South Africa

Analysis: In the ANC Leadership race, to the victors all spoils go

By Stephen Grootes 1 November 2017

For those awaiting the outcome of the ANC’s elective conference in December (which is pretty much all of us) one of the main questions is how much chaos would reign afterwards. Much of this attention has focused on the national level of government, with some in the urban bubble muttering gleefully about how current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa could get President Jacob Zuma out of office. But this week has brought a strong reminder of how this chaos would actually filter down through to the lower provincial structures, and into local governments. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

On Tuesday evening News 24 reported that the mayor of Ekurhuleni, Mzwandile Masina, had said that he would resign as leader of the ANC in his region should Ramaphosa be elected the new leader. He also said that if members of his region voted to support Ramaphosa instead of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, he would feel that he would have to step down.

Masina has given several reasons for this. He gives what is surely a legitimate political reason in that he can’t “lead people who don’t listen to me”. In other words, he would feel that he does not any longer have the political capital to exert his will.

His other claim is more interesting, in that it reveals what may have been one of the messages of the Dlamini Zuma campaign that has been communicated only by subtext. Masina says:

If Nkosazana loses, white people will lead SA. I will not be part of it. I will not be mayor of Ekurhuleni, but I will leave the ANC in power.”

This chimes with some of the claims made by various supporters of both Zuma and Dlamini Zuma that Ramaphosa is somehow a tool of “white monopoly capital”.

Masina and the region he leads, Ekurhuleni, have long been out of step with the rest of the ANC’s Gauteng province. The provincial leadership was the first to voice calls for Zuma step down, even before State Capture became the buzzword it is now. They first made the call in the aftermath of the Nkandla scandal. But Masina has been Zuma’s point person in the province, and has publicly backed him.

However, about six months ago, just as the evidence of State Capture by the Guptas started to become public through the #GuptaLeaks, Masina made a startling comment at the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Conference. Speaking directly to Zuma, he said that the Guptas should be told to give space to the ANC to conduct the revolution:

We don’t mean to choose friends for leaders of the ANC, but there is a limit for everything. People died in the ANC and for this country. We can’t surrender the sovereignty of this country and the ANC in this process.”

Considering that the MKMVA leadership is well known for its support of all things Gupta, Zuma, and Dlamini Zuma, it was no surprise that the lack of applause was marked. This is the same organisation that has given us Kebby Maphatsoe as its leader, and elected Carl Niehaus as its official spokesperson.

This incident appeared to suggest that Masina was shaken by the constant barrage of damaging information; his advice was clearly not being taken.

However, his comments this week are also an indication of how deep the divisions in the ANC run. For Masina to make these comments is surely a risk. If Dlamini Zuma does lose, calls are going to mount for his head, and for him to resign his position. But he is also raising the stakes before the conference, by indicating that he could leave office just because his region may back Ramaphosa. It suggests that the relatively quiet week we have had (so far) could well be the phony war stage of this conference, and that the real chaos is about to begin. Masina may well be indicating also that there is a strong “gatvol” factor among some ANC members. These are people who, while enjoying the fruits of power, have simply had enough. Life in the ANC is tough and difficult, and there may be those who feel that they simply cannot continue. Considering that Masina is in a small minority in his province, he could well face the brunt of the reaction.

This situation must surely be mirrored in other provinces. There are people in the Northern Cape who back Dlamini Zuma, and of course, there are many in KwaZulu-Natal who back Ramaphosa. It seems that apart from Mpumalanga, there are no provinces that are united on the issue of who should lead the ANC after December.

After the ANC’s Polokwane Conference a decade ago, it was possible for Zuma as the victor to include people who were known supporters of Thabo Mbeki in the party. Some people, like Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, eventually switched to become among his strongest supporters. Others, like her husband Charles, became “special advisers” and then eventually departed front-line politics.

But today, the stakes are surely higher: Those who support Dlamini Zuma are often labelled as corrupt by their opponents; Ramaphosa’s supporters are called all sorts of things, from agents of “white monopoly capital” to “sell-outs” in return. This surely makes it much harder for whoever wins to do what Zuma did 10 years ago.

This has the effect of making the stakes impossibly high. Everyone involved stands to lose a huge amount if their candidate does not prevail. This probably increases the chances of them refusing to accept the outcome, and surely of playing dirty in attempt to change it. The result of that can be more damage to the ANC, and increased chaos after the conference.

It would also appear that while other arms of government were left relatively untouched by the Polokwane conference, this will not be the same here. We may see that those who support one candidate are simply forced out by those who win in provinces, and even in municipalities. So, if Masina loses his position in Ekurhuleni, for example, there may be nothing to stop Limpopo Premier Stan Mathabatha forcing out people in his provincial cabinet who support Dlamini Zuma. And of course it will go the other way as well – Dlamini Zuma’s supporters would want to wreak their revenge across provincial and local government if they prevail.

Instability is generally bad for everyone, and it could turn even more voters away from the ANC at a time when the party truly cannot afford it. It’s bad for governance if everyone is consumed by internal political battles: decisions will not be made, maintenance will be neglected, services will not be provided. In the end, as usual, it will be the poor who suffer the most.

But the real problem the ANC has at the moment is that there is no one who has the legitimacy to urge caution, to rein in the victors. It is a measure of how factionalism has taken over, how the party has fallen victim to a “winner takes all” mentality. And it has its roots in the slate system, where leaders run as a group, that first emerged at Polokwane. For the moment, there appears to be no way around this problem, bearing dangerous implications for the results of the 2019 elections. DM

Photo: Former African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma chats with South Africa’s deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa ahead of the African National Congress 5th National Policy Conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Soweto, South Africa, June 30, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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