The ANC’s leadership is divided over who should be the next party president. The vote, however, comes down to members and as the ANC's national conference gets closer, divisions are becoming obviously clear in the party’s regions and provinces. By GREG NICOLSON.
The comments coming out of the ANC Free State’s cadres’ assembly this weekend had a particularly pro-Jacob Zuma feel. In wide-ranging discussions with branch members, the president spoke on last week’s failed no confidence motion, claims that he was poisoned, and allegations of foreign interference in South African politics. “I know that we are under attack, no matter how bright and eloquent [some] people are, I know that and I often have a heart to heart with myself, just like Jesus, and say ‘please forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do’,” Zuma said, reportedly to wide applause.
He claimed that the action against him in Parliament, with an unprecedented number of ANC MPs voting for the opposition motion, was “anchored on a bigger strategy”, suggesting that ANC MPs have nefarious links to opposition parties and foreign governments. ANC Free State chair Ace Magashule called on party MPs who voted with the opposition to be disciplined. He claimed that there was “ample evidence” of party members working with the DA to take power from the ANC.
And yet, the Free State ANC should not have been holding a cadres’ assembly at all. Its provincial elective conference, meant to have been held over the weekend, was postponed and the assembly was held instead. Its provincial elective conference couldn’t proceed because of issues with auditing branch membership figures, which is where the battle for the ANC succession race is currently focused. ANC branches, regions and provinces wield the real influence in choosing Zuma’s successor in December and the fights are already taking place.
Magashule is an institution in the Free State ANC. He’s led the province since 1992, but his deputy Thabo Manyoni has spoken out against his boss and plans to contest the top spot at the elective conference, whenever it happens. Manyoni has backed Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to lead the ANC; Magashule is a leader in the “premier league”, backing Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. If Manyoni beats Magashule, Zuma’s chosen successor would be much less likely to win in December.
While the cadres’ assembly might have seemed like a pro-Zuma rally – with Dlamini-Zuma, ANC Deputy Secretary General Jessie Duarte, and Magashule speaking – provincial party spokesperson Thabo Meeko said, “I don’t know how that allegation arises.” National leaders were invited – Treasurer-General Zweli Mkhize, seen as supporting Ramaphosa, also spoke – although some couldn’t make it.
The provincial conference was postponed because the audit of branch memberships “arrived very late”, said Meeko. Luthuli House needs to sign off on the numbers and hadn’t given the go-ahead for a conference at the weekend. Manyoni’s camp has been adamant that it won’t allow membership figures to be manipulated and Magashule’s opponents kept away. They’ve already threatened court action; Meeko said the cadres’ assembly was meant to build unity and promote political education. He said Manyoni was part of the provincial executive committee that agreed to hold the event. Magashule has questioned the loyalty of ANC members threatening to go to court. Meeko said the province is ready to hold its conference when it gets the go-ahead from the national ANC.
But the courts are almost a second home for the ANC and will feature prominently ahead of the party’s December elections. ANC regions and provinces are already challenging the party in court and more will follow as suspicions arise in the run up to December.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Bheki Cele, who enjoys wide influence in KwaZulu-Natal, this week spoke on a case that could decide the future of the ANC in his province:
“Don’t make the mistake of thinking this case is about certain people. It is about the ANC and its failure to lead as the ANC. The ANC NEC must accept that we are responsible for this case. We are responsible for the case in the Free State. We are failing to lead.”
Provincial battles aren’t limited to the Free State. On Wednesday, former KZN ANC leader Senzo Mchunu’s camp will go to court to contest the party’s 2015 provincial elections, where Sihle Zikalala was elected and Mchunu ousted. KZN has the most members in the ANC, by far, and the case could be instrumental in deciding who is elected in December. KZN appears divided – Mchunu backs Cyril Ramaphosa, while Zikalala is behind Dlamini-Zuma.
Four ANC regions in KZN have either been suspended or dissolved, with leaders from the affected areas claiming it’s an attempt to sideline Ramaphosa supporters. In the Western Cape, the Dullah Omar region was disbanded by provincial leadership only to be reinstated by the national ANC. The party said Western Cape structures were defined by deep divisions. In North West, the ANC’s Bojanala region recently won a court interdict preventing provincial and regional councils from proceeding after claims that legitimate voters had been excluded. In the Northern Cape, there’s been talk of former chairperson Sylvia Lucas challenging Zamani Saul’s election this year – he supports Ramaphosa while Lucas appears to be in Zuma’s camp.
University of South Africa political analyst Professor Somadoda Fikeni wasn’t surprised by the divisions in ANC regions and provinces. “Right now the fight is within branches and within regions and also between regions and provinces.” He said members of the premier league who back Zuma had been trying to “microwave consensus” but their members had never been fully on board and Zuma’s scandals sacrificed work in the provinces. “He literally moves from one controversy to the next one.”
Zuma’s supporters need to try to prove their regions are behind them and they will vote according to a bloc, said Fikeni. But the branches and regions are divided and the current fallouts are a result of provincial leaders trying to prove their members are behind their decisions.
“They are literally fast-tracking consensus where in actual fact it doesn’t exist.” DM
Photo: ANC Free State leader Ace Magashule in Mangaung, 18 December 2012. (Greg Nicolson / Daily Maverick)