Ramaphosa gets ANC leadership re-election boost as ally wins Mpumalanga
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ally was elected to lead the Mpumalanga ANC in the first of eight provincial conferences scheduled to be held before the party’s December national elective conference. The Emalahleni event, however, also raises challenges for the President and his party, including the election of a Mbombela strongman as provincial treasurer despite having been charged with murder and attempted murder.
Speaking at the closing of Mpumalanga’s long-awaited provincial ANC conference in Emalahleni on Sunday, newly elected chairperson Mandla Ndlovu described President Cyril Ramaphosa as the most popular politician in the country, one whom he would back for a second term as party leader should he accept the nomination.
Ndlovu’s “focus” faction took Mpumalanga’s top five positions over the weekend, strengthening Ramaphosa’s standing ahead of the ANC’s December conference. The clean sweep also suggested David Mabuza could struggle if he vies for re-election, as his supporters struggled in what was once the deputy president’s stronghold.
Ndlovu beat Mabuza’s ally Lucky Ndinisa for the position of chairperson, while Speedy Mashilo was elected his deputy. Both had already expressed support for Ramaphosa. Muzi Chirwa was elected secretary; Lindiwe Ntshalintshali took the deputy secretary spot and Mandla Msibi was elected treasurer.
Ramaphosa, who delivered an address closing the conference on Sunday, called on members in the province to “have a razor-sharp level of attention” on the party’s priorities.
“In other words, we must be focused,” said the President, repeating the factional joke a number of times.
The focus faction included several separate interests that rallied together to challenge Mabuza’s allies in the province and mark an end to the deputy president’s grip on Mpumalanga, which formed the second-largest voting bloc at the ANC’s 2017 Nasrec conference behind KwaZulu-Natal.
Two officials were elected who could pose a challenge to Ramaphosa and the ANC. Deputy secretary Ntshalintshali is reported to be an ally of suspended ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule and according to City Press will likely lobby branches in the province to support candidates from the radical economic transformation (RET) faction before the party’s national conference.
Then there’s Msibi. The ANC Mbombela strongman was elected provincial treasurer despite having been charged with murder and attempted murder. Gwen Ramokgopa, who is working in the ANC secretary-general’s office while Magashule is suspended and his deputy Jessie Duarte has been on prolonged sick leave, expressed her disappointment with branches.
She said Msibi was allowed to stand for the position, but not serve due to the party’s step-aside rule.
Ramokgopa said there was a gap in the party’s conference guidelines regarding the rule, which the ANC would likely want to address ahead of its December conference as it will have an impact on possible candidates such as Magashule.
“This matter does need your reflection as a disciplined membership of this organisation. Your reflection must be based on the decisions taken by our national conference,” Ramaphosa told the delegates.
His prepared speech said, “The step-aside rule must apply.”
The ANC in Mpumalanga has lacked permanent leadership since Mabuza was elected deputy president in 2017. The province has been embroiled in infighting and violence. A court application to halt the weekend’s conference, which had been delayed multiple times, was dismissed shortly before the event was to begin.
A former Umkhonto weSizwe member was arrested two weeks ago for setting the party’s provincial office on fire. Ramaphosa used the incident to warn ANC members that the party would continue its electoral decline if it failed to confront factionalism and corruption.
“The house is on fire and we are the ones who must put out this fire and you as delegates here must put out the fire of divisions. You must put out the fire of corruption, you must put out the fire of everything that’s going wrong in the movement,” said the President.
“If we want to lose the war or if we want to lose the elections the best thing that we can do is continue squabbling amongst us. We will lose power, we will lose the elections because we are focused on fighting amongst ourselves instead of focusing on improving the lives of our people.”
Mpumalanga is the second ANC province to hold its conference before the national event after Northern Cape held its conference last year and re-elected Zamani Saul, who supports Ramaphosa’s bid for a second term.
Eastern Cape is slated to hold its conference in April; Gauteng and Limpopo in June; Free State and KwaZulu-Natal in July. North West and Western Cape are expected to hold their conferences in May or June.
While the ground continues to shift as candidates continue to campaign and negotiate deals and the ANC navigates repeated court and administrative challenges to holding conferences, Ramaphosa is shoring up his position.
Leaders in Eastern Cape and Limpopo are expected to back the President while KwaZulu-Natal, traditionally the ANC’s largest voting bloc, remains hotly contested, particularly in eThekwini, where the regional conference has been repeatedly delayed.
The ANC’s allies, trade union federation Cosatu and the SACP, are also scheduled to hold conferences this year and could have a significant influence on the party’s national elections.
The ANC’s deputy president position remains up for grabs. Party treasurer Paul Mashatile, former health minister Zweli Mkhize and Justice Minister Ronald Lamola — all punted as candidates to take Mabuza’s job — attended the Mpumalanga conference.
Despite acknowledging the party’s challenges on Sunday, Ramaphosa continued to encourage ANC members, noting that it’s still in national government and holds most of the country’s municipalities.
“We are not on our knees. We are a strong African national congress,” he told delegates in Mpumalanga. DM