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Battle lines drawn within the ANC NEC raise the possibility of a splinter group ahead of 2022 conference

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Rebone Tau is a political commentator and author of The Rise and Fall of the ANCYL. She is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Pan-African Thought & Conversation (IPATC) at the University of Johannesburg. She writes in her personal capacity.

The ANC’s regional and provincial conferences ahead of the October local elections will give us a sense of how many regions the Radical Economic Transformation (RET, Magashule) and CR (Ramaphosa) factions will control in the build-up to the December 2022 national conference. This process will be a test for the RET faction, and the key question is whether a splinter group will form before or after the 2022 conference.

The unity of the African National Congress (ANC) is currently subject to severe stresses due to conflicts between its highest office-bearers. It is the first time that the president and secretary-general find themselves in disagreement during their first term of office. Instability and excommunications within the ANC have previously resulted in breakaway factions, which have had notable implications for South African politics.

ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule has taken the party to court after it suspended him following a special ANC NEC meeting, held from 8-10 May 2021. On 11 May, it was announced that Magashule was temporarily suspended (in accordance with rule 25.70 of the ANC’s constitution). This decision will be reviewed in six months’ time and affects not only Magashule, but also other ANC leaders who have been charged in court – but who have failed to step aside from their positions voluntarily, as required by the ANC constitution.

However, the ANC NEC has not made public all the names of those who have been asked to step aside. Magashule was given his letter of suspension on 5 May, and thereafter he immediately “suspended” the ANC’s president, President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The ANC NEC special meeting resolved that Magashule had neither authority nor mandate from any structure to suspend Ramaphosa. On 12 May, Magashule was instructed to apologise publicly to ANC structures and members within 48 hours, subject to a disciplinary process upon failure to comply.

Indeed, Magashule has failed to comply. He has also been barred from addressing ANC gatherings and ANC structures. On 14 May, he served the ANC with court papers, with Ramaphosa being the first respondent, Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte second respondent, and the ANC third respondent.

Magashule’s temporary suspension means that he will not fill the role of chairperson of the list process, used to determine which ANC members will stand as electoral candidates, as the ANC prepares for the upcoming local elections scheduled for 27 October. Technically, Duarte is in charge of the list process, which means ANC members aligned to Magashule are unlikely to return in political positions, such as mayorships. Such an outcome would affect the strength of the so-called RET faction within the ANC. If faction members are ousted, it must be asked whether more independents will feature as candidates in the October local elections. This will test whether or not they can consolidate support on the ground, assuming faction members are not deployed.

The aforementioned list process is not relevant only to public elections: the list process is of key importance in respect of consolidating power and influence prior to any ANC conference. Most people who become councillors and mayors become delegates at the ANC national conference, and they are influential in their branches during the nomination process of ANC conferences. Currently, various ANC regions and provinces are also preparing for conference, and it will be interesting to see how the ANC national leadership will deal with disputes and whether or not we will see more people taking disputes to court, if they feel their grievances are not being heard.

These regional and provincial conferences will also give us a sense of how many regions the RET and CR factions will control in the build-up to the December 2022 national conference. This process will be a test for the RET faction, and the key question is whether a splinter group will form before or after the 2022 conference.

Looking back on recent years, the Congress of the People was formed in 2008 after the ANC Polokwane conference. Julius Malema’s expulsion from the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) in 2012 resulted in the formation of the Economic Freedom Fighters in 2013.

I foresee the RET faction doing the same, using the 2017 ANC conference resolutions – which summarily deal with furthering radical economic transformation – to try to win over some from the ANC. The RET faction has been pushing the notion that Ramaphosa, as the state president, is not supporting ANC conference resolutions of 2017.

There are discussions around the possibility of a further “third way” outside of the two dominating CR and RET factions. It is still unclear who is leading this third way faction in the ANC. Through the recently appointed ANC Youth League National Youth Task Team, it has been indicated that some of its members are linked to the third way. This was apparent in the recent meeting held from 21-23 May at the Saint George Hotel in Pretoria.

The ANC National Working Committee (NWC) had its meeting on 24 May, and resolved that the utterances made when former president Jacob Zuma appeared in court on 17 May by ANC NEC member Tony Yengeni, Magashule and Carl Niehaus, who works in the Office of the Secretary-General of the ANC but also serves as spokesperson of uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association, were in violation of ANC constitutional rules.

The ANC NWC has instructed the National Presenter to look into breaches of discipline and to investigate the charges in line with the ANC constitution and code of conduct. On 26 May, when Zuma appeared in court, it was notable that Yengeni was not present, and Niehaus and Magashule did not address Zuma’s supporters. Only Zuma, and no one else, addressed his supporters. It is clear the RET faction is now retreating to some degree since the NWC meeting.

In the Free State, which is Magashule’s home province, there is no longer a provincial executive committee following the Ramakatsa v ANC judgment. Former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe was asked to lead a process for a political solution in the Free State. A task team was appointed on 24 May 2021 and it is led by Mxolisi Dukwana, who has been openly opposing Magashule in the Free State. He has also appeared at the Zondo Commission giving evidence against Magashule.

It is clear the battle lines have been drawn within the ANC NEC as they prepare for their national conference in December 2022. DM

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