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ANC in Gauteng: The dawning of the Age of Panyaza Lesuf...

South Africa

ANALYSIS

ANC in Gauteng: The dawning of the Age of Panyaza Lesufi comes with problems, many big, difficult, painful problems

Outgoing Gauteng ANC provincial chair David Makhura (left) congratulates newly elected provincial chair Panyaza Lesufi (right) at the ANC Gauteng 14th Provincial Conference at the Lakes Hotel and conference centre in Benoni, Johannesburg on Monday, 27 June 2022. (Photo: Denvor de Wee)

With Panyaza Lesufi now declared the winner of the ANC’s contest in Gauteng, many questions will emerge in the coming days, the most important of which is whether he can keep the party together, and in power, in South Africa’s powerhouse province.

The all-important questions for the ruling party right now are:

  • Is it really possible for the ANC to retain Gauteng in 2024?
  • If it falls below 40%, as it did in last year’s local polls, would it be politically possible for opposition parties to form a coalition?
  • And could it even be mathematically possible for any two of the parties, including the ANC and the DA, to do this without the EFF?

There are two other strategically important questions:

  • What impact will the result have on the national aspirations of the current ANC Treasurer and longtime Gauteng strongman, Paul Mashatile? and,
  • Can the provincial party do without David Makhura, who was a steadying hand on the tiller for so long?

All these points expose the litany of issues facing Lesufi in the next few months, even before we start talking about the monumental delivery failure of the ANC’s provincial government, made even more unbearable through a string of the PPE corruption scandals in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There can be no doubt of Lesufi’s political abilities. To win this internal election against a group of people including Lebogang Maile and Paul Mashatile (himself a former chair of the ANC in the province) must have been rather tough. The fact that it was so close means that one of his most urgent tasks is to heal the party in his province, a not an easy task at the best of times.

Importantly, Lesufi may actually have help from Maile himself, who tweeted in the hours after his narrow loss that he congratulated his opponent on a clean victory and stated, “Let’s rally behind our elected leadership”.

It is far from clear that is going to be enough, though.

ANC lesufi
New ANC Gauteng provincial chair Panyaza Lesufi at the ANC Gauteng 14th Provincial Conference at the Lakes Hotel and conference centre in Benoni, Johannesburg. (Photo: Denvor de Wee)

One of the big reasons for this is that David Makhura is now no longer a senior leader of the ANC in Gauteng. He has been a major calming presence in the provincial party for more than 20 years.

He became provincial secretary in 2001, serving 13 years in the position before becoming provincial chair.

During this time he was able to work well with Mashatile and others. At times he appeared to have a firm hand on the dial. And these were not easy times for the party in the province.

Makhura had to help lead the province when it decided to oppose former President Jacob Zuma in 2012, who was hell-bent on pushing Nomvula Mokonyane to replace Paul Mashatile, who was by then sent to the ANC’s version of Siberia, the post of deputy minister of arts and culture.

Makhura also had to be the public voice of the ANC in Gauteng when it opposed the implementation of e-tolls.

This was at a time when no other province would dare buck Zuma’s authority, or the national government.

This dynamic culminated in 2016 when, as Gauteng leader, Mashatile attended a Save SA event directed at defending then finance minister Pravin Gordhan against Zuma. As Richard Poplak noted, “…this was a big move, a middle finger extended at JZ, who was at that moment cowering in Zimbabwe, trying to secure Robert Mugabe…”

Such is Makhura’s authority that he was able to lecture both factions in the province, telling them more than a year ago that their infighting risked the party losing the province.

Makhura’s influence lost

Now the Gauteng ANC will be without him in its top structures, without his direct influence that could help turn a brawl into a conference.

Of course, it is entirely possible that this may be the beginning of his career in the national ANC, and that Makhura could be headed in that direction. He certainly has the experience of keeping the organisation together and may well be seen by some as a suitable candidate for the position of secretary-general.

This result in Gauteng may also have an impact on another national career.

It is well known that Maile and Mashatile are close and that Mashatile has an important influence in the province. The fact Maile did not win may well dent Mashatile’s chances for reaffirming his national Top Six position in December.

Considering how fluid the situation is at present, though, Maile’s loss may turn out not to be that significant. There are still at least four people who could run for deputy ANC leader, and there appears to be no apparent candidate for secretary-general, so a lot can change in the coming months.

Meanwhile, Lesufi now has big shoes to fill, at the most challenging time for the party in Gauteng.

As Professor Steven Friedman put in on Newzroom Afrika on Monday afternoon, he will have to “perform a miracle” for the ANC to keep its nose above 50% and retain the province in 2024.

There are many reasons for this, but in particular Gauteng, as the most urbanised province, has often been the place where national and local dynamics have intermingled to the ANC’s cost.

It was here in 2016 that the party lost control of Joburg and Tshwane. It appeared this was partly because of Zuma’s role as president that voters either stayed at home or turned against the ANC outright.

Zondo report, Phala Phala scandal

And it is in this province that the ANC may well feel the full effect of the Zondo report, and President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala scandal, in a similar way to what happened with Zuma in 2016.

This is where some of the political and mathematical complications start to become apparent in Gauteng.

Because should Lesufi be unable to stem the loss of support, and if, as Friedman suggests, the trend of losing support in recent by-elections continues, it is now possible that the ANC does not just lose by a few percentage points, but big time, even possibly falling to 35%.

This is entirely possible. In the local elections last year the ANC won just 36% of the votes cast.

Coalitions

This would lead to the possibility of a broad coalition of opposition parties governing the province.

It is not that simple in the real world, of course: some coalitions appear politically impossible.

It is surely the case that the DA and the EFF, for example, would not form a coalition together. The DA has said publicly it will not work with the EFF; the EFF has said it will not join formal coalitions.

There is a very small chance that some other outcome happens that may lead to another picture, maybe possibly with Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA.

It may also be possible that the ANC loses much support and the EFF wins no new support. In that case, all the remaining opposition parties could band together to form a coalition.

Of course, this would come with problems of its own: it would have to include a large number of small (and demanding) partners that would make governance very difficult.

This leaves the more obvious outcome. That the ANC joins with one of the bigger opposition parties. Even, possibly, the DA.

No matter what happens, one thing is certain: many of Panyaza Lesufi’s next 600 or so nights may turn out to be sleepless. DM

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All Comments 4

  • Steven, this is soooo very far off why even try to predict and would it really have any effect on the body politic? There are many more basic issues to be thinking about like where will we get electricity once Eskom busts the whole system? Who will account to whom, for what and how without a functional NpA?

  • I don’t believe the man has a conscience, so he will sleep just fine.
    After the mess he made as Education MEC, there is only really 1 outcome from this promotion… the faster decay of the rot that is the ANC.
    We live in hope.

  • And the biggest problem is pl, the anti-Afrikaans, anti-white racist himself. He still won’t take any responsibility for the education millions wasted during Covid.

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