Let's Think

ANC leadership election: Loser as important as the winner

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The final weeks of the runup to the ANC’s elective conference have been dominated by internal disputes and wide-spread confusion, which can be expected to last for some time after the conference.

While formally there are seven candidates in the field to succeed President Jacob Zuma as leader of the African National Congress, it is generally accepted that the two main contenders are Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa (CR) and former African Union Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (NDZ). With barely a week before the conference is due to start, it is not even sure which of the other ‘candidates’ will be formerly nominated.

Once the election is over – that is if, against the background of possible outstanding disputes, it does take place – between CR and NDZ, they will share the winner- and loser labels. The rest being “also-rans,” unless there is a major surprise like a ‘compromise’ candidate at the last minute. 

Development of factionalism 

However, it is not as simple as just two individual leaders that will each be picking up a label. First of all, each of the candidates will be putting forward a team or so-called slate for the other top leadership positions in the party as part of their election ‘ticket.’ And then, support camps have developed around each candidate. However, there are also on regional and provincial level sub-support camps of leaders at those levels, who mostly in turn align themselves with a leader or camp at national level.

This complicated situation has seen the development of intense factionalism, and the proliferation of power struggles and competing interests throughout the structures of the party – which in turn created a breeding ground for cronyism and patronage networks.

It is in this environment that disputes between factions have become an almost everyday occurrence in the substructures of the party, and particularly regarding the processes that have to deliver the delegates (‘voters’) to the elective conference.

A good number of these disputes have ended up in court, like in the Free State where the court ordered that its provincial conference could not legally take place until lawful branch general meetings are held.

Some judgements in at least three more provinces might not be known by the time national conference starts – taking those disputes into the national conference and possibly court actions afterwards.   

Spill over to parliament   

In the meantime, the raging factionalism last week spilled into the public domain within the ranks of the ANC’s parliamentary caucus when its Chief Whip, Jackson Mthembu, was accused by six ANC members on ANN7 TV of siding with the Democratic Alliance. They accused him of allowing a debate on state capture in the National Assembly.

However, the debate took place under normal Assembly rules. The six members are believed to be supporters of NDZ. 

 Mtembu, who in turn is believed to be a supporter of CR and his slate, a few days earlier in an interview with the news agency Reuters, said the election of Jacob Zuma as leader of the party and the country was a “terrible error of judgement.”

In the meantime, another ANC MP and chairperson of the parliamentary committee of inquiring into allegations of state capture at power utility Eskom, Zukiswa Rantho, and other members of the committee, received threats levelled at them and their families. There is, however no. evidence that this is directly linked to the factional battles in the ANC.

Within the party structures, notably in KwaZulu-Natal tensions are running so high that it has been linked to several killings of people in the province already.

Two years ago, the conference of the ANC’s biggest region in KZN and nationally – the eThekwini region around Durban – had to be abandoned after the gathering descended into chaos before elections could be held.

What does the loser do?

Under these circumstances it becomes extremely important whoever is the loser at the conference, reacts, and/or are able, to control or influence the reactions of his or her followers.

It can just be hoped that both the main candidates have some backup, well thought through, plans in mind to create some compromises and/or exception of the result amongst his or her supporters, be it in victory or defeat – and, especially so if it is the latter. If not, it could leave the country in an extremely dangerous place post December 20 when the conference ends.

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by Piet Coetzer

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