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Vol 58 No 25

Published 15th December 2017


South Africa

A fight to the photo-finish

Contenders for the ANC presidency are scrapping for every single delegate vote with all the means at their disposal

The epic struggle between Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa for the leadership – some say the soul – of the governing African National Congress will be decided between 16 and 20 December in the Nasrec stadium outside Soweto. Sporting analogies cannot capture the ferocity of the contest, as both sides attract charges of using bribery and threats to sway the 5,240 delegates to their side. The numbers stubbornly refuse to show any clear favourite (AC Vol 48 No 15, A Communist manifestation - the return of the left).

The conference may end up like the ANC's recent Eastern Cape provincial elective conference, where delegates supporting the competing factions came to blows or like the disputed KwaZulu-Natal ANC provincial conference, where allies of President Jacob Zuma were accused of artificially bumping up pro-Zuma branch delegate numbers, and excluding pro-Ramaphosa branches (AC Vol 58 No 24, The countdown begins).

The battles could then transfer to the courtroom if disgruntled ANC branches and members excluded from the national conference sue for justice, which is a tactic widely adopted by anti-Zuma activists supported, their enemies say, by Ramaphosa's money. The final result of the conference could itself come under legal challenge, as have the results of provincial conferences (AC Vol 58 No 19, ANC contest lands in court).

Behind the scenes, ANC leaders have been seeking compromise. Last week, President Zuma met the two leading contenders, and all the others – Zweli Mkhize, former ANC Treasurer Mathews Phosa, the Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete and Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu – to persuade them to accept defeat and not challenge it in court or split from the party. Dlamini-Zuma and Mbete were the only ones to agree, we hear. Zuma had already asked the Ramaphosa camp if he would make Dlamini-Zuma Deputy President should she lose, but Ramaphosa refused, insiders say.

At the start of the conference, the ANC leadership will put a new voting system to the conference, before the actual leadership vote takes place, whereby all top six slate posts and NEC positions are voted on individually, as opposed to the current method, whereby the winning slate takes all the posts.

Stopping splits
This week, the provincial chairpersons of the ANC met to try to work on a similar compromise. Under their proposal Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma would make a pre-conference promise that whoever wins takes on the loser as deputy and gives all the nominees on their respective slates positions of equal importance on the party's key National Executive Committee. Ace Magashule, the ANC Free State provincial chairperson and close ally of Zuma, says such a deal is necessary to prevent a split in the party. Again, the Dlamini-Zuma camp is amenable, mostly because this gives her faction more weight, while Ramaphosa is not, as he feels it would tie his hands if he is elected state president.

Another option being offered by the leadership is to greatly expand the leadership positions from the current six, in order to accommodate most or all of the leaders of the leading factions. It would mean having two deputy presidents and two additional deputy general secretaries. That would give Dlamini-Zuma, if defeated, a better chance of becoming deputy president and would favour her and her ex-husband's supporters more than Ramaphosa supporters in top party posts. Such changes would mean altering the ANC constitution, and would require two-thirds support from the delegates as the conference opens.

Ramaphosa has made his own stab at a compromise with Dlamini-Zuma: a proposal for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for post-1994 corruption, which he feels could allay Zuma's supporters' fears of prosecution – or persecution – after his election as state president. The main problem with this is its legality, which is far from clear.

Ramaphosa was leading the provincial branch vote by 1,861 provincial branch votes to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's 1,309 as Africa Confidential went to press. He is assured of the support of five provincial branches, to Dlamini-Zuma's four, but that still leaves the contest wide open, not least because many supposedly mandated delegates remain biddable during the conference. 

Persuasion, intimidation and bribery play increasing roles in how votes will be cast, not to mention the role of the Youth and Women's Leagues, which largely support Dlamini-Zuma. How delegates vote could be affected by simpler factors. The vast majority of them work in the public sector. They may worry about Ramaphosa's commitment to crack down on patronage, such as municipal 'tenderpreneur' contracts. Dlamini-Zuma, they may conclude, offers a better chance of ANC members keeping their jobs. 

Ramaphosa is leading in Limpopo, Western Cape, Northern Cape, Gauteng and Eastern Cape. while the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, and the North West backed Dlamini-Zuma.

Intrigue
Interestingly, Limpopo, which was seen as a solid Ramaphosa province, only delivered 391 votes, while 104 branches backed Dlamini-Zuma. The Youth League claimed credit for this; we understand this was viewed as a 'major' breakthrough for Dlamini-Zuma. 

For true Machiavellianism, however, the intrigue over the Mpumalanga ANC members who wrote 'unity' on their ballots, instead of opting for one of the two leading candidates, takes some beating. Leadership candidate Mathews Phosa has petitioned the High Court to nullify the Mpumalanga ANC provincial council nomination result. Some of the delegates who wrote 'unity' on their ballots claimed they were intimidated by associates of Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza into doing it. 

Mabuza, a close ally of President Zuma and Dlamini-Zuma, is positioning himself as a kingmaker, according to ANC insiders (AC Vol 58 No 21, Mabuza changes the race). If the numbers between the two leading candidates remain as close as they are now Mabuza would 'deliver' the 223 votes to decide the contest in favour of whichever of the two can offer him a sufficient reward, such as a post as deputy president. 

ANC members who have worked for Mabuza says he has built a powerful patronage network in Mpumalanga which has succeeded in catapulting key allies of his to national office, such as the former State Security minister and now close Zuma ally, David Mahlobo and current State Security minister, Bongani Bobo. These men are key strategists for Dlamini-Zuma. Disgraced ANC members like Carl Niehaus and Veterans League head Kebby Maphatsoe have also been key members of the Dlamini-Zuma camp. 'These guys play dirty and that is sad that NDZ has allowed this type of behaviour,' said one ANC member.



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