Opinionista Susan Booysen 24 May 2019

The deputy presidency of South Africa — revealing bolts from the blue

The election result strengthened President Cyril Ramaphosa’s hand. His unanimous election as president added to this. The next step — the appointment of the deputy president and Cabinet — will show whether indeed he has gathered the courage, along with factional freedom from within the ANC, to move definitively and build confidence in his government.

Like political bolts from the blue, the ANC’s conundrum about the appointment of a deputy president for South Africa came to symbolise the state of the party this week.

The trigger was the ANC’s announcement that ANC deputy president and interim South African deputy president, David Mabuza, had asked for his inauguration as ANC MP to be placed on hold while he reported to the party’s integrity committee to explain allegations against him.

This would potentially gain him a reputation clearance, or at least a reprieve. Given Mabuza’s ANC deputy president status, he has been (and perhaps continues to be) a core contender for the national position.

This analysis reviews ANC events that clustered around this development. They revealed the rules of engagement of ANC politics in all its glory and gore. In approximate descending order of importance, there is the expectation of two-termism in occupying the presidency of the ANC and South Africa. The decisions that are taken now will impact on this future. Another important rule of engagement is the anticipation of the ascendancy of deputy presidents.

Lessons were learnt through the experiences with Jacob Zuma and the current dearth of obvious and appropriate rising ANC leaders. These rules are compounded by operative rules on gender and the ANC’s women-deficient gender profile. The fourth of these rules is the need in movement ranks to control counter-factions — either by deploying them under close supervision, or in places where they cannot regroup and damage incumbents’ and organisational plans.

The announcement of DD Mabuza’s delayed MP inauguration status triggered a hunt for South Africa’s next deputy president, which ignored the bottom line that he was in all likelihood putting himself on the sidelines in order not to be taken out. The hunt was revealing nevertheless, showing rules that go to the heart of ANC strategy and contestation.

In the past — as was the case with Jacob Zuma — the deputy presidency in state ranks had leveraged intra-ANC power, and in turn possibly higher office in the ANC. It is a platform of political power, with repercussions for the medium to long-term. Power is coupled with the gender dimension. It fuses with expectations of political ascendancy.

Should DD Mabuza be found wanting by the integrity committee, a woman candidate might rise to the top, via the deputy presidency. Yet, there are a host of complicating factors. In ANC men’s races to the top, women have been used as convenient running partners.

Simultaneously, women have been going for these associate positions, in short-term parachute designs, rather than building themselves into autonomous leadership roles. For the ANC this remains a shame, given that elsewhere on the continent (Liberia and Ethiopia are cases in point) women have ascended, by election, into the top positions in state and government.

ANC treasurer-general Paul Mashatile is one male alternative mentioned to date. His pre-Nasrec deal with David Mabuza had leveraged the Mpumalanga shift that enabled Ramaphosa’s victory. Could Ramaphosa dare permit that deal to feed into top-level deployment?

The ANC Women’s League stepped in, and in came Lindiwe Sisulu, newly anointed as ANCWL member, and ripe for the picking as an ANCWL deployee. Political ambition is never far removed from Sisulu, who had made herself available in glamorous all-razzmatazz-whistles-blowing style for the ANC presidency in 2017. It was about raising herself in the stakes and proclaiming her readiness to ascend.

But it is a crowded area. Several other women also played important roles in the CR Nasrec stakes.

Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s advantage is that she contested right at the top, albeit as a presidential pawn for namesake Jacob. She has since served in government in the Presidency with Ramaphosa. Her “utility” as deputy president will be to deliver the bonus of factional unity and potentially leverage a second term for Ramaphosa come 2022. She then would be the deputy presidential candidate for the ANC position, with clear succession prospects once Ramaphosa departs. But does she have the political stamina? And do South Africa and the ANC have the appetites for such calculated plans?

Besides, her personal credibility will suffer ongoing damage given that she would move from being a hired hand to JZ to being in effect a hired hand for CR. And, as far back as 2007, she was Thabo Mbeki’s convenient campaign associate.

Enter Dr Naledi Pandor, seemingly a dream candidate in terms of integrity, ability and professionalism. In the words of journalist Phillip de Wet, she would make the investment dollars flow into South Africa. Is this possibility perhaps even better political insurance for CR than a JZ-camp NDZ?

These conundrums at top-leadership level illustrate the interests and agendas that cloud the decisions and prospects surrounding the appointment of the next deputy president. And the list continues.

Superimposed on these core contests, is the ANC’s belated post-election attempt at trying to align its tainted list of deployees (by now installed as MPs and MPLs) with the mandate received from the electorate.

The CR campaign was pitched on clean-up and clean-out, coupled with the expectation and promise of definitive post-election action. The election result had strengthened Ramaphosa’s hand. His unanimous election as president added to this.

The next step — the appointment of the deputy president and Cabinet — will show whether indeed he has gathered the courage, along with factional freedom from within the ANC, to move definitively and build confidence in his government.

Or, will he retreat to the weak fall-back position of promising, merely, to refrain from deploying those who had been found guilty?

It is a position that comes with agendas and aspirations that are poised to shape the ANC’s future. DM

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