Opinionista Susan Booysen 17 June 2021

ANC en route to December 2022 – how the votes are stacking up

The political coordinates that will determine the results of the 2022 ANC elective conference are bound to change many times in the next 18 months. Yet, it is worth doing a baseline mapping of the lay of the land, given a batch of unfolding developments.

Susan Booysen

Susan Booysen is visiting and emeritus professor, University of the Witwatersrand. Her latest book, Precarious Power: Compliance and discontent under Ramaphosa’s ANC, explores the question of how the ANC, discredited and disgraced in so many respects, sustains its popular following and electoral support. It is published by Wits University Press, priced at R350, and is available for sale and to order from bookshops and online retailers.

The formula for the election of the ANC’s national leadership has been adapted minimally from Mahikeng in 1997 to Nasrec in 2017. There are a number of “boxes” that carry the voting delegates – and the spaces have to be filled. We are currently accumulating hints as to how this may happen. The boxes include the number of branches in good standing (determined largely by membership numbers), how these branches translate their numbers through provincial leadership structures, the Women’s, Youth and Veterans’ leagues, the Provincial Executive Committees (PECs), and the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC. The number of voting delegates at ANC elective conferences has generally been just over 4,000 – counting the valid votes, after disqualifications. 

Both the Mangaung and Nasrec conferences suffered disqualifications through courts overruling underhanded branch and provincial structure practices. As a result, recourse to the courts and court action have become de facto co-determinants of the ANC election outcomes.

The first and major coordinate is that of ANC membership numbers – and especially how they are dispersed across the provinces. Provinces are known to come largely with a candidate mandate, unless, as in the case of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape in 2017, there are divisions between two major blocs. A total of 91.2% of the 2017 voting delegates wore branch-provincial delegate hats – and the proportion is unlikely to vary much going into the next conference. The total ANC membership number at that time was 989,739, with KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo the strongest.

Major change is pending in terms of the overall numbers. Latest unconfirmed reports are that the figure is now around 1.5 million, of which, at last count, only more than half had been verified to be members in good standing. The figures have been ratcheted up under the cloak of Covid and in the time of Ace Magashule as secretary-general, using an electronic membership system. The same three provinces still lead, all three with proportions of the total ANC membership that exceed those of 2017. The three so-called Premier League, then Zumaist provinces (Free State, North West and Mpumalanga) are recording declining proportions. By current figures, KwaZulu-Natal will carry just under 20% of all branch-based voting delegates. 

The requirement of legitimate and legal elections applies at all levels, including branch and provincial. Past experiences have shown how a whole province may be disqualified (Free State at Mangaung, 2012), or a provincial executive may lose its votes due to not being legally constituted. The ANC’s PECs jointly had close to 250 votes at Nasrec. At this provincial level much can still change in the period up to December 2022 to affect the presidential, top six and NEC elections. 

Both the Free State and North West ANCs are currently under ANC task team management due to the disarray that has befallen these previously Zuma and then Magashule bulwarks. The impact of the interim managements on the political directions of their provinces is still underdetermined, but will possibly be pro-Ramaphosa, which now equals pro-mainline ANC. 

Few presidential candidates are known at this stage, but President Cyril Ramaphosa is a certain bet – he has not denied his interest. He is a candidate with high public recognition who continues to poll higher than the ANC in credible public opinion polls. The ANC still needs him to win elections convincingly. This is as important a factor now as it was in 2017-2019. Yet, it is also certain that the ANC brand and propaganda apparatus could legitimate any candidate of fairly credible standing. Hence, should Zweli Mkhize escape with reasonable doubt as to his explicit connivance on the Digital Vibes front, his province will not relinquish hope that 2022 can be “the time for KZN” again.

The ANC’s NEC members also get voting status at elective conferences. Since mid-2020 it has become clear that the NEC has been swinging in favour of Ramaphosa – to the extent that some reckon the vocal anti-Ramaphosa component is now only about 20 strong. If this carries over into the secret conference voting process it will contribute to consolidating the Ramaphosa front.

Relevant changes have also been filtering through on the ANC leagues’ front. These important ANC structures, which each carried 60 votes into the previous elective conference (up from 45 in 2012), are all in a state of de- and reconstruction. In the Zuma era they were major campaign constructs. The leagues have until recently been unable to shed their previous political colours. 

The ANC Youth League was disbanded in 2018 when it failed to elect a new leadership. Now it is being reconstructed, led by a centrally appointed task team. Earlier this year Magashule attempted to manipulate membership of the team, but the National Working Committee (NWC) did not approve his proposals. 

The Umkhonto weSizwe Veterans’ Association (MKMVA) has been disbanded, although this status is still being contested. The conference for unification of the MKMVA and MK National Council (a split off the mother body in 2016, made up of former generals and commanders of the ANC’s liberation army) is struggling to be born. The process is being steered by a preparatory committee appointed by the NWC and national office. In trying to save its own skin, the MKMVA has in recent weeks been trying to deny its Radical Economic Transformation label. This purported sub-ideology within the ANC had flourished mostly courtesy of Carl Niehaus. The NEC has banned him from perpetrating Bell Pottinger style diatribes from Luthuli House, and MKMVA now denies that Niehaus had been its spokesperson.

The ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) is probably changing as well. Most recently it changed tack on supporting Magashule in his quest to fire Ramaphosa as president. The one week ANCWL President Bathabile “Smallanyana” Dlamini was still on the Ace track, the next league Secretary-General Meokgo Matuba declared that the league supports the NEC’s action against Magashule. 

Dlamini has been in a post-2017 alliance with presidential aspirant Lindiwe Sisulu. After withdrawing her 2017 presidential candidacy, and being defeated by DD Mabuza in the race for the deputy presidency, she joined the league and in turn deployed Dlamini to the Social Housing Regulatory Authority, causing outrage. The clearest current indication of her 2022 presidential ambition is her print column space in a Sunday newspaper that has been consistently anti-Ramaphosa, and her apostles advocating that rumoured demotion from Cabinet would in fact be a political purge of a rival to the president. 

Should Ramaphosa indeed win on the second-term presidential ticket, the blank spaces on the rest of the top-six slate are striking. Conventionally, those who rise into the ANC presidency would have occupied some top-six position before bidding for the top. Around Ramaphosa there is DD Mabuza, with more rumours and allegations around his head than any credible politicians can bear – and yet, he did become deputy president. Paul Mashatile is probably plotting some upward trajectory, but his profile is lacking and his Alexandra Mafia label is still sticking. Gwede Mantashe has been accumulating baggage habitually. ANC deputy secretaries-general (always women, except when Zuma used that as an entry-level ticket into the top six in 1991) have so far remained backroom apparatchiks rather than becoming political principals. 

Taking stock of these elective conference building blocks shows how the earth may be moving for the Ramaphosa camp. But many a quake, or a slide, can happen between now and the finishing line. DM

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  • Fascinating! A detailed article describing the dire situation of SA political leadership. An ANC voting structure where the few favoured decide SA’s fate from Luthuli House. We call this democracy. The reality is that Ramaphosa needs to win , and be a benevolent dictator using the Presidential powers of his office to implement some good/common sense, fix the Zuma mess as best he is able within the ANC power politics, and hopefully avoid mass violent uprising of the populous. We have no alternative. The most appalling legacy of apartheid is that black liberation has resulted in race, for now, being an inescapable dominant force in deciding voters choices. One dreams of a day when we look at people as people, not their colour or ethnicity, and decide on leaders based on their merits, skills and values. The ANC as the liberation movement remains supreme. Who can blame people deprived of education and upliftment, manipulated by propaganda of the failed ideologies of communism and radical socialism. I grew up in the UK, in the shadow of the cold war, close to falling to these misplaced ideals. At 23 in 1975, an Honours Engineering graduate there were few jobs. The family business started by my great grandfather destroyed by rampant central Government legislation. Tough medicine was required to cure the UK ills. We hope common sense, and an objective evaluation of the lessons of history, will see South Africa emerge from the potential darkness hanging over our heads.

    • It is so depressing what you describe, yet so true.
      South Africa can only begin to recover once the ANC is voted out of power. And that will only happen when there are no more politicians who claim to have “struggle credentials” alive. So probably not in my lifetime.
      Part of the “tough medicine” you talk of, is Margaret Thatcher and her stance on unions.
      She cut them down to size and this is exactly what SA needs…

  • It is clear to me that the ANC and every structure within itself as an organisation rotten with cheats, fraudsters, minders and liars on a National scale. Comrades, yeah comrades kill and harm their own comrades for power and access to public money.
    How is it then we expect more from an ANC government if in their own family they kill rob, cheat and steal from each other? They are voted into power by the masses expecting this very same bunch of people to take the out of poverty.
    It is simply insanity to put your hand onto a hot stove and say this time it will not burn. Can someone please offer an intelligent reasonable explanation as to why why people vote for the ANC. My thinking is that if you support chiefs of pirates, then it does not matter what the players or managers do, Pirates or Chiefs forever. They support the brand. An if that is indeed true then it is possibly the same the whole world through or “Are South Africans difference?”

    • Lack of education, a dire legacy of apartheid, has created a pliable voter base into which unscrupulous self serving politicians are able to pour hatred and misdirection with ease.

      • Lack of education, maybe was a dire legacy of apartheid in 1994 but why is it still a ‘legacy’ twenty seven years later?

        • Because there is absolutely no incentive for the politicians I refer to above to change the status quo, and they are the only ones with the power to do so. Essentially, South Africa is a house built on quick sand.

  • Our only hope is that at some stage we’ll grow up politically and get everyone working for the good of the country instead of concentrating on personal enrichment. Let’s hope it is not too late by then because it seems to me that it will take more than one more generation to achieve.

  • I seem to remember that the DA suggested some years back that this type of situation would occur, though it has come sooner than even they thought!

  • Well in reply to one correspondent’s question,the impoverished masses vote for the ANCbecause it pays them a miserable grant which they fear losing if they stop voting for the party. On another tack, Prof Booysen lays bare the paucity of intellect and ability in the “top six”- and yet, in the wider South African landscape, there are so many people of remarkable talent! Election of the utterly mediocre, seems to be the mantra of the ANC!

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