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A new age dawns for the ANC leadership battles – one of greater openness and transparent ambitions

A new age dawns for the ANC leadership battles – one of greater openness and transparent ambitions
President Cyril Ramaphosa and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the ANC's 54th national conference in Johannesburg on 18 December 2017. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

There are signs that suggest real change to the ANC’s management of elections, and that underneath the race for the top leadership position, the party’s culture may be changing.

With ANC branches now in the middle of their nominations processes, there are some indications that this race could be different to what we have become used to in the past. In particular, the candidates in previous years who would refuse to even confirm they were in the running are now actually answering some questions about their campaigns.

Will this December 2022 contest be more open, more transparent than in the past? Will the candidates actually explain why they should be elected, rather than their opponents. There are signs that people like President Cyril Ramaphosa and Dr Zweli Mkhize may be more open than in the past. Even Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma is saying on camera that she is running for the top job. This may mark the beginning of a change in the culture of the ANC, and in how it really conducts leadership contests.

Within ANC politics, it is almost unknown for candidates who are contesting against each other to make direct and public comments about their opponents. This is not that different from other internal party contests in other places. No one wants to necessarily damage their own party by attacking someone from among their own, even if they are their opponents or they genuinely dislike them.

But in our governing party there has also been a culture where people almost won’t even confirm that they are running at all. This is why, in 2007, it was so strange for Tokyo Sexwale to openly say he was running. It was such a contrast to the public statements made by then president Thabo Mbeki and then future president Jacob Zuma.

Now things seem to be slightly different.

While Ramaphosa has not said much about the leadership race, both of the other main contenders, Dlamini Zuma and Mkhize, have confirmed, on camera, that they are contesting.

This is possibly because of the way the ANC has changed the rules of the game. Under the new elections committee run by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, candidates have to adjust their campaign tactics to adhere to a set of rules that includes deliberate changes, including the fact that there will be two leadership ballots designed to attempt to break up the slate system.

But even at this point, the main contenders have said very little about each other. Despite that, it may be that, in fact, Ramaphosa has been much more aggressive than the others, without anyone necessarily noticing.

The party president made his comment at the ANC’s policy conference, long before the nominations process opened. During his opening address (from the 1:06 mark) he spoke about local government, and about how the number of councils under administration had increased.

There he said this: 

“Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, who has the responsibility of cooperative governance, always says to us, President, the problem with the state of local government is us. The African National Congress. We are the problem. We are the ones who are causing the problems. And as a result communities protest, and when they protest for service delivery and many other problems, they are protesting against us.”

It appears Ramaphosa was making many points with this statement.

He was lamenting the ANC’s role in local government, he was literally blaming his own party for it. On live television.

And he was absolving himself from the comment, because he was quoting someone else. Who he may well have already known would challenge him again for the position of ANC leader.

In one move he appeared to have been able to both accept responsibility for the ANC’s role in the collapse of local government, and put some of the blame on Dlamini Zuma.

For a politician who is often accused of not moving against his enemies, it sounded pretty aggressive.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “The ANC young guns and veterans vying for the top six in hotly contested party leadership race

Dlamini Zuma has said very little about Ramaphosa, although this week she attended a seminar in Durban. As TimesLIVE reported, when asked about Stage 6 load shedding, she said: 

“Something has got to give. I mean stage 6? We need to think about that and treat it as a crisis. What is happening at Eskom fits the definition of a real crisis. I’m glad the president said he will come back because there is a crisis, but then what happens next is going to be what is important.”

It does not appear that she offered any substantive solutions to the problem.

It is interesting that she gave this response. In strictly internal ANC political terms, it would have been a golden opportunity for her to explain what she believed should be done to fix the problems at Eskom. If she had chosen, she could have explained what she would have done if she were in charge of the ANC and the country.

But she chose not to, perhaps because it would have been her commenting outside of her political authority because she is the Cogta minister and not the minister of energy or public enterprises.

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But she has also not shied away from any media interactions. Television reporters have been able to ask her questions about her candidacy. As she told Newzroom Afrika in response to a question about her being nominated for the position of ANC leader:

“Yes, of course, I have welcomed it, the basic unit of the ANC is the branch so it’s the branches that must pronounce what they think should happen and it’s the branches that nominate, so yes, I welcome it.”

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However, she did not give any substantive answers as to who would be backing her or what kind of campaign team would be behind her.

Mkhize more open

Strangely, the one person who has perhaps answered more questions than Ramaphosa and Dlamini Zuma, is Mkhize.

He has explained how he believes he will still be eligible, and given much more in-depth answers.

This may be simply because he has a much longer track record as someone happy to talk to the media. But it may also be because he has much more explaining to do, because of the Digital Vibes claims against him.

He has also not made any direct comments about the people he is running against. Should he decide to do so it could be interesting to see whether he criticises Ramaphosa or Dlamini Zuma. The person he attacks first may indicate who he is most afraid of, the person who is a bigger threat to him.

Underneath the race for the top leadership position, there are other indications that the ANC’s culture may be changing.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “R1.88m from Digital Vibes deal funnelled to May Mkhize’s farm loan – family’s ‘cut’ climbs to R8.7m

Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana has told Business Day he wants to campaign for the position of ANC treasurer, even though that would require the party’s constitution to be changed.

There are public conversations around the age of the party’s leadership and other statements in the public domain.

All of this suggests real change to the party’s management of elections, that the process will be much more open.

For the moment, the main leaders are still choosing their words carefully. As December comes closer, the strain may start to tell, and it may be tempting for some to go on the attack. And that may mark the beginning of a real change for the party. DM 



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    Oh how often have we been told that the ANC is about to turn a new leaf, and yet things are always getting worse. And that’s not even cynical, it’s just the obvious truth.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Please, don’t call this a leadership race. Incumbents and past bigwigs have shown no inclination of leading. This country has been leaderless for many years.

  • Johan Buys says:

    the last time we had a crisis NDZ banned going to the beach, outdoor exercise, working, smoking, drinking and buying sandals but reckoned full taxis were cool. How would she respond to an energy crisis? Solar panels would follow load-shedding schedules to save solar energy :/

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The issue of what people refer to as ANC culture without specifically spelling out this culture they are referring to is confusing. You even hear of traditions and when you ask a person about these they do not come forth on specifics. Motlanthe, a well know state capturer who killed the Scorpions, and boasts about it is given a lot of oxygen on his hogwash. He has yet to account for the
    mess of local government elections and how many people who were not supposed to be councillors have been removed following an orgy of protests around the issue during the local government elections. He has come with rules that cannot trace dirty money or money stolen from the public purse that is used in ANC Conferences. That money is being used in organising BGMs as we speak.
    They rent meeting places, transport people, buy food and alcohol until a quorum
    is reached or pays people to get signatures of attendance when they were not there or Andile Lungisa says, go to the graveyard and write dead people as part of the BGMs. I suppose this is the culture that Stephen refers to. This is not withstanding the cadres forums and free regalia given by candidates that cannot be traced where it is printed and who paid for it and the transport and food. Remember it is not the candidate who pays but a benefactor given the money so that it is untraceable. Stephen there is no change in how ANC elections are conducted except the misleading statements of Kgalema.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Ha ha ha.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


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