapelo, Free State, Ace Magashule, and Mpumalanga, David Mabuza, seems to be gaining traction in national and provincial dealings in the ANC.
Part of their agenda is pretty obvious. They want to maintain the power networks that exist in their respective provinces. All three are the ANC chairpersons in their provinces, which they hope to continue doing. They are working hard to beat down opposition camps in their provinces so that they remain in control over decision-making and the flow of resources. Mabuza, for example, is running for a third term as ANC chairperson in his province. The Mpumalanga provincial conference, which takes place next month, was moved forward to allow this to happen.
With KwaZulu-Natal, which at the last ANC national conference in Mangaung in 2012 was the biggest and most influential province, beset with divisions, the space has been opened up for a new power bloc to take charge. The premier league’s plan seems to be to assert their influence at next month’s national general council and to direct the outcome of the ANC’s 2017 elective conference. It is understood that they want to run a top six slate that includes Magashule as national chairperson and Mabuza as treasurer.
The premier league proved their mettle as kingmakers by influencing the outcomes of the elections in the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) and ANC Youth League (ANCYL) conferences.
But now it seems that the two leagues have a difference of views on who should be elected ANC president in 2017. ANCWL president Bathabile Dlamini said the league would campaign for a woman to be the next president. Last week, the new ANCYL president Collen Maine told The Citizen that youth league members were “consistent in that they were in favour of Zuma serving a third term” as ANC president.
The statement is puzzling for two reasons. The ANCYL was dysfunctional and virtually non-existent until their recent conference so it is not clear where and how Maine would have found a “consistent” view in support of Zuma’s third term. The idea does appear to be catching on now though. The Citizen reported that ANCYL members attending the organisation’s 71st anniversary in Nelspruit raised three fingers in the air to signal their support for a third term for Zuma. There were loud cheers when Maine said at the conference that Zuma should serve a third ANC term, the paper said.
The second reason why the statement is puzzling is it appears to split the premier league camp very early in the game. Surely it cannot be Maine’s mandate, or in his interests, to cause divisions straight away. However Maine did not become the chosen one for his superb leadership qualities or superior intellect. In the absence of logic and strategy, he would be useful as a Trojan horse.
But let’s take a few steps back.
The ANC in the North West, from where Maine hails, adopted a resolution at its provincial general council earlier this year to align the ANC leadership and government terms. Mahumapelo explained then that the province was concerned that the two-year gap between electing the ANC leadership and the national elections created two centres of power. Their idea was therefore that Zuma should stay on as ANC leader till 2019 and that a new party leader be elected in the same year as the national elections.
The proposal had no resonance in any other province as it seemed virtually impossible to pull off. Postponing the election of a new ANC leadership by two years required a change to the party’s constitution, which can only be done at the 2017 conference. Secondly it makes no sense to have a succession battle in the ANC at the same time the party is contesting a national election. In an election year, political parties close ranks and hit the campaign trail, not fight internal battles.
But now the proposal has been resurrected by Maine, not as a two-year extension but as a straight up third term for Zuma.
There are several reasons why this could be happening. The first is that many people are ready to write off Zuma as a lame duck president as he heads towards retirement in government. But this is still four years away, and those who run and benefit from the power networks that feed off the Zuma administration do not want the impression to be created that the good times are almost over. By floating a theory that Zuma could stay on in power in the ANC, it means they remain in the pound seats.
Secondly, as soon as it appears that Zuma is fading off the scene, the focus would automatically shift to the man who would be king. Ramaphosa is already the busiest man in government and the premier league does not want him to get too comfy running the show.
Thirdly, while Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma might be the most able and obvious candidate for a woman president, there is no guarantee that she will partner with the premier league or agree to run on a slate that includes Magashule and Mabuza. Dlamini-Zuma has eschewed the Zuma camp previously when she ran on former president Thabo Mbeki’s slate in 2007.
Fourthly, for as long as Zuma remains the man in charge and there is a possibility of him staying on, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe’s campaign to step up the ladder to become deputy president is stuffed. Mantashe appears to have fallen out of favour with Zuma and has been keeping a low profile recently.
Mantashe is backed by the dwindling Left – the South African Communist Party and Cosatu – hilariously dubbed the “Mvela league”, the previous name for the national first division in South African football. Unlike the premier league, the Left has little power and influence, and lost the ear of the president.
At the weekend, the national secretary of the Young Communist League Mluleki Dlelanga lashed out at the premier league moves to sideline communists. “We know that there are people within the ANC working hard towards 2017 and want to further sideline communists. They undermine structures, do gate-keeping, and use money to buy delegates,” Dlelanga said at a media briefing.
There is still two years to go before the succession debate takes on any real meaning. What the premier league is doing though is controlling the debates and flexing their political muscle. By floating two different proposals for Zuma’s third term and for a woman president they keep different interest groups in the ANC engaged.
Of course they also run the danger of angering ANC structures that might decide to rebel against them. But it is difficult to do so now for as long as the premier league appears to have a hotline to Number One. Most ANC structures will therefore be watching and waiting. DM
Photo: Ace Magashule, David Mabuza and Supra Mahumapelo, the premiers and the ANC chairpersons of the Free State, Mpumalanga and North West, respectively. (Photos by Greg Nicolson/Mpumalanga government/eNCA.com)