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ANC's Mangaung winner may lack legitimacy

Whoever is elected leader of the African National Congress (ANC) at its conference next month may suffer from a lack of legitimacy, with implications for the long-term future of the party.

This is because last week ANC Veterans League chairman Sandi Sejake publicly claimed there had been manipulation of branch numbers within the ANC.

He suggested that unless serious steps were taken, the leadership elected during the party's Mangaung conference would lack legitimacy.

On the same day, reports emerged claiming that a group of armed men had burst into an ANC branch meeting in Ekurhuleni in Gauteng and forced party members present to vote to nominate President Jacob Zuma.

Also, perceptions of the fairness of Luthuli House, the party's head office, appear to be open to question, with those who stand to lose out at Mangaung appearing to be prepared to make claims, even if they cannot make them stand up.

Sejake's claims appear to bolster the arguments of those who have suggested that the number of branches in KwaZulu-Natal has been inflated to strengthen Zuma's chances. Sejake's position, his seniority, and the fact he is making the claims in public could all serve to start a debate within the ANC about the numbers.

The alleged attack in Ekurhuleni also leads to suspicions Zuma's supporters are prepared to resort to violence. As this occurs amid claims that he is using the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association as a private army, the claims could gain some currency.

The association has denied the suggestions but has issued several statements that could be interpreted as threatening to Zuma's opponents.

Many ANC branches appear to be battling to reach quorums at branch general meetings, held to nominate leaders.

All of these factors, when taken together, could point to problems around legitimacy for Zuma, should he be re-elected.

At the same time, several ANC leaders, particularly his rival, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, have spoken out against the use of "slates", the practice where ANC leaders run for positions as a group. However, at this stage it appears whoever wins at Mangaung will probably have used a slate, thus further de-legitimising themselves.

This means that when certain disputes within the party have to be resolved after the conference, Zuma could appear to lack the moral and political authority to intervene.

As the ANC appears to grow in membership and finds consensus harder to attain, these disputes could become more common. At the same time, they will become harder to resolve because he and other elected leaders would find it hard to create long-term solutions to problems and could only have the legitimacy to create short-term solutions.

One of the more important moments of Zuma's first term as ANC leader occurred a few months into his presidency, when the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said it believed he had been elected through an alliance of forces that opposed former president Thabo Mbeki. This was a public admission that the ANC had not elected him as the best possible candidate, but because only he was seen as able to dislodge Mr Mbeki.

That moment was key, as it showed Cosatu did not support Zuma for himself but only for what he had stood against. This made it harder for him to appear to be the legitimate leader of the party. Should he be re-elected, he could well face the same problem again.

However, he and other leaders could re-establish their legitimacy if the task teams investigating the manipulation claims are seen to be able to reach accurate findings. Should Zuma publicly disavow "slates" and be seen to win on his own strengths, that could re-establish his credibility.

This column appeared in The Business Day.

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