The ANC Mpumalanga chairperson used the guise of “unity” to engineer a path to power for himself and stun both factions at the same time, writes CAIPHUS KGOSANA
David Mabuza, the ANC Mpumalanga chairman and Premier, is a master political strategist.
Not only did he engineer this win for Cyril Ramaphosa, but what he has successfully done is line himself perfectly for the Presidency of the country, should the ANC continue to dominate at the polls. The outcome of the elections for the top six of the ANC has left many gasping for air. The biggest surprise has been the failure of the ANC’s biggest province – KwaZulu-Natal – to have a single representative in the ruling party’s top six structure.
That is a massive blow for a province that has fashioned itself as kingmaker. KwaZulu-Natal took the biggest delegation to conference at 840, which was whittled down to 804 after the NEC intervention that saw some of their branch delegates and their entire PEC getting their status reduced to non-voting. But even that was still the biggest voting bloc at this conference. But few expected them to lose what is arguably the biggest position in the ANC after President – that of Secretary-General – to Free State ANC chairman Ace Magashule. Their deep divisions cost them badly.
Mabuza capitalised on those divisions to devise a cunning ploy under the guise of “unity”. Throughout the campaign, he had kept both factions guessing about which side he was leaning to. But when over 200 Mpumalanga branches nominated “unity” at the provincial general council, instead of either of the top candidates, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma lobbyists wrongly assumed these votes would favour their person at the conference.
But everyone was wrong. It turns out that what “unity” actually meant was that Mabuza would emerge with a final top six that he has personally engineered. A top six that features Magashule as Secretary-General and Jessie Duarte retaining her position, is one that has made life very difficult for Ramaphosa. While it was not expected that his entire slate would emerge victorious, many expected at least to see them controlling the secretariat of the party.
Dlamini-Zuma supporters might be disappointed that their candidate lost, albeit by a negligible margin of just 179, they will be rejoicing that their slate was not entirely wiped out and in fact ended up occupying some of the most significant positions after that of President. That they control the secretariat and got a deputy president of their choice, is significant for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it means that any talk of a recall of President Jacob Zuma after the conference, as suggested by some Ramaphosa lobbyists during the campaign, becomes just that…talk. Unless his supporters can dominate the national executive committee that will be announced at the final day of the conference, there is no way that the ANC would entertain any talk of a recall of Zuma before his term has ended.
Zuma might not have succeeded in orchestrating a victorious path to power for his ex-wife, but he will sleep better at night knowing that those who want to him out prematurely do not have significant sway in the party as things stand right now. For Dlamini-Zuma the loss is not that entirely humiliating. That it was so close means that her lobbyiasJ had done an excellent job on the ground.
In fact, this outcome could have been much different had the ANC not taken upon itself to bar branches and PECs affected by court rulings, from voting at conference. The Free State and KwaZulu-Natal PECs would have guaranteed her 54 votes among themselves, while strong indications were that the excluded branches from KwaZulu-Natal and the North West were favouring her to take over. It would not be far-fetched for her lobbyists to suggest that the courts decided the outcome of the presidency of the ANC.
The ANC Women’s League, which spearheaded her campaign, were the ones left with a massive egg on their faces. They not only failed to convince enough delegates that the ANC was ready for a woman President and that Dlamini-Zuma was the right woman for the job; but they were left bloody-nosed by the fact that only one woman made the top six, and even worse, in a position where – just like the past ten years – she is deputising for a man.
It means that ANC branch delegates do not take this women’s league and its lip service to the advancement of women leaders seriously. This is a major defeat for Women’s League President Bathabile Dlamini, and could tilt the balance of forces seriously against her when the Women’s League next elects new leaders.
The Youth League is also paying the price for their blind loyalty to a single faction rather than the advancement of youth leaders in general. That none of the top six members is under 50 years of age is a serious indictment on Collen Maine and company. They need to do some serious introspection and decide whether it’s wise for the youth league to openly support factions without guaranteeing younger leaders at least a seat at the head table. It will be interesting to see how many young people end up making it to the ANC’s NEC.
For Ramaphosa, this leadership team the ANC has given him is a poisoned chalice. He has to serve with a deputy, a secretary-general and a deputy secretary-general that were not his preferences. He will have them watch his every move like a hawk. His relationship with Zuma – now managed via two centres of power – will be scrutinised closely by the other three. He will have little room to wiggle as they squeeze him, intent on making sure he does not make life uncomfortable for their man still at the Union Buildings.
What Ramaphosa can hope for now is that his lobbyists have done enough work to dominate the ANC NEC. But given how the leadership contest went, it seems unlikely that their NEC slate will be elected overwhelmingly. In fact, Mabuza still holds sway as to who makes the final NEC list and will never leave such an ace card un-played. He knows that this is where the power lies in between conferences and would not want to leave his tenure as deputy president in the hands of Ramaphosa supporters.
Without control of the NEC, Ramaphosa and his supporters will have a very difficult tenure at the helm of the ANC. The dominant faction will veto any decisions they make and this is not an ideal situation for effective leadership. He will have a difficult time dealing with contentious issues such as state capture, his relationship with Zuma and arresting the overall decline of the ANC. When the country goes to the polls in 16 months or so, the performance of the ANC will be squarely on his shoulders.
How the ANC performs at the polls will hinge on how the country reacts to the newly elected top six and the NEC that will be announced on Wednesday. If the country believes that people such as Magashule, Mabuza and Duarte do not represent a renewal of the ANC but a continuation of the old, they will continue leaving the party in droves. Gwede Mantashe – now ANC chairperson – said at his final press conference as Secretary-General that the ANC does not want to become a rural party. Now that the party has decided who it wants as its top leaders, the reaction of the country will decide what party the ANC ends up becoming.