Op-ed: Why the ANC needs Ramaphosa to survive

“ANC will rule until Jesus comes”, these words may come to haunt President Jacob Zuma in under three years.

As the ruling African National Congress’ (ANC’s) December conference nears, the liberation party is faced with two options: return to the ‘Mandela-Mbeki glory days’ or be forced into a coalition government.

Increasingly, it is becoming clearer that the party will at worst be out of government and at best in a coalition come 2019.

The cracks that used to be masked by the party’s well-oiled propaganda machinery no longer hold.

At the centre of these cracks are two competing interests. The first is the push to have incumbent President Jacob Zuma’s former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, succeed him. The reasons for this range from political and ethnic dynamics to personal issues that involve the President, who himself faces a reported 783 criminal charges that may make his life difficult post-presidency.

On a more ideological scale, this faction is fighting for what they call ‘land re-possession with no compensation’, something that may appeal to an impoverished black majority that believes land is the answer to the endemic triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

This however, could be a red herring considering that South Africa is a highly urbanised country with limited to no prospects open for urban youth to move back to the countryside to start farming.

The second competing centre revolves around Cyril Ramaphosa, a business mogul with wealth running into the billions. Many believe he is a business-friendly technocrat and will be able to run a clean and efficient government, not least because he cannot grow any sticky fingers. Those rooting for him are fighting for a return to former Presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki’s traditions of inclusivity and shared growth.

What do we know so far?

NDZ17 – Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma 2017

Dlamini-Zuma is heavily reliant on support from the ANC Youth and Women’s League and the bigger faction of KwaZulu-Natal, possibly Free State and North West. With only this support she is far from securing victory come the December conference.

Her chief surrogates are President Zuma and Women’s League President, Bathabile Dlamini, both of whom are tainted by allegations of corruption and nepotism.

Some of her key supporters include Water Minister Nomvula Paula Mokonyane, Free State Premier and ANC Provincial Chair Ace Magashule, North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo and Youth League President Collin Maine.

Of importance to note is that these leading surrogates have been implicated in one or more scandals that have rocked the Zuma presidency as he has marshalled what is seen as state capture under the influence of the Gupta family.

To be fair Dlamini-Zuma, an experienced civil servant, who has also served as head of the African Union, is probably the cleanest person in her faction – but, not unexpectedly, she too has been linked to the Guptas.

While Dlamini-Zuma has been labelled by many political analysts as the clear frontrunner, such a claim has never been substantiated by any empirical evidence. It would seem many are dancing to the gallery and being swayed by recycled endorsements she has been receiving.

There is an equally strong feeling that she is a compromised candidate who may as well land the liberation party its first defeat since 1994. She has emphasised ‘it’s time for a woman’ to lead for as long as anyone cares to remember, but we know this card alone will not carry her to Mahlamba Ndlopfu (the official residence for the President of the country.).

For starters, she is viewed as a front for her ex-husband and the Guptas. Some argue that she is also not the best woman in the ANC to warrant the entire populace around her let alone factoring that one of her daughters has been a direct beneficiary of an unexplained chief of staff position in government.
Perhaps Dlamini-Zuma could learn a thing or two from the failed campaign of Hillary Clinton that gendered politics doesn’t always sell.

CR17 – Cyril Ramaphosa 2017

Ramaphosa’s major backing comes from the powerful trade union movement, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the South African Communist Party (SACP) and provinces namely Limpopo, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Northern Cape. Both Cosatu and SACP are part of the tripartite governing alliance. Ramaphosa has pockets of support in KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and North West.

His chief surrogates are Bheki Ntshalintshali from Cosatu, Blade Nzimande and Solly Mapaila of SACP, Limpopo Premier and ANC Provincial Chair Stan Mathabatha, Northern Cape’s ANC Chair Zamani Saul, and Gauteng ANC Provincial Chair Paul Mashatile. In KwaZulu-Natal, Ramaphosa enjoys the support of bigwigs, Bheki Cele and former Premier Senzo Mchunu.

Also in his camp are former Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan who has openly endorsed Ramaphosa on CNN and ANC national executive committee member Angie Motshekga.

Ramaphosa’s candidacy has also split the Women’s League – with the women of Vhembe in his home province of Limpopo openly endorsing him defying the league’s executive resolution.

His major challenge is the Marikana tragedy, which saw 44 miners lose their lives while he was a non-executive director of Lonmin, which owns the mine. His rivals often hold this against him.

Smear campaigns are also another challenge he is facing. Many expect these to get worse. But unlike President Zuma, he is not facing rape or corruption charges but issues of infidelity. Already his base is rubbishing the claims.

Scaling candidates

The above picture is far from exhaustive.

However, it gives a glimpse into the polarised state of the race for the next leader of the ruling party.

The competition is decidedly a two-horse race between Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa although some names such as that of Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, Former Treasurer General Mathews Phosa and Mpumalanga Premier, David Mabuza, have been thrown into the ring.

Stakes are high for the ANC

The party has suffered progressively under Jacob Zuma, weakening its parliamentary majority and losing key metropolitan provinces in local government elections, such as the Nelson Mandela, Tshwane and Johannesburg Metros.

There is a strong sentiment that the party needs a clean break from the Zuma era and this is where Dlamini-Zuma will face a challenge of association with her former husband. There are already people who freely refer to her as “Zuma’s wife”, with another journalist having addressed her as Mrs Zuma.

She has failed to distance herself from her former husband. To the contrary, she has increasingly been seen to be benefiting from their association. Some say she has been to Nkandla, Zuma’s controversial homestead a couple of times – and their kids tie them together. However, the claims of her visits to Nkandla could be part of a smear campaign and without basis.

She has also unduly received a presidential protection unit. This will come to haunt her in the coming months – if not before December as opposition parties, such as the Economic Freedom Fighters and Democratic Alliance feast on that.

On the other side, Ramaphosa is a capitalist and his surrogates would add ‘with a heart’. He runs an Education Foundation with an impeccable record. Other than Marikana, and the latest infidelity allegations no scandal tails him. His social media followers boast that he has single-handedly, created over 150, 000 jobs through a string of his businesses.

He appeals to the middle class base that the ANC has relied on since 1994 and of late has drifted to the centre right and opposition party the DA. If Ramaphosa wins the leadership contest for the ANC, the liberation party might recoup some losses – if he doesn’t the party should prepare to be in opposition or part of a coalition government.

Another growing probability is what has been dubbed the third way


Eventually, Dlamini-Zuma will realise she will either lose the December conference or 2019 and retreat with some dignity and settle for Number 2. That could potentially save her former husband from possible prosecution if he has her in the executive.

This will also allay fears of some of her surrogates fearing for their jobs should Ramaphosa register a clean sweep. This explains, to an extent, why Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba and Police Minister Fikile Mbalula have not openly endorsed her. Futures are at stake.

This possible truce would obviously see serial incompetent ministers such as Bathabile Dlamini and Faith Muthambi exiting the cabinet.

However, if Dlamini-Zuma insists and manages to ‘win’ in December, a clear split will be inevitable. And any split will automatically lead the ANC to opposition benches in the parliament. That ANC won’t be the one President Zuma is leading or the one Mandela, Mbeki, Luthuli and OR Tambo led, but a reconfigured ANC. A new ANC.

EFF and DA prefer to have Dlamini-Zuma as the candidate to battle as this would give them their best shot at landing a seat at Mahlamba Ndlopfu earlier than planned for.

If Ramaphosa loses in December, he will contest as Save SA, Mass Democratic Movement or SACP/COSATU presidential candidate. The split will equally deny him enough to govern outside coalition but I bet he will have the most votes in 2019.

His challenge will be finding a coalition partner. EFF is ultra-left and he is ultra-right which makes the two water and oil (EFF, for its own part, has been the most vocal proponents for justice over Marikana.)  DA is viewed as a ‘racist party’ and its connection to the past would taint him and his backers unless if the DA volunteers its voters without expecting any favors. I doubt it can do that, only EFF can.

The impending split will also make it almost impossible for the two ANC splinter groups to unite as the ground for heated acrimony is being watered everyday especially through smear campaigns and the use of state apparatus to spy on other ANC leaders. The President is making it worse by openly backing his ex-wife and not his incumbent deputy.

The only possibility that could unite most of these parties would be having a morally proper leader like former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela or deputy chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke as a caretaker president with the possibility of running for the entire term.

This arrangement might produce a new cabinet with clean top bureaucrats taking key cabinet posts and former ministers under Mbeki returning to the centre. I predict the likes of Tito Mboweni and Joel Netshitenge will make their way back.

The rough, tough road ahead

Before we know who will succeed Zuma, we will experience a bitter and a gruesome fight. We will probably see more political killings.

The court ruling in KwaZulu-Natal involving the legitimacy of the Provincial Executive Committee will also be a big game changer – no matter the outcome. Those in the Ramaphosa camp would have a boost if the court nullifies the 2015 polls.

That possibility is huge.

If it doesn’t, CR17 will look to Secretary General Gwede Mantashe to make a thorough audit of the party’s membership that many believe are rigged in favour of the governing party in KwaZulu-Natal.

That adds a new twist to the plot that thickens daily.

Trust Matsilele is a former journalist and political consultant. He has worked for Forbes Africa, CNBC Africa and African Democratic Institute among others. He is currently completing his PhD with the University of Johannesburg and is a contributing writer for CNBC Africa. These are his views and he can be contacted at: [email protected]

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