Mental floss for the discerning
18 October 2017 00:32 (South Africa)
South Africa

ANC Leadership Race: With Mpumalanga’s massive growth, it’s now David Mabuza, the decider. Be very afraid.

  • Stephen Grootes
    Grootes for DM.jpg
    Stephen Grootes

    Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

  • South Africa
Photo: Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane with the Premier of Mpumalanga Mr David Mabuza during the Mandela Day Gala Dinner held at Casa do sol Hotel and Resort in Hazyview, Mpumalanga province, 4 August 2017. (Jacoline Schoonees  for DIRCO)

When trying to put together the complicated puzzle that is the ANC’s leadership election equation, it is important to assign values to your pieces. You need to know which way someone will go, and how much power they will have. The release on Friday night of the numbers of delegates each ANC province will be sending to the national conference now gives us much more information. While it is still far from clear what exactly will happen, we now know that the biggest piece, the player with the most weight, is probably going to be David Dabede Mabuza, the Premier of Mpumalanga and the ANC Chairman of that province. For those hoping for a wholesale cleanup and an end to corruption within the ANC and South Africa, this is probably bad news. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

When looking through the numbers of delegates each ANC province will be sending to the national conference, the most obvious point to make is that Mpumalanga and North West have grown dramatically, and the Eastern Cape has slid down the list. It is no longer the second-biggest province, but the third, while Mpumalanga comes after KwaZulu-Natal. This is a testament to the efforts of David Mabuza in growing the numbers in his province, but is also an indication of what has happened in the Eastern Cape. It's been hit by factional strife, first in its OR Tambo region, then in the Nelson Mandela Bay region, and then at its conference last week. In 2012, many of its branches failed to get through the audit process, which meant that they were not represented at the Mangaung conference. It is possible that many of the people who belonged to those branches simply gave up their membership or let it lapse over time.

Branch delegates for December 2017:

KwaZulu-Natal: 870
Mpumalanga: 736
Eastern Cape: 648
Limpopo: 643
North West: 538
Gauteng: 508
Free State: 409
Northern Cape: 197
Western Cape: 182

Total branch delegates: 4,723 (90% of the total)

Leagues and PECs: 525 (est)

Total delegates: 5,248 (est)

It is important to examine how the leadership election picture has changed over the course of 2017. Imagine for a moment if 12 months ago, when the different provinces appeared much more unified than they are now, we had been presented with these numbers. Then it would have looked as if all of KZN, all of Mpumalanga, all of North West and all of the Free State would have gone the way of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. That means the conference would have started with 2,553 of the 4,723 branch delegates already on her side. Add the votes from the ANC Women’s League and the ANC Youth League to the mix, and it looks like a comprehensive victory for her. Bluntly, on those numbers, Cyril Ramaphosa wouldn’t stand a chance.

But now, roughly 10 weeks before the conference, the picture is much more scrambled, because of the huge divisions in KZN, the fact Ace Magashule is facing a challenge in the Free State and, primarily, because of the interesting moves on the part of Mabuza. And of course, we should not forget the huge importance of the decision to stop provinces voting in blocs. At both Polokwane in 2007 and Mangaung in 2012, the provinces held provincial general meetings, and decided which candidate to endorse. Again, under that system, Dlamini Zuma would have a huge advantage. Now, with the branch nominations going directly to Luthuli House, predictions are much more difficult.

This is also an indication of how split the ANC is at the moment, that there is all of this division in KZN, Eastern Cape, Free State and even Gauteng (where it appears leader Paul Mashatile tried to intervene to save Mzwandile Masina’s position as chair of the Ekhuruleni region this weekend, even though Masina is for Dlamini Zuma and Mashatile is for Ramaphosa – ANC politics is nothing if not complicated at the moment). It also shows the huge value of unity. The real strength that Mabuza has is that his province is unified. It gives the appearance of being completely and utterly behind him. That, combined with his now proven ability to increase the number of branches in his provinces (which is not that difficult, you can become a member here and pay your R20, which means that it costs roughly R2,000 to create a branch with a hundred people per branch), has given him huge influence in this race.

It is now more important than ever to consider the kind of person Mabuza is, to understand his political interests and motivation; in other words, to determine what he will do with this influence. He can be expected to be courted by all three sides: Ramaphosa, Dlamini Zuma and, of course, Zweli Mkhize. Up until very recently, he has generally been seen as close to Zuma, as someone who strongly supported him.

Mabuza’s political history is not a pretty picture.

The SACP in Mpumalanga once labelled the province “the corruption capital of the country”. This was just two years ago. And it was not from an oppositional force, but from someone who is supposed to be an ally, a member of the same alliance. Which is, surely, a strong condemnation indeed. Relations between the ANC in the province under Mabuza and the SACP there have become so toxic that members of the two parties have actually exchanged blows in the recent past. Considering that the SACP is the part of the alliance that usually spots and condemns corruption, this is what you could call a very bad sign.

Then there is the strange case in which Mabuza appears to have been poisoned by a political rival. He himself has given the impression of confirming that this happened. He disappeared from public view for several months, leading to questions about whether he would ever actually return. In the end he did, after receiving treatment. There are strong indications that that treatment was actually in Russia. (City Press recently put together an excellent account of these events and the man himself).

And there is the defamation case that he launched against the former premier of his province, Mathews Phosa. The enmity between them appears ancient. Mabuza wanted R10-million from Phosa, claiming that he had sent a document to ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte in which it was claimed Mabuza had been a spy for the apartheid police. The case was dismissed with costs awarded to Phosa (and just to twist the knife, Phosa donated that money to victims of the recent storm in the Western Cape).

So, this is the kind of person who is now able to possibly decide who the next leader of the ANC will be, and possibly who the next President of the country will be. Critics of the party could claim that this shows how far the party has sunk, and the fact that someone the SACP sees as profoundly corrupt is in this position is the culmination of a process of entrenching a culture of corruption.

This situation could also strengthen the views of the conspiracy theorists who believe this is all a plot by President Jacob Zuma, and that someone like Mabuza is going to turn on everyone and go back to Dlamini Zuma in the end. Certainly he has the numbers to do that, and surely has a history with Zuma.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment. Instead of going the way that was predicted, Mabuza has been talking up a unity candidate. Just last month Mabuza hosted the leaderships of Gauteng, the North West, the Free State and KZN in what was a carefully stage-managed show of unity. This was an explicit push for a unity candidate that sees no actual contestation on the floor of the conference. The person who would benefit the most is, of course, Mkhize.

However, if Mabuza has the numbers to simply make Dlamini Zuma leader, and if he has supported Zuma in the past, why is he going in another direction? This question is crucial.

At this stage, there is no publicly understood definitive answer. It could be that he has the interests of the ANC at heart… if you want to put a kindly interpretation on things. A stronger reason may be that he doesn’t see Dlamini Zuma as being able to win the 2019 elections. Perhaps he’s just sexist. It is perhaps more likely that there has been some huge falling-out among the people who first supported Dlamini Zuma. One of the problems facing what used to be called the “Premier League” was that it was a group of people all on the same political level; they were all provincial leaders and premiers. This meant that working out who was going to occupy which position was always going to be very difficult, there was no real way to determine who could be deputy leader, who secretary general and so-on. Perhaps, they have simply not been able to agree on a formula to parcel out power, and so have split.

In which case it becomes a numbers game in terms of the delegates you can bring, and it appears Mabuza has won.

It is also possible that Mabuza has had a fight with Zuma over the Guptas. He has previously said he had no relationship with them, and once failed to appear for The New Age “Business Breakfast” on the SABC. A cynical view would be that if you are benefiting nicely from corruption through the way you govern your province, you are unlikely to take kindly to anyone else who is trying to elbow their way into your fiefdom.

Without knowing the true reason for Mabuza’s current stance, it is difficult to predict what he will do next. But we do know that this complicates the picture incredibly. Imagine, for example, if Ramaphosa has to offer him the position of deputy leader, and then Deputy President. Would the SACP, Ramaphosa’s strongest backers, hold their noses and live with it? Or would their Mpumalanga branch advise them to simply prevent it from happening? If Mabuza were to become deputy leader of the ANC, could that lose the ANC votes in urban areas, where he has virtually no track record, and a possible public perception of corruption?

What would happen if he now publicly punts Mkhize? Mkhize is also trying to run on a “cleanup ticket”. Would it not hurt his campaign to have Mabuza as one of the main backers? And if he goes back to Dlamini Zuma, it will look as if this was all a con, and that Zuma still controls the main people who matter in the ANC. That surely would have repercussions for the party after the conference, and then in 2019 as well.

For Mabuza, it may be foolish to make any public decisions now. He could sit back and enjoy the situation. The main candidates are going to come to him. As it gets closer to the conference, their offers will surely just increase in value. He can afford to hold out. And predicting how this final puzzle is going to look is going to remain close to impossible. DM

Photo: Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane with the Premier of Mpumalanga Mr David Mabuza during the Mandela Day Gala Dinner held at Casa do sol Hotel and Resort in Hazyview, Mpumalanga province, 4 August 2017. (Jacoline Schoonees for DIRCO)

  • Stephen Grootes
    Grootes for DM.jpg
    Stephen Grootes

    Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

  • South Africa

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