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MAHLATSE MAHLASE: Opposition to the ANC has Ace up their sleeve

OPINION

As the campaign season draws to a close, the polls are predicting another victory for the governing party, albeit a decline in voter support.

With 25 years in power, having delivered the highest unemployment rate since democracy, a collapsing public health system, a below-par education system alongside the sprinklings of “a better life” after apartheid, the ANC will still govern with an overwhelming majority. The number-two party will be millions of supporters behind them.

The results will be interpreted as a failure of opposition parties to inspire the electorate to change their preferences.

The ANC has been fighting itself during this election season. And the real battle for control of the Union Buildings is actually within the ANC itself.

How else do we explain secretary-general Ace Magashule's public complaint that his own party deployees were illegally bugging his phone, just days before the elections?

Even more bizarre, he seemed happy to see his Free State supporters publicly waging a campaign for his own personal benefit by displaying banners emblazoned with "Hands off Ace".

Some of his public statements are a clear move to undermine President Cyril Ramaphosa’s new dawn campaign.

Instead of selling the myths of a united ANC to potential voters, Magashule found it more important to undercut his own party’s campaign. He is more comfortable campaigning with former President Jacob Zuma in KwaZulu-Natal. But he has never been seen alongside Ramaphosa during the campaign trail.

Magashule was ordered to apologise to State Security Minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Dube for claiming she accused him of manipulating the party list in a WhatsApp group debate.

In the interview with new TV channel Newzroom Afrika, Ramaphosa on Thursday dismissed Magashule’s claims that his phone was bugged, and painted him instead as paranoid.

“ SG ... reacted out of deep concern and anger and we said SG you are a leader and these matters must be discussed inside.”

But Magashule’s bold statement cannot be seen in isolation as he also defended disgraced former and current ministers including Malusi Gigaba and Nomvula Mokonyane -- the very people said to be identified by the Integrity Commission to have failed the test of being beyond reproach, claiming the ANC acts as a collective.

Magashule seems to have positioned himself as the opponent of Ramaphosa’s renewal message.

It is clear there is a serious battle for control being waged in all fronts -- on the election campaign platforms, in Cabinet, and through social and traditional media outlets. The stakes are high. With a new sheriff at the National Prosecuting Authority, chances of some of the Zuma faction members facing jail time are real.

Once in government after an election campaign he led, Ramaphosa will be emboldened to use the electoral mandate to push forward with his renewal agenda. He could do what former President Thabo Mbeki largely did by ignoring the party and using the country’s constitutionally guaranteed authority to make decisions.

Conspiracy theories claim Magashule and his allies are making an attempt to force Ramaphosa into a coalition with the Zuma splinter groups that have emerged in the ANC.

In addition to the internal coalition battles, the ANC faces the real prospects of cobbling together coalition arrangements with other parties where it could emerge weaker.

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema has, unfortunately, spoken with a forked tongue, one minute choosing ANC as the “better devil” than his DA partners in Johannesburg and Tshwane metros, only to say later they have conditions for both parties to form a coalition. His support would be crucial in provinces such as the North-West, where internal battles threaten the ANC's continued majority support and in Gauteng where the black middle-class is unpredictable.

Coalitions could weaken the Magashule's faction’s influence on who becomes premier. It could represent a real loss for the faction as it had created power bases in provinces.

The pain by the likes of Magashule - of feeling sidelined by Mbeki for premiership - has never disappeared. Which is why he would like to maintain control of the Free State.

The Ramaphosa brigade is well aware of the fight for control of government. They claim a decisive victory for him could be enough to weaken the mooted plan to challenge him at the National General Council.

If the battle for Luthuli House proves hard to win, Ramaphosa's group would want the support of ordinary South Africans to lead his defence.

And that, as we saw with the Zuma Must Fall campaign, is powerful enough to influence the ANC structures.

Mahlatse Mahlase is group editor-in-chief at Eyewitness News. Follow her on Twitter: @hlatseentle

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