South Africa


Let the ANC’s post-election games begin

President Cyril Ramaphosa watches the screen at the announcement of the final results for the 2019 election at the National Results Operation Center (ROC) in Pretoria on Saturday 11 May 2019. Photo: Leila Dougan

While the past few months have seen the rival political parties sniping at each other, the sniping within the ANC is continuing unabated. For the first time post-1994, the different factions within the party did not cease fire during the election campaign as they have in the past. In fact, just two days after the election, and with the counting not yet finished, secretary-general Ace Magashule and the party’s head of elections, Fikile Mbalula, were happy to trade blows on TV, right in the middle of the national election centre. It’s just a taste of what’s coming. Strap in.

Elections have the power to condense months’ worth of political events into a few days. It is not just the playing field that is being reset, it is also that there are frustrations and tensions that boil over, right next to each other. Despite the foreknowledge that tensions were rife within the ANC between President Cyril Ramaphosa’s and Magashule’s supporters, the rhetorical punches and counterpunches that were thrown in the 48 hours after voting ended were eye-popping.

It appeared to start on Thursday evening when Mbalula gave a series of interviews to the media at the elections centre. In most of them, including a TV interview on the SABC, he made it clear that the reason the ANC had been able to retain power in Gauteng and get the national figure it did was because of the outcome of its Nasrec conference. And in particular, he referred to the figure of Ramaphosa, and the research that had shown the ANC “would have gone down, down, down” if Nasrec had gone the other way (in case you’ve forgotten, the person who challenged Ramaphosa was Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma).

The next morning, Magashule arrived at the results centre. While surrounded by journalists and speaking on live TV he was asked about the importance of Ramaphosa to the campaign. He said that the ANC’s success was the result of “the party, not the individual”.

Mbalula has never been one to sit back, and it was no different this time. He told EWN that: “Magashule must not be allergic about Ramaphosa”.

Then, as Friday was finally beginning to draw to a close, Magashule appeared in front of this reporter again on SABC TV. While waiting for the live feed to start and for the red bulb atop SABC’s Camera Eight to light up, something quite strange happened:

Mbalula arrived, along with ANC NEC member Ronald Lamola (who was very involved in Ramaphosa’s Nasrec campaign). When asked if he wanted to join us on TV he shook his head, they pulled up a chair and were clearly there to watch proceedings (the pair can be seen in the footage, at the start of the interview with Magashule).

In the interview itself, Magashule explained that any perceptions of discord over this were wrong, that the party was united, and in fact Ramaphosa was important as “the face of the campaign”.

There are many things to consider here.

First, it would have been unthinkable for this kind of politics to play out in the IEC centre in the past; it simply would not have happened. And if a sitting secretary-general had made such a comment, someone like Mbalula would never have responded in public in this way. The fact that Mbalula did so suggests that he is not worried about any kind of sanction Magashule can hurl in his direction. This may be important because it suggests he does not believe Magashule has the power to issue any such sanction anyway.

(Mbalula has never made any secret of his contempt for Magashule, before Nasrec he tweeted that if Magashule became secretary-general, it would be the end of the ANC.)

In the meantime, Magashule was asked several times about his response to the Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book Gangster State, which reveals evidence of alleged criminal behaviour by him while he was Premier of the Free State. Again and again, he had to confirm that he had not actually lodged legal papers against the book, but said he would do so. A self-imposed deadline to lodge these papers passed two weeks ago, which obviously leads to questions about whether he will ever challenge it in court.

In the meantime, of course, there is the usual question around where the balance of power currently lies.

One of the people who has been remarkable in their silence through all of this is Deputy President David Mabuza. While he has been campaigning for the party, he has said almost nothing on the difficult relationship between the ANC’s leader and its secretary-general.

In public perhaps the only intervention he has made was a comment in Parliament last year that he did not need a R20-million party to say goodbye to him when he was leaving Mpumalanga (a clear dig at Magashule’s R20-million party when he was leaving the Free State). But it would appear that otherwise, any intervention has been behind the scenes. This makes his role unpredictable.

But Mabuza has plenty to fear in any kind of crackdown on corruption. It may also be that the way he ran Mpumalanga and the way Magashule ran the Free State have many parallels. This would suggest that on the face of it, Mabuza may not support Ramaphosa strongly in any kind of battle royal between the factions.

It is surely no secret that the next tussle will be over the composition of Ramaphosa’s Cabinet. But this could be foreshadowed by a last-minute fight over who goes to Parliament to represent the ANC.

While the ANC’s list was submitted to the IEC long before the elections, there was such a public outcry that the NEC appeared to decide it could still be changed. It is likely that this fight has already begun. There may well be trade-offs between the groups in this. But if the list does change it is clear that Ramaphosa is making inroads on the back of the successful elections. However, those on the list will fight hard to retain their spot – they will have plenty to lose and are not above using almost any kind of tactic to achieve their goals.

Then there is the Cabinet.

Again, there may be horse-trading here. And it is likely to have already started.

However, it should not be forgotten that at least one possibility does now appear to be completely off the table. Before the elections, there was some speculation that a poor result for the ANC and the possible loss of Gauteng could open the space for Ramaphosa’s opponents to try and recall him. This now seems impossible.

Just that alone may be significant, as it could create space for him to start to act against his opponents.

The elections are now over. The real politics is just beginning. DM


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