Scrambling towards December, ANC leaders already jostling for number two seat

A number of ANC members are becoming clearer on their intentions to fight for the party's deputy presidency ahead of its national conference this December.

Lindiwe Sisulu congratulates President Cyril Ramaphosa on the ANC's 2019 election victory. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN.

ANALYSIS

JOHANNESBURG - In 2020, just days before COVID-19 officially hit the South African shores, a jovial President Cyril Ramaphosa told journalists in Cape Town to “stick around, you might see this movie again”. This was in response to a question as to whether he would stand for a second term.

Fast forward to 2022 and one would be forgiven for thinking that the scenes currently playing out in the African National Congress are a repeat of the 2017 script - ahead of the national congress at Nasrec where Ramaphosa was elected as president.

As was the case in 2017, Lindiwe Sisulu still believes she’s a contender, as does the former ANC treasurer-general and disgraced former health minister Zweli Mkhize. The latter believes that he can build a campaign on the ticket of uniting the warring factions.

Oddly enough, some within ANC circles have eagerly placed their bets on an ageing Matthews Phosa - whose name comes up regularly whenever the bruising internal contest rolls into town.

With a global pandemic raging on in the background and the governing party faced with the continued decline of its electoral fortunes - add to that the fact that the party’s entire secretariat is out of action - the picture is not looking pretty for the ANC. The party’s secretary-general Ace Magashule is under suspension while his deputy, Jessie Duarte is not well.

At the same time, the party is still reeling from the internal fallout over the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma.
Despite all these challenges, 2022 is a crucial year for the governing party as the ANC is expected to elect new leaders.

The ANC’s lower structures have begun holding conferences, with provinces expected to follow suit in the coming months – but an interesting picture is already starting to emerge.

RAMAPHOSA SITTING PRETTY?

Conversations with some ANC leaders have brought about the idea of a “fresh start”, where even those who fervently backed Ramaphosa are beginning to wonder whether he should continue.

However, Ramaphosa, by virtue of being a sitting president, is by far the strongest contender for the position. There are those whose considerations are about the 2024 general elections - believing that the ANC needs Ramaphosa’s face on the ballot paper to arrest the party’s electoral decline. In their calculations the general election’s outcome, even if the ANC is reduced to below 50%, will not be as devastating enough to weaken the party further on the negotiating table.

Ramaphosa has been accused by some of using the party’s January 8 celebrations, in Polokwane last week, to launch his bid for a second term. This after Limpopo ANC chairperson Stan Mathabatha publicly declared his province’s support for Ramaphosa’s second term.

Soon after, national executive committee members Bheki Cele, Ronald Lamola and Paul Mashatile followed suit.

FRENZY FOR NUMBER 2?

The latter two leaders are involved in what is perhaps the biggest tussle currently unfolding in the ANC as several leaders have raised their hands, wanting to serve as the party’s Number Two.

Just last week Lamola, who is also the Justice and Correctional Services minister, spoke to the Mail & Guardian, expressing in the most clear of terms his readiness to rise within the party.

ANC insiders have said that Lamola is keen to serve in the ANC top six, if it is not a position that confines him to Luthuli House, the party’s headquarters.

Within the Ramaphosa camp, some are looking at Lamola as the future leader of the organisation. This has placed a target on his back, with some leaders from the generation before him arguing that Lamola’s ambitions shut the door on their own ambitions to lead the the110-year-old former liberation movement.

But Lamola would need to build a solid support base, in order for him to succeed, while others believe that he has not enough to canvas support for his ambitions even within the ANC’s youth structures, his natural allies.

“He thinks his name is a brand, that he no longer needs to worry about marketing and that’s not how it works… as big as Coca Cola is, it continues with its marketing and trying to reach new audiences,” said a young ANC leader - who told Eyewitness News that they would rather have the current national chairperson Gwede Mantashe in the position.

It has been suggested that Mantashe and ANC Eastern Cape chairperson Oscar Mabuyane no longer see eye-to-eye. The two men hail from the ANC’s Chris Hani region in the Eastern Cape. The source of their tension is said to be stemming from Mabuyane’s own ambitions to become a national leader.

However, the latter faces a challenge in his own province as the majority of the ANC regions in the Eastern Cape have expressed their support for provincial treasurer Babalo Madikizela to become the next provincial chairperson.

DON'T FORGET THE CAT:

While this takes place, the current deputy president DD Mabuza is not yet ready to give up the position. He declared ahead of the 2021 local government elections that he was keen to continue in the role.

Former national speaker (now defence minister) Thandi Modise is one of the women being touted for the job, with insiders claiming that if Ramaphosa had his way, she would be his deputy.

ODD NAMES:

Other pretenders to the throne include the ANC Member of Parliament Boy Mamabolo whose declaration of an interest in the position provided some comic relief for ANC members.

ANC Ekurhuleni regional chairperson Mzwandile Masina is also understood to have set his sights on the number two position. Having lost the mayoral chain in Ekurhuleni, mounting a visible public campaign may prove to be difficult for Masina.

This jostling for the ANC’s deputy presidency and other positions in the top six may well point to a tacit acceptance by the various factions within the ANC, that Ramaphosa does not have a worthy challenger.

However, Lindiwe Sisulu and her aides are hard at work to popularise her within ANC structures as she mounts a campaign for the presidency.

Whether her campaign will gain traction within ANC branches will become clearer in the coming months.