First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

ANC Leadership Race: With five weeks to go, energy runs...

South Africa

South Africa

ANC Leadership Race: With five weeks to go, energy runs low, uncertainty in structures runs high

Inside the mess that is South Africa’s ruling party right now, branch nominations for the elective conference next month are drawing to a frenzied close. It’s been a long race. Patience is running thin on both sides, but the battle will be determined in these final weeks. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

Inside a boutique hotel in Port Elizabeth the revolution is being hatched. Local ANC councillor Andile Lungisa – who once served on the party’s provincial executive committee and who was, briefly, a regional chair before being told to step down because he couldn’t compete for a lower position – is generating quotes over a Grapetiser:

We don’t lead to gain status or pace,” he says. “We want to bend history to our will.”

Lungisa, who rose through the ANC Youth League and later led the Pan-African Youth Union, wants to bend history in favour of a female ANC president.

He says he was one of the first to welcome presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the African Union when she arrived there as chairperson of the AU Commission in 2012. He campaigned for her across the continent since and is now part of her network of campaigners in the provinces.

Radical economic transformation matters a lot to him – and by the looks of it, his otherwise somewhat uncertain future would be a lot smoother under a Dlamini Zuma presidency.

Just over a month ago, the Eastern Cape held a chaotic conference where a leadership supportive of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidential bid was elected, following chair-throwing and the subsequent absence of about 40% of the delegates.

Lungisa wasn’t among those who signed the formal complaint to the ANC’s national executive committee, but he hopes the structure will this weekend decide to reverse the conference and reinstate former chairperson and provincial premier Phumulo Masualle (who did sign the complaint).

The NEC has been mostly sympathetic to President Jacob Zuma in its decisions thus far, and might just do this, but could also decide to stick to its preference for stability, and let matters stand.

In the case of KwaZulu-Natal, it went for the route of least disruption by agreeing that the leadership of the province could appeal a September court ruling saying the 2015 conference, where the current leaders were elected, was illegal and void.

The leadership elected at this conference on Wednesday incidentally held yet another press conference, slagging off Ramaphosa in a tit-for-tat media battle with the “rebels” who took them to court. The “rebels” held a press conference the day before.

With only five weeks to go before the elective conference in Nasrec next month, there’s a rather high level of uncertainty in structures.

Apart from the troubles in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, a court case is looming in the Northern Cape where the Dlamini Zuma bunch is taking the pro-Ramaphosa winners of the provincial conference earlier this year to court because of alleged irregularities.

In the Free State, a pro-Ramaphosa bunch is heading to court too because the current pro-Dlamini Zuma leaders failed to hold a conference by the due date in May.

Inside the two camps, campaigners are also running low on energy. Ramaphosa’s announcement of his slate on Sunday has seen some grumble about the choice, apparently from above, to substitute human settlements minister Lindiwe Sisulu with science and technology minister Naledi Pandor for deputy president.

Many branches had, however, already nominated Sisulu and ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize for that position, and campaigners were grumbling.

Another weary campaigner said Ramaphosa’s campaign wasn’t working in some rural provinces at all: “He puts far too much emphasis on State Capture, and he’s sometimes completely out of touch with the people.”

On the other side, supporters of Dlamini Zuma are becoming worn out by repeated allegations of corruption landing in their camp.

Journalist Jacques Pauw’s much-hyped book, The President’s Keepers, contains allegations that Zuma has been dodging tax and has links with the criminal underworld.

Some reckon that, despite their enthusiasm for Dlamini Zuma as a poster hero for radical economic transformation, the ANC might not win the 2019 general elections with her because of increasing public Zuma fatigue, and the cause might just be lost completely.

Stories have been doing the rounds on WhatsApp that Dlamini Zuma has run out of both steam and funds, and that she is ready to step out of the race – but not so, her campaigners say. Lungisa’s fighting talk attests to a campaign still very much on the go.

Branch nominations so far point to a race that could be fairly evenly divided. Ramaphosa has made some surprise inroads into Dlamini Zuma’s stronghold of KwaZulu-Natal, but he hasn’t yet garnered decent enough support in the other large provinces of Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape to be comfortable.

North West and the Free State, two “Premier League” provinces where support for Dlamini Zuma is strong, have so far been slow to hold branch meetings to nominate delegates and candidates. While there could be some strategy in this, former provincial chairperson China Dodovu alleged on Facebook that this was because branches were simply too big – up to 2,000 members in some. Some branches had “bought” members on paper only, and were now failing to get enough people together for a quorate nominations meeting.

This is why the Eastern Cape battle is important for the likes of Lungisa.

If you have a grip on provincial leadership, you also have the power to intervene in branch disputes so that they’re resolved in your favour. You can also put forward provincial lobbyists in conference caucuses, where you can bend history to your own ends on the conference floor.

In the year of the great unifier, OR Tambo, the party faithful would be hoping that this bending happens by negotiation rather than battle. DM

Photo: African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma speaks at the multipurpose hall during a working lunch photo at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 26 May 2017 (Photo: GCIS)

Gallery

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted