Over the weekend, both the Gauteng and the KwaZulu-Natal provincial structures of the ANC were able to hold their conferences, and – the miracle! – elect new leadership. This is significant for several reasons, not the least of which is that it raises hopes that the spate of recent murders linked to KZN politics may now come to an end.
These conferences could have a significant impact on the balance of power within the ANC, if just because there were no huge surprises. At the same time, it appears that occasions like these will help President Cyril Ramaphosa in some ways. However, the biggest impact may be that their results show that the ANC is at last beginning to do away with the politics of slates, although there is still much turbulence to come.
Perhaps the most significant event of the ANC’s weekend was not the results of the leadership elections in KZN and Gauteng, but the fact that President Cyril Ramaphosa was able to address the KZN conference with no disruption. He was given space and time to speak, and by all accounts was welcomed warmly. This was in stark contract to what happened just five weeks ago, when ANC chair Gwede Mantashe had to speak against singing in the same province.
Clearly, there has been much political work done behind the scenes over the last few weeks.
But the results of the election in ANC KZN is in itself a big, important thing for the province that has always been former president Jacob Zuma heartland. Its leadership has had to consistently deny well-sourced reports that he was responsible for sabotaging a unity deal at the beginning of June. Now, he does, at first sight at least, appear to have lost significant power in the province, even though it still retains the capacity to surprise in many ways.
Sihle Zikalala returns to the top of the KZN leadership, the man who was always the most powerful player (apart from Zuma) in the province. He was the co-ordinator of the Provincial Task Team, and the man who won the first disputed conference, back in 2016.
But there are still significant changes beneath him. Zikalala’s deputy is Mike Mabuyakhulu, who was perceived as closer to Ramaphosa than to Zuma (although it’s not quite as simple as that, as he is probably not a hard-core president’s supporter).
Mabuyakulu has a long history in the province and appeared in court earlier in 2018 on a charge of corruption.
Perhaps the biggest blow to Zuma was the election of the position of provincial secretary in KZN. There Super Zuma will no longer arrange things to help his namesake. Instead it will be Mdumiseni Ntuli. Ntuli appears to be very much in the middle of the road between the two main groups, rather than a diehard supporter of either. This will surely have the consequence of rendering Zuma weaker in the province than he was until now, although it is not necessarily a knock-out blow.
These were the most important moves in this case, with the election of Sipho Hlomuka as the deputy secretary completing the list.
The decision by Ramaphosa to speak only after the election was probably a wise one. It allowed the tension of expectation to be removed, and also meant he knew he was speaking to a safe audience. Importantly, he also used his speech to address issues around race, saying:
We need to grapple openly and honestly with simmering racial tension in our country today. In this province we must also address relations between Indians and Africans in particular. This is an apartheid fault line that we haven’t yet succeeded in overcoming.”
This suggests that he is very much alive to the problems that the country faces, and is preparing to lead in some way.
However, it should not be forgotten that this may also appear to be a reaction to the narrative being driven by the Economic Freedom Fighters. Julius Malema has now been able to get the leader of the ANC to respond to something he has been pushing, which may please him greatly.
Meanwhile, in Gauteng, Premier David Makhura was elected unopposed as Chairman (he had been acting chair since Paul Mashatile had been elected to the Top Six at Nasrec). Panyaza Lesufi became the Deputy Chair while Jacob Khawe became the provincial secretary. This is also going to lead to interesting results. Khawe is the mayor of Emfuleni, which was taken into administration by Makhura’s provincial government earlier in 2018. It may be difficult for the two of them to work together as closely as a provincial chair and provincial secretary are supposed to do.
And this brings us to what is surely the overall development of this weekend. Both in KZN and Gauteng there was no “winner takes all” result, no slate managed to win the day.
In the longer term development of the ANC this is hugely important. Literally from the moment that Zuma won at Polokwane through the slate system (where a group of leaders runs together which means they win every position and their opponents lose every position), all provincial and league conferences saw a slate result. This continued for 10 years, until the result at Nasrec, where different factions won different positions (Ramaphosa and Mantashe as president and chair being supported by one side, with Ace Magashule and Jessie Duarte being elected secretary general and deputy secretary general supported by another side etc).
Now two of the main provinces also have non-slate leaderships.
For those who believe the “winner takes all” approach damaged the ANC, this is good news. They have a strong case, in that it meant that those who didn’t win positions simply lost everything, with the result that they, and their supporters, found the stakes raise considerably. As a result, tensions were higher than they would have been otherwise, with incidents of violence as a result. This dynamic must certainly have been a feature behind the rise in the number of political killings in KZN.
But this is also likely to make life much more complicated as well. When you have a mixture of leaders from different groups, as you now have in the national Top Six, KZN and Gauteng, it is surely harder to do anything, to get anything done. There is already evidence of this in the national leadership. It took six weeks for Supra Mahumapelo to be replaced as Premier in North West. The same dynamic could now occur in these ANC provinces.
There could be no direction, and no possibility of actually making change happen. At the same time, it is also not certain that this will assuage the many tensions. Already, since Nasrec, there have been clear differences of opinion between the ANC’s Top Six leaders on several issues that have spilt over into the public domain (Deputy President David Mabuza rebuked Magashule in Parliament over his farewell party, Magashule and Duarte claimed Zuma would not leave office two weeks before he did, etc).
The other important aspect to remember is that it does appear that facing corruption charges or running municipalities into the ground is no bar to achieving high office in the ANC. Those who were hoping for a “new dawn” on issues of morality would surely be disappointed to see the results of these conferences. It is almost as if the ANC is simply deaf to what the rest of society says, or blind to how it looks to elect people with a whiff of corruption around them to important positions. But this is a party that literally employed someone arrested for cash-in-transit heists. At some point, voters may decide that enough is enough on this issue, that Ramaphosa’s promises of change ring hollow when you look at who the ANC is actually electing to important positions. It also shows that internal elections are still won through networks and factions, rather than whether any candidate is actually the right person for the job.
For the moment, perhaps the most pressing need for the ANC is to stop the murders linked to its politics in KZN and stabilise the province in time for the 2019 elections. For many, the peaceful electoral conclusion there would have heightened hope that all would be okay with the party. Unfortunately, in the hours after the election, Bongani Mkhize, a chair of the ANC Youth League in the province, was killed. A person later handed themselves over to police. But this will raise fears that in fact the violence in the province is not yet over. DM