Politics

ANC policy conference: Key players to watch in the days ahead

By Carien Du Plessis 1 July 2017

Besides the thousands of branch members, who the ANC will tell you are the most important people at this conference, there will be a few leaders who are expected to make waves amongst the old mine dumps in Nasrec over the next few days. CARIEN DU PLESSIS takes a look

President Jacob Zuma

The man of the moment, as he has been for the past decade. Lame duck-ism hasn’t gotten to him (yet), but while he’s not officially in the running for president in December – as yet – he has a lot of interest in who will be (and whether they will keep him out of jail). Although this is a policy conference, this is a dry run to test which way an ANC divided in the middle will split – and just to make sure it splits his way, a 2016 elections CD with Zuma dabbing on the cover was thrown into the conference delegates’ pack. Expect a lot of sub-tweeting, veiled attacks, and the shifting of blame by question and suggestion. This man is a master of the teflon politics.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa

Who he? It’s like the conference organisers forgot him, putting everybody else on the conference programme but this pretender to the throne. Just because it is ANC tradition that the deputy president becomes president, it doesn’t mean it has to be Cyril – because, really, he was just brought in in 2012 to make JZ look good, and because Kgalema Motlanthe didn’t want to. Expect him to behave impeccably on stage, to stand up when everyone sings for Zuma, and maybe even to mouth the words. Just don’t expect to see backbone. Still, the good news for this man is that the #CR17 campaign did manage a few defiant cheers and claps when Zuma mentioned his name during the welcome and credentials. If there is going to be any campaigning from Ramaphosa during this conference, the general public – and most of the delegates – aren’t going to see much of it.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Former African Union Commission chairperson, and NEC member

Come to think of it, just like Ramaphosa, she doesn’t feature on the programme either. Maybe there’s a rule about serious presidential contenders not being on the programme, or maybe she, too, wants enough time to take on Ramaphosa undercover. Perhaps she won’t even be campaigning at all herself, and leave the dirty work up to Zuma and her big fan, ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini, who has been sending out campaign pics on Whatsapp with pics of her saying “Victory in OuR wOMAN”. That seems like a winning campaign to us.

Baleka Mbete, ANC chairperson

When she’s not trying to kill delegates’ ears in song or with threats that she would remove their accreditation tags if they try to do the same with her, she is apparently still hoping to become the ANC’s first woman president. Perhaps the National Assembly Speaker, who likes to call order on other people, knows something that everyone in the ANC and outside don’t know, or maybe she just genuinely thinks she’d be good for the job. Either way, she is the one charged with ensuring that the conference programme runs smoothly and that everyone gets to their seats on time. Just make sure that you never tell her you don’t recognise her.

Jeff Radebe, ANC policy chief and minister in the Presidency

Radebe is one of the longest-serving ministers in government and he has been making drying paint look exciting for 23 years. At ANC policy press conferences he has been telling journalists nothing for years, and in 2013 as the president’s pointman on the Gupta Waterkloof landing scandal, bored journalists off the story in a convoluted Sunday presser. This conference really is his party, but he’s hoping that things will really happen for him at the December elective conference, when he plans to run for president. But: E.x.c.i.t.e.m.e.n.t. required, please, and some #PolicyForJeff.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe

Expect him to be grumpy at the start of the conference and relieved to see the back of everyone at the end – nobala’s job is to ensure the conference runs smoothly, together with a committee who don’t all share his disdain for Zuma. So everything in between is a gamble. Mantashe also had to deliver a report diagnosing the problems of the organisation, which is the easy bit, because what the party really wants now are solutions. He might also do an analysis on the balance of forces to decide which would be a winning slate to get his name on for deputy president, if he’s still interested at all. The uncle has been looking a little fed-up of late.

Zweli Mkhize, ANC Treasurer-General

Follow the money and you will find the man who is by now used to sweet-talking businesses and foreign ambassadors. His usual song is that, despite severe challenges, the country needs the ANC and the ANC needs money to be able to do good to the country. Mkhize also has ambitions of his own. Former KwaZulu-Natal premier and a supporter of Zuma, he is now with the Ramaphosa camp but also a dark horse to win the presidential race. Mkhize was MC-ing a the Progressive Business Forum’s gala dinner that kicked off the six-day conference, and he’ll also be making a turn at the forum’s breakfasts. He uses his charming smile to hide what must be a lot of stress – and a treasure trove of financial secrets as well.

Enoch Godongwana, ANC economic transformation committee chair

Photo: SABC

The essence of the proxy battles will play itself out in this committee, in which members would be trying to find the magic formula for radical economic transformation. Zuma’s camp wants a complete overhaul of fiscal policy, while Ramaphosa’s wants fine-tuning and better implementation. Godongwana will be the man of the moment in all of this, and he is sure to enjoy more than his 15 minutes of fame once the deliberations are finished. So just watch him. The decisions in this committee could, after all, make or break the country’s teetering economy. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, Baleka Mbete and Zweli Mkhize during the start of the ANC’s 5th National Policy Conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg.Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee

All photographs by Ihsaan Haffejee except where indicated.

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