It is hard to explain to people who have not lived through the ANC’s last two decades quite how extraordinary Cyril Ramaphosa’s actions on Sunday were. In front of a large crowd of supporters, he stood up and named, one by one, the people who are running with him.
The list itself was not entirely surprising, having done the rounds on WhatsApp and social media for several days. Science and technology minister Naledi Pandor emerged as CR17 pick for deputy president, Gwede Mantashe as chairperson, Senzo Mchunu as secretary-general, Thoko Didiza as deputy secretary-general, and Paul Mashatile as Treasurer. This is a dramatic break with tradition. In the past, slates were leaked, and newspapers would report on slates in a “this person is thought to be” kind of way. No one ever confirmed anything. This was partly because people in the ANC are not supposed to campaign as slates, and also because things could change quickly.
It is also true that this move leaves Ramaphosa open to the charge that he himself is dividing the ANC. The reaction came late on Monday afternoon, with ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe (remember, he himself was on the slate) decrying:
“… Such pronouncements are unacceptable, whether comrades have a preference or not, and seek to usurp the entrenched right of the branches to nominate candidates of their choosing…”
While Ramaphosa was not mentioned by name in the statement, the condemnation of his actions was clear. Mantashe himself was thus in the position of condemning the announcement of a slate that he himself is on. Such are the oddities of internal ANC politics at the moment. So far, it has been Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma who has spoken openly about why losing candidates must remain in the ANC, and how the rules and traditions must be followed. She may be able to use this move against Ramaphosa, and accuse him of being the “non-ANC” candidate in some way. And since the introduction of slates at Polokwane in 2007 it has become normal for a national leader to open a provincial or league conference by bemoaning the use of slates, a call destined to be ignored when the actual election occurred.
Just a few hours later, a statement purporting to be from Ramaphosa responding to the ANC reaction arrived on the WhatsApp groups. He made the point that he accepted the criticism, and that branches were central to the process. He also said that his views were “not prescriptive” and “don’t displace the right of branches to nominate their preferred candidates”. This little interchange, from Mantashe and then Ramaphosa, was all rather gentlemanly and polite, possibly even choreographed.
But perhaps Ramaphosa felt the need to do this, because of pressure to identify which direction he is going in.
The choice of Mchunu brings with it a big part of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. Mchunu’s conduct in recent months has been very much that of a unifier: he resisted the urge to gloat after winning the court battle that saw the provincial election that unseated him being nullified, and instead appeared to look for solutions.
Mashatile, of course, brings Gauteng, which is already known to back Ramaphosa. On Radio 702 on Monday morning Economic Development MEC, Lebogang Maile, who is known to be close to Mashatile, was asked if he thought Mashatile would be a good Treasurer. His answer was very much in the affirmative. But he also pointed out that the Gauteng Provincial Executive Committee had taken a decision that Mashatile should “go to national”, which gave him the freedom to speak. Ramaphosa is simply cementing his support from Gauteng with this move.
It may also be that Ramaphosa and his team have been taken by surprise by how some ANC branches who are nominating him to to be ANC leader have been nominating Lindiwe Sisulu to be his deputy. It might have been important for him to signal who he actually wants, so that he gets the nominations outcome that he desires. That could also suggest his team might not have tight control of branches on the ground at the moment. And of course Sisulu has been suffering from her own implosion of late.
And then, there’s the big surprise: the choice of Pandor as deputy president.
Pandor is someone who has given much of her life to the ANC, first in the Struggle, then in government. She is honest, competent and capable. There were no scandals over textbooks while she was Education Minister, and there has never been a sign of corruption around her. In the ANC at the moment, for those who want to clean out what they see as a culture of corruption, this is a big plus. She is also someone who knows how the rest of the world works, through her time in exile. And then there is her gender. It is currently conventional wisdom that Ramaphosa needs a female deputy to counter the “argument” that Dlamini Zuma should be the next leader because it’s “time for a woman president”. This does limit his options somewhat, but obviously this would help him out of several problems all at once.
However, Pandor also comes with her political limitations. She does not bring a constituency of her own, a defined group of people who will now definitely support Ramaphosa because she is on his ticket. This is odd, as it is normally the reason why someone is picked to run on a ticket in the first place, to add to the support of the main candidate. In other words, she doesn’t really give Ramaphosa a new momentum.
But, in the realpolitik of the negotiations to come, this could be a plus. Because if Ramaphosa were to part ways with her in favour of another candidate (say, Zweli Mkhize, for example), then he wouldn’t suffer any backlash. Pandor would have no choice but to simply live with it.
While Ramaphosa’s move here may have some downside, in that he has already been accused of breaking with ANC tradition, it does have another significant upside. It could now force Dlamini Zuma to do the same. But announcing the slate could pose significant problems for her. Any pressure on her to announce it could produce more internal pressure. In other words, this could create more in-fighting in her camp as people jostle for position. That may in fact be Ramaphosa’s main aim in the first place, to try to destabilise that camp from within. And once she has decided on a slate, that may allow people to compare that of Ramaphosa’s with hers. Which could mean much public discussion over the difference between say the perceived honesty of Pandor with the perceived corruption of Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza, who appears to be the preferred candidate for a post of deputy president.
Ramaphosa’s actions over the last few days also tell us one other thing about this race: it still has the capacity to surprise. Much has been said about how unpredictable it is, how difficult it is to know what is really going on. The size of the ANC, and the ability of local leaders to control structures in an opaque way, make things truly difficult to assess properly.
While the CR17 surprise move did not necessarily bring clarity, it may provoke reaction that could end up rearranging the battlefield. Your move, camp NDZ. DM
Photo: South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa reacts during president Jacob Zuma’s (not pictured) reply to the debate about his State Of The Nation Address (SONA) in the parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, 16 February 2017. EPA/NIC BOTHMA
"If you took the most ardent revolutionary vested him in absolute power within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself." ~ Mikhail Bakunin