[ANALYSIS] ANC leadership race: The fight for every single vote
With the results of the ANC’s nomination process now (slowly) becoming public through the provincial general council process, it is becoming clearer just how tight the race for the ANC’s leadership is going to be. While there have been indications of this earlier in the year, the numbers suggest that it could be closer than previously thought. Faced with such lack of certainty, the two leadership candidates, and their slates, need to start to consider their options. Their options? Fight to the death, compromise, or surrender. It now appears that this means the actual political process that will result in a leader emerging may only unfold on the floor of the conference, and involve intense discussions in Nasrec’s smoke-filled backrooms.
So far, the provincial general council process is showing that the ANC provinces are in line with expectations about who they will support. Gauteng, the Western Cape, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape have pledged their support to Cyril Ramaphosa, the Free State and North West are going with Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Mpumalanga has 223 nominations for “Comrade Unity”, 123 for Dlamini Zuma and 117 for Ramaphosa. Limpopo is expected to back Ramaphosa strongly, and KwaZulu-Natal is expected to support Dlamini Zuma, although her margin there is difficult to predict.
And it is the margins of victory and defeat in each province that matter. There is likely to be some contestation over the final provincial figures, but in the end, and perhaps to oversimplify, the equation appears to boil down to this: with the strong support Ramaphosa gets from the provinces backing him, and the strong support Dlamini Zuma gets from those supporting her, it may come down to the KZN margin. Again, to oversimplify, if Ramaphosa gets around a third of the votes in KZN, or more, he is probably in a relatively safe position, but anything less than that will result in a Dlamini Zuma victory.
But in this race, that’s not all. There are still the votes of the leagues, the provincial leaderships, and the current national executive committee to consider. Obviously the Women’s League and the Youth League will back Dlamini Zuma, and the Veterans League will go with Ramaphosa. In the end, so complicated is this maths that with every vote counting, it could all come down to a sum in the minutiae of the ANC’s constitution.
While it may make it difficult for outsiders to predict the outcome, it also puts intense pressure on the two main campaigns. They themselves now have to ensure they fight for every single vote, while not being sure that they will win. This is the kind of recipe that leads to decisions being made under stress, and thus mistakes can happen. At the same time, of course, it allows Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza to revel in being kingmaker.
There is possibly no bigger indictment on the current state of the ANC and its leadership that such a badly compromised figure as David Mabuza could even fantasise let alone realistically expect to get to play kingmaker. It cannot be put more crisply than the description the analyst Lukhona Mnguni offered in the Sunday Times:
“Mabuza is a self-serving factionalist who is using his influence to advance his personal ambitions. He represents a crop of ANC leaders that have contributed immensely in the destruction of the movement and continue to do so.”
What should make many ANC supporters weep is that all of this was predicted. As long ago as 2010 outsiders could make the prediction that this would, inevitably, happen one day.
All of that said, there are several problems that confront the power brokers in the negotiations that will now surely take place. All sides have several cards to play, some of which are stronger than others.
The first is, obviously, numbers. It must be remembered here that the nominations process does not present a perfect numerical equation. Branches will nominate, but they only get one nomination per branch. However, some branches are bigger than others, and so they send more delegates (roughly, a branch needs 100 members to send a delegate, then after 250 members they get another delegate, and so on). This means that the picture presented is still slightly fuzzy, and to work out who exactly has how many votes from delegates is still not necessarily that clear (and that’s before one factors in the possibility of skulduggery during the voting process itself). This means that candidates may not be able to prove that they actually have more votes than others. For every claim they make, they may be presented with a counterclaim.
That said, if it appears Dlamini Zuma has a slight numerical advantage, obviously that gives her greater negotiating power. Mabuza’s role in this is obvious, he is the one that is portraying himself as the kingmaker.
However, his position also illustrates another problem. For a person who claims to be a power-broker, such as himself, to succeed, he needs to illustrate that he has tight control of his delegates. Otherwise no deals will work.
And while it may appear that he does, the evidence does not point that way. It is well-known that he instructed Mpumalanga branches to vote for Cde Unity. But more branches ignored his instruction than obeyed it: 223 branches nominated Mabuza’s Comrade Unity, while 123 backed Dlamini-Zuma and 117 supported Ramaphosa.
And while Mabuza may be playing a complicated game here, this could be used to show that he does not have the control he claims, and perhaps can't actually deliver what he professes.
This problem goes for all the provinces and all of the leaders.
Then there is the problem of how on Earth different people from different factions could really come together.
Dlamini Zuma may think that to have Gwede Mantashe as Chair is a situation she could live with. But Mantashe, as current secretary-general, has said several times that unless the current deputy president becomes the president, there “will be a crisis” in the ANC. Would he really want to be a part of that? The same holds true for someone like Senzo Mchunu, having been shafted by Zuma (and thus the same political unit as Dlamini Zuma) in KZN; could he ever take a position on her ticket? The same holds true the other way: could Ramaphosa really include Free State ANC leader Ace Magashule as secretary-general? It just does not appear likely.
There are other weapons that can be brought to bear here. Legal challenges could come from anywhere, from the grand challenge to the ultimate outcome of the conference, all the way through to challenges at the branch level that could end up having a big impact down the line. It’s not too far a stretch to imagine a process being put in play now just to keep an opponent within certain boundaries. In other words, an application would be made now, and just kept alive because an urgent hearing could be pushed for should the opponent get out of line. Considering the timing of the various court challenges to the KZN election result eight months ago, it is obvious that both sides will be aware of this. And the challenges to the outcomes in North West, Free State, the Eastern Cape and the Northern Cape probably won’t have been resolved by the time the conference arrives. Which means the various applicants can then decide whether to proceed with their case or drop it, depending on whether they like the outcome.
And then, of course, there are the various nuclear options that can be exercised. It could be explained to Dlamini Zuma, in the hardest possible terms, just how much of a liability she could be as leader of the ANC. The polling data, suggesting that only 16% of South Africans across the country believe Dlamini Zuma would be “a good leader” for the ANC, would surely be used against her. Dlamini Zuma would be asked if she really believed she could win in 2019. Especially when the dirt on her political patron, Jacob Zuma, continues to gush over the media waves.
Coupled with these options would be the ultimate threat from Ramaphosa that his defeat would split the party to a devastating effect.
But Dlamini Zuma is probably not without A-bombs of her own. She would claim that the numbers show her victory would have legitimacy, that it would be wrong for anyone to refuse to accept a decision “by the branches” and that Ramaphosa has already broken many ANC rules in his campaign.
While it is now almost trite to say that this is just an indication of how high the tensions are, it is also indicative of something much more telling. The two sides are just incredibly far apart in everything. One side, and one candidate, doesn’t believe that State Capture exists, the other says ending State Capture is the only way to save the ANC. One group believes the ANC needs to be reformed, the other thinks everything is fine.
And there are the provincial dynamics. It is striking how different the provinces are to each other; there seems to be little middle ground within them in that they either go hard for one leader or for the other. In other words, Gauteng is strongly Ramaphosa, while the Free State is strongly Dlamini Zuma. In this way, they almost (already?) resemble two different parties from different provinces. And the urban/rural split does not appear to play that much of a role here, as both the Eastern Cape and Limpopo are backing Ramaphosa.
This suggests that no matter what happens in the ANC, the provinces could be pulling away from each other in blocs. And imagine the situation after the conference. In the past it’s often been mentioned how the Gauteng leadership might buck the national leadership, but was always on its own. In the future, no matter who wins, provinces will back each other in a much more even fashion, making decisions in the NEC and elsewhere much harder to make.
There are numerous hard problems facing the ANC at the moment. It is obvious that the choice of leader is just one of them. The fact that the party is so evenly split shows that simply staying together afterwards would be the biggest problem.
Stephen Grootes is the senior political correspondent for Eyewitness News and the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 CapeTalk. He is the author of SA Politics Unspun. Follow him on Twitter: @StephenGrootes