Voting for ANC leaders at the party’s 54th national conference has turned into an extensive exercise of shepherding delegates onto sports fields, robust screaming matches, and vigorous singing. While it may look like chaos, don’t for a moment think things are not organised with military precision in what has once more turned out to be a straight slate-vs-slate contest. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.
As journalists were ushered – “shepherded by armies of security officers” is perhaps a better description – into the plenary hall late on Sunday afternoon, delegates were locked in a heated debate which bordered on being rude. At issue was whether the delegates could go into a voting booth with lists – some would say slates – of which 80 delegates to vote for as additional members of the national executive committee (NEC).
Eighty is a lot of names to remember, but the candidates are all on the slate with a good reason (such as their contribution to the campaign), and it’s important to the camps that their delegates get it right. Those more concerned with the survival of the ANC are rightly worried. This all-or-nothing slate approach could lead to a split, or to divisions so deep that any future elections victory, say, in 2019, could fly out of reach.
Chairperson of the ANC’s Electoral Commission, Sindiso Mfenyana, was telling delegates they can’t go into the voting booth with pieces of paper. But the camp of ANC MP Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was pushing back.
Mfenyana, you will remember, was also the member of the Integrity Commission who during the policy conference six months ago told the media that the commission had asked President Jacob Zuma to step down. Maybe it was a bad move.
Ekurhuleni mayor and ANC regional chair Mzwandile Masina said: “It is impossible to remember 80 people without a mechanism which has always been used in the organisation.” That mechanism? A piece of paper.
The ANC Youth League’s Desmond Moela got up and called Mfenyana an “old man” before launching his attack.
Whenever Baleka Mbete, who was chairing the session, tried to explain that the ANC didn’t want voting according to slates, Dlamini Zuma supporters started shouting and chanting and singing by way of pushing back. Democracy of the loudest was in full display.
Mpumalanga deputy secretary Violet Siwela got up to say: “Branches, when they are here, they have the right to be lobbied. Here, as branches and branch delegates, we are here to lobby each other. Let the branch delegates deal with the voting part of it.”
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa got the most branch nominations before the conference, but Dlamini Zuma’s side always said they had the bigger branches, and therefore more delegates, on their side.
This indicates that the Dlamini Zuma camp was either over-confident about their numbers, or that the court action and the accreditation process, which saw 981 fewer delegates accredited than originally allocated to provinces, hurt the camp. It’s a close race, and it also indicates that there has been fierce lobbying over the past two or three days – and that allegations of vote-buying are perhaps not as far-fetched as they might sound.
To win now, a camp needs 2,389 votes. By late Sunday afternoon the Dlamini Zuma camp were claiming they would achieve 2,715 votes, while Ramaphosa’s guys claimed they would garner 2,550. They are both probably erring on the side of optimism, but they are both correct that this is a close race.
Another delegate objected to them having to show their IDs with their accreditation tags when they go into the voting booth. Surely the accreditation already says who they are, why was it that an ID was needed?
This provision is there to prevent rigging by means of selling and buying tags. It’s not immediately clear why the Dlamini Zuma camp was pushing back on this.
Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe pleaded: “Comrades, we must allow the Electoral Commission to protect us against ourselves.”
“No! No!” the shouts came from the ANC Women’s League and KwaZulu-Natal/North West/Mpumalanga side.
ANC NEC member Tony Yengeni stood up to say the rules of conference had been read out earlier, but that conference was the highest decision-making body of the ANC and couldn’t be overruled by an Electoral Commission. More cheers from these provinces followed.
This is kind of serious, as it already hints at the Electoral Commission having an agenda, which could speak to the integrity of the outcome of the process.
NEC member Naledi Pandor eventually tried to settle the process by saying conference should settle the matter later, and first vote for the top six. The determination of the Dlamini Zuma camp not to let this happen could again point to a lack of confidence on their part. Should the top six vote turn in favour of Ramaphosa decisively, it would render this fight moot, because it would show them to be in the majority.
Again, things are so close that the Dlamini Zuma camp prefers to play it aggressively.
Watching delegates rally on the conference floor is a sight to behold. Not only is there shouting and booing, they also get up to sing and dance towards the stage, like an advancing army. They gesticulate and they jump about in sync. It’s physically intimidating.
The process of lobbying, it turns out, is quite physical. Frequent caucus meetings have been held throughout the past two days of the conference, and possibly also the day before.
Supporters of each camp are called by campaigners to separate sports fields in the Nasrec Expo Centre precincts. There, they group together by province – at least this is what the Dlamini Zuma camp does – and then a roll call is done by region. Each supporter should be accounted for, even if they’re unable to attend due to, say, a medical or other emergency.
When elections for the top six are done, it would be roughly the same procedure. Caucuses will stick together, and go out in regions to the voting booth. Even though cellphones aren’t allowed in the booths, it would take some guts to step out of line in this formation.
As it happened, the nominations process resulted in Zweli Mkhize (nominated for deputy president), Nomvula Mokonyane (treasurer-general) and Naledi Pandor (deputy president) withdrawing from the race, leaving each position with only two contenders. There were no redeeming nominations from the floor. This will be a head-to-head contest.
(The insiders’ talk was that Mkhize was courted by both sides, Dlamini Zuma’s side hoping he would split the votes for Lindiwe Sisulu and therefore securing the win for DD Mabuza. Mkhize’s decision is seen as a boost to Ramaphosa’s team – Ed)
For president, Ramaphosa (1,469 branches) and Dlamini Zuma (1,094 branches) were nominated. For deputy president, it’s David Mabuza (1,128, on the Dlamini Zuma slate) and Lindiwe Sisulu (619, on the Ramaphosa slate); for chairperson, it’s Gwede Mantashe (1,449, Ramaphosa slate) and Nathi Mthethwa (807, Dlamini Zuma slate), and for secretary-general, Senzo Mchunu (1,479, Ramaphosa slate) and Ace Magashule (930, Dlamini Zuma slate).
For deputy secretary-general, it’s Jessie Duarte (845, on the Dlamini Zuma slate) and Zingiswa Losi (361, Ramaphosa slate), and for treasurer-general, it’s Paul Mashatile (1581, Ramaphosa slate), and Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (275, Dlamini Zuma slate).
The ballot papers are being printed and voting is expected to commence at around the same time as dinner. By Monday morning, the party will know the identity of its next president. The country will know its near-future direction. DM
Photo: Delegates wave an ANC flag during the 54th ANC National Conference held at the NASREC Convention Centre, Johannesburg , South Africa, 16 December 2017. Photo EPA-EFE/Cornell Tukiri