Battle for ANC’s soul commences

> Lovemore Ranga Mataire

THE tussle for the control of Africa’s oldest liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC), is heating up in South Africa where the governing party’s women’s league (ANCWL) last week endorsed outgoing African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as its preferred presidential candidate ahead of the party’s 54th elective conference later this year.

Until Dlamini-Zuma’s endorsement, ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa appeared a heartbeat away from the crown.

The tide has since turned, as the ANCWL has the backing of a majority of the provincial premiers, known within the ANC as the “Premier League”; the youth league and Umkhonto weSizwe military veterans.

Six ANC leaders, among them the Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete, are reported to be interested in the top post, but analysts insist it remains a two-horse race between Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma, the ex-wife of incumbent Jacob Zuma.

President Zuma prefers his ex-wife to replace him, instead of his deputy – some say to shield himself from any retrospective criminal prosecution from his time in office. But analysts believe Zuma’s “premature” disclosure of his preference may have a negative effect on Dlamini-Zuma’s bid.

This is the second time Ramaphosa is launching a bid to become South Africa’s President. He lost out to former President Thabo Mbeki in 1997 during the race to replace founding President Nelson Mandela. But this time, Ramaphosa is buoyant because he is being backed by COSATU, the country’s largest labour union federation. Ramaphosa was a trade unionist-turned politician before he joined the business sector where he successfully built a business empire worth billions of rand.

Efforts by the ANC leadership to dissuade members from discussing the succession race have been ignored so far, with the ANC youth league recently declaring Dlamini-Zuma its choice.

Analysts predict a nail-biting contest between the two front-runners who both have excellent national profiles.

Zakhele Ndlovu, a University of KwaZulu-Natal political scientist, said the elective conference would be interesting in that most provincial leaders supported Dlamini-Zuma.

He said the ANC needed to tread cautiously as the contest for the presidency had the potential of creating serious fissures, with implications on the party’s future electoral performances.

“They need to handle the issue carefully as it could create divisions that we saw in Polokwane [when Zuma ousted Mbeki],” Ndlovu said.

Elections are due in 2019, and a split ANC could suffer serious electoral setbacks, Ndlovu warned.

The decision by COSATU to back Ramaphosa came as a shock to many neutrals who thought his alleged complicity in the Marikana Massacre would stain his bid for the presidency.

However, the labour union said Ramaphosa was exonerated by the commission of inquiry and he was suitable to run for the top post.

Ramaphosa supporters are likely to up the ante in ensuring that he lends the top post and have already started projecting him as a victim, in the same way that Zuma was presented after his fallout with former President Mbeki.

In typical ANC fashion, the campaign machinery for both camps are in full swing despite an official gag on an open discussion on the issue which is set to widen the fissures in the party as the days for the elective conference draw closer.

Although Ramaphosa’s professional and personal curriculum vitae qualifies him for the top post, his ascendency has been checkmated by Dlamini-Zuma, who equally possesses exceptional leadership qualities and is bidding to be the country’s first female President.

If Mbeki was the crown Prince of Oliver Tambo, Ramaphosa remains Nelson Mandela’s chosen one whose rise to the top post has always been thwarted by an ANC seemingly not ready to prop up someone whose credentials makes him loom large like a colossus.

Writing for the Daily Maverick way back in 2012, Ranjeni Munusamy believed that Ramaphosa was the automatic successor to Zuma given his impeccable credentials as a struggle stalwart, a trade unionist and businessman.

“But while the internal struggles of the ANC battered Ramaphosa, South Africa became enchanted by him. During the negotiations to democracy and the process of drafting a new Constitution for the country, Ramaphosa was a central character. His rapport with his opposite number in the National Party, Roef Meyer, animated the defining story of the age,” she wrote.

“His easy-going nature and charisma helped to reduce the friction around these delicate processes. He also became a political personality who earned trust and confidence. When the final constitution was produced, the country knew it was shaped through great care and hard work by Ramaphosa and others.”

In the post-apartheid era, Ramaphosa has maintained an independent profile and tried to stay out of most party squabbles. The 65-year-old was able to wriggle himself from culpability in the Marikana Massacre, with the commission of inquiry finding no cause to implicate him.

It is not lost among ANC cadres that Ramaphosa was the chairperson of the party’s constitutional assembly, which crafted the constitution. He was also deputy chairperson of the national planning commission, which conceived South Africa’s governing blueprint, the National Development Plan. Ramaphosa’s opponent equally has impeccable credentials to aspire for high office.

Dlamini-Zuma, 68, is a medical doctor who became the country’s first Minister of Health. She pioneered the programme for free health for poor South Africans, all women and children under six years old. She was at one time the Minister of Home Affairs where she initiated the programme of modernising the department. Her diplomatic skills were sharpened when she later became the Minister of Foreign Affairs before leaving the post to become African Union chairperson, where she displayed her excellent leadership skills in maneuvering the rugged African diplomatic terrain.

But she has had her low moments. She was once embroiled in one of democratic South Africa’s first scandals when she authorised the dishing out of millions of rand to the dud stage production of Sarafina and used public funds to prop up a quack Aids remedy called Virodene. Despite that blemish, Dlamini-Zuma personifies the struggle for women emancipation in Africa.

Although an endorsement by the Women’s League is a politically helpful move, it does not mean that Dlamini-Zuma already has the post in the bag. The women’s league, though influential, has a small number of votes at an elective conference. But given the number of factions backing her candidacy, the odds seem to favour her ahead of her rival.

Mvi Hlophe, a political journalist, argues the mathematics is in favour of Dlamini-Zuma. His argument is based on the fact that the ANC membership has declined drastically since the Mangaung elective conference. In spite, the “premier league” that supports Dlamini-Zuma still controls at least 50 percent of the branch votes – enough to see them swing the presidency to Dlamini-Zuma.

“Rule 10 of the ANC’s constitution, which is the rule governing national conferences, states that 90 percent of the votes are reserved for delegates representing fully paid up memberships at branch level. The other 10 percent is reserved for party structure leaders and provincial executives. The premier league faction has displayed an intimate understanding of this landscape and is highly motivated to vote together, in contrast to the challenging faction, which is far better organised now than at Mangaung four years ago, but still faces a serious numbers challenge,” says Hlophe.

“Furthermore, the remaining structures of the ANC are Zuma controlled. This ultimately guarantees the victory for the premier league faction by at least 60 percent to 40 percent, and effectively rules out Ramaphosa for president.

“Even though he seems like the obvious choice among the candidates, he, unfortunately, does not have a strong enough constituency within the party. While he was in business, his competitors were building a base of supporters who would do the heavy lifting on the campaign trail.”

If Hlophe’s analysis is accurate, then Ramaphosa may as well throw in the towel. But this will not likely happen. Having tasted the sweetness of power as deputy president, Ramaphosa believes that the COSATU support translates into a massive working class support base which can tilt the scales in his favour. He also has the financial muscle to run the full race.

So until the next ANC elective conference, its remains a dog-eat-dog scenario as Africa’s oldest revolutionary movement battles to locate its soul. Whoever emerges the winner after the conference has the unenviable task of uniting several factions in order to preserve the ANC’s governing majority.

January 2017
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