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Vol 63 No 24

Published 1st December 2022

South Africa

A December surprise threatens Ramaphosa's second term

ANC branches favoured the president in the leadership elections but parliament's probe into the Phala Phala affair could derail him

Until the afternoon of 30 November, President Cyril Ramaphosa had all but ensured a second five-year term as African National Congress leader and as presidential candidate in the 2024 elections after the ruling party's branches gave him more than twice the votes of his nearest rival. He had won 2,037 nominations for the ANC presidency, easily beating his former health minister Zweli Mkhize, who got 916.

All that is at risk for Ramaphosa after a parliamentary panel has found that he may have breached the constitution in the so-called Phala Phala affair, in which some US$580,000 hidden on his game farm was stolen.

Given the doubts about Mkhize's candidacy, due to the case against him for improper procurement contracts, the beneficiary of this latest leadership crisis could be Paul Mashatile, the popular former premier of Gauteng who is well ahead in the nominations for the ANC's deputy presidency.

The main thing that stands between Ramaphosa and his second term is how his party reacts to the advisory panel's conclusion released on 30 November that, '…in light of all the information placed before the panel, we conclude this information discloses, prima facie, that the president may have committed' violations of sections of the constitution.

This body known as a Section 89 panel, chaired by the widely respected retired Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo, was commissioned to enquire into the robbery and claimed cover-up at Ramaphosa's Phala Phala game farm. Its conclusion that Ramaphosa may have violated the constitution could prove incendiary.

The next scheduled procedural step is the special parliamentary session on 6 December to debate the panel's findings. If over half of parliament's 400 MPs (the ANC has 230 of those MPs) vote to commence impeachment proceedings, they will establish another panel, this time of MPs to probe Ramaphosa's conduct in the Phala Phala affair and perhaps beyond.

All the signs are that most of the 170 opposition MPs from 13 different parties would back impeachment. That makes Ramaphosa's support within his own party critical to his survival. Should more than 30 ANC MPs side with the opposition, Ramaphosa would be in grave jeopardy.

Given the animosity towards Ramaphosa of the dissident Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction, close to ousted President Jacob Zuma, he coulde easily lose a parliamentary vote over the launching of an impeachment. Within hours of the parliamentary panel's report being released, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a RET supporter and ex-wife of President Zuma, was calling for Ramaphosa's impeachment. The ANC's 80-member National Executive Committee (NEC), on which Ramaphosa is reckoned to have at least 60% support, scheduled an emergency meeting for 1 December.

The NEC has a range of options: it could resolve to block the adoption of the panel's report, stopping impeachment proceedings in their tracks. Or it could sanction the president, gravely wounding him but allowing him to limp on, or it could back impeachment. Those proceedings could drag on via an extended investigation lasting several months, during which Ramaphosa, by his own rules, would be under pressure to step aside. At the least, it would throw the ANC's national elective conference elections from 16-20 December into chaos (AC Vol 63 No 24, Conference countdown sharpens ANC contest).

Even if the ANC backs Ramaphosa, he would have been weakened both by the affair and by the ANC branches nominations for other top five posts in the party leadership. ANC members didn't back his close political allies, ensuring that he would be hemmed by sceptics or outright opponents of his policies. And should he stumble or be pushed out by party members – as happened to the last two ANC presidents – he knows there is a strong contender, Mashatile, waiting in the wings.

Current ANC Treasurer-General and Secretary-General Mashatile won 1,791 nominations in the race for the deputy presidency, while Ramaphosa ally Ronald Lamola got 427 nominations and Oscar Mabuyane got 397. The incumbent Deputy President David 'DD' Mabuza got just 196 votes.

On 22 November, Kgalema Motlanthe, the ANC's head of the elections, announced the names of those who will be on the ballot for the top six ANC jobs at the party's elective conference.

Although Ramaphosa and Mashatile were leading the pack for the presidency and deputy presidency until 30 November, hopefuls for any of the top six jobs could mount a last-minute challenge from the floor of the conference, but would need support from at least 25% of the almost 4,000 delegates to stand a chance of being nominated.

There were strong regional variations in voter preferences from the branches with Ramaphosa receiving 227 nominations in Mpumalanga to Mkhize's none, while in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), Mkhize got 633 to Ramaphosa's 60 (AC Vol 63 No 20, Zuma humiliated on his home turf).

Other presidential hopefuls, including Dlamini-Zuma (NDZ, 81) and Lindiwe Sisulu (66) failed to get the nod from branches (AC Vol 63 No 19, Why Dlamini-Zuma is running again).

Despite the difference in nomination votes, some in Mkhize's camp told Africa Confidential they were not deterred, saying that ANC branches are not all 'equal' with some having more delegates than others based on provincial proportional membership. 'We know we will pick up votes from delegates,' the insiders said.

But some of Mkhize's supporters say they realise he may not win the top job and may have to start negotiating with others, including the Ramaphosa camp. 'The reality is that we should make a deal… we have already started talks with NDZ, Sisulu and Mabuza to get their votes, so the next three weeks should be interesting,' they said.

Mkhize ventured out of KZN on 23 November to address ANC members in Katlehong in Gauteng. He was flanked by treasurer-general nominee Mzwandile Masina, a key figure in the party's RET faction, and the deputy secretary-general nominee Nomvula Mokonyane, former Gauteng premier and government minister. Both have faced corruption allegations – so far unresolved –  and oppose the ANC's 'step-aside' rule under which party members must leave office if charged with a criminal offence until cleared
(AC Vol 63 No 14, Zondo's game changer).

The Zondo Commission recommended in March that Mokonyane be prosecuted over evidence she accepted bribes, including monthly payments of 50,000 rand, from the controversial facilities management group Bosasa. Masina was embroiled in a scandal over a three-year R1.9 billion tender to provide chemical toilets for informal settlements while he was Ekurhuleni mayor from 2016-21, allegations which he denied, saying the figure was R800m. Masina last week resigned as an ANC city councillor in Ekurhuleni and faces disciplinary action from the ANC in Gauteng after coalition talks with the Economic Freedom Fighters collapsed.

Mkhize used the Katlehong speech to take aim at the country's judiciary after two landmark rulings last week, saying 'no one is above the law' but questioned its compassion asking 'what use would it be to take an 80-year-old man to jail?

The Constitutional Court ordered the release of Janusz Walus, who was sentenced to life in prison for the 1993 assassination of ANC stalwart Chris Hani, on the same day the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that former president Jacob Zuma's medical parole was unlawful and he should return to jail to serve his sentence for contempt of court.

Ramaphosa's allies – including heavyweights like secretary-general hopeful Fikile Mbalula, current party chair Gwede Mantashe, and deputy presidential nominee Senzo Mchunu – lost out badly in the branches (AC Vol 63 No 22, Ramaphosa names his party allies).

'Ramaphosa's caucus thought they can dictate names to branches and as you can see this did not happen there, a lot of realignment is happening and the Ramaphosa insiders will have to negotiate with other groupings' to get some votes, we were told.

Sisulu fights back
Presidential hopeful and Tourism Minister Sisulu is still fighting to be included on the ballot, lodging a dispute last week with the ANC Electoral Committee over the outcome as well as demanding to see the raw data used to decide the nominations, saying the final number was not consistent with the number she received.

'There is no merit or evidence of this and the allegations are malicious,' electoral committee's Chief Livhuwani Matsila told a local radio station in response. 'They have to lodge a formal complaint and have evidence of allegations,' Matsila added.

Mabuza's campaign head, Andrew Baloyi, is also complaining about the process and has alleged 'tampering of nomination forms'.

'We are seeing popularity coming up as much as power brokering. Across the board names are appearing that are not in the dominant factions. This creates room for a more balanced top six. The next few weeks will see some serious horse trading,' an ANC insider told Africa Confidential.

Mashatile got endorsements for the deputy presidency from most provinces including KZN but Africa Confidential understands that provincial secretary Bheki Mtolo and the executive are unhappy with him for failing to back Mkhize. Now that the nominations have been announced, Mashatile is hedging his bets and not coming out in support of Mkhize or Ramaphosa.

Mashatile has the support of the biggest region in KZN, eThekwini, and a former NEC member said the former Gauteng ANC chair has always been able to get different groupings in provinces together.

Other ANC members also point out that he was the one who brokered a deal with Mabuza in 2017 to ensure a victory for Ramaphosa. 'Paul knows the ANC… he knows the different power brokers,' one told Africa Confidential, indicating that Ramaphosa's inner circle would have to put their differences aside and start talking to Mashatile. That could prove critical in the difficult days ahead for the ANC as it tries to manage its leadership crisis and mulls the future of President Ramaphosa.

Race for the top six

Beyond the presidency and deputy presidency, where Cyril Ramaphosa and Paul Mashatile had sewn up the nominations before the parliamentary panel's bombshell report on the Phala Phala affair on 30 November, the other four top posts in the African National Congress hierarchy are set to be fiercely contested: secretary-general, deputy secretary-general, chairperson and treasurer-general (AC Vol 63 No 22, Ramaphosa names his party allies).

One of the biggest surprises in the branch nominations was the success of Mdumiseni Ntuli, who received 1,225 votes as secretary-general. The nomination of the former provincial secretary in KwaZulu-Natal was one of the biggest political comebacks, although the votes did not come from his own province, with insiders saying that 'KZN must start warming up to Ntuli'.

'This man understands ANC politics, he knows the real power brokers like regional secretaries are the ones who have the power,' said former colleagues.

A former provincial secretary who worked closely with Ntuli said that he is an organisational man who understands what needs to be done.

With the suspension of Ace Magashule and the death of Jesse Duarte, the ANC lost its secretary-general and deputy secretary and some say it is at its weakest since the unbanning of the party in 1990. At the moment, the secretariat is being run by Mashatile with the help of Nomvula Mokonyane.

'He is not a yes man, that is why he was punished by the provincial executive [and not re-elected this year]. If you were able to handle KZN during the Zuma arrests and July unrests then I think he is the man for the SG job,' a former provincial ANC secretary who worked with Ntuli said.

He is going up against ANC heavyweights, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, who is on the Ramaphosa slate, and former Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle, who is on Mkhize's slate.

KZN insiders say some branches are likely to sway towards Ntuli, who they worked with when he was provincial secretary. There seems little appetite for Mbalula, who received only 30 votes in KZN.

The deputy secretary-general race will also be hard fought, with Mokonyane in the running against Febe Potgieter-Gqubule.

The surprise nomination for the role of Treasurer-General was Bejani Chauke, who is seen as a relative newcomer in the ANC for this senior position. Chauke, who is Ramaphosa's political advisor and was his campaign manager in 2017, was chief of staff in the North West government. According to his campaigners, he is a strategic and visionary thinker.

But he is viewed with suspicion by some. 'Who is he? This man has no gravitas or experience,' several ANC members told Africa Confidential. He is up against current NEC member and ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe and former Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina.

'The treasurer-general is such a senior position given the dire state of the ANC's finances, we don't know this Chauke,' another ANC insider said. However, some provinces like Limpopo (162) came out in support of him.

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