With the already-disputed branch membership figures of the African National Congress (ANC) released on Friday, the party’s election in December has officially started. With President Jacob Zuma’s future still in the balance and his likely challengers now openly showing their hands, the leadership fight is about to get a lot more intense. Needless to say, the impact on the country as a whole could be serious. (Read more...)
The past months have seen speculation around possible ANC presidential candidates. Their chances of election have been steadily mounting and scenarios have constantly shifted highlighting the divisions and squabbles that are tearing the ANC-led ruling alliance asunder. This has already caused international rating agencies and other analysts to question political stability, leadership and policy issues in South Africa.
When Moody's Investors Service cut South Africa's government bond rating from A3 to Baa1 last Thursday, the media focused on the Marikana labour unrest as the cause.
However, in its accompanying statement Moody’s also raised concerns over “the country’s longstanding problems” such as future political uncertainty and, importantly, uncertainty around the ANC’s elective national conference in December.
Throughout the year, the ANC tried keep things calm with a veil of imposed unity. It prohibited, with little success, discussions of the leadership race until official candidate nominations opened. With the release of audited provincial ANC branch membership figures on Friday that moment has now arrived. The veil has been lifted and the pressures on an appearance of unity seems set to intensify.
Zuma’s chances of re-election remain critically in the balance. Media comments, based on the release of the audited membership figures, have erroneously positioned Zuma as being close to victory. That is simply not true.
There have been dramatic – and unexplained – membership increases in the three provinces supporting Zuma’s re-election: KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and Mpumalanga. However, despite this and based on the breakdown of the audited membership figures published by The Sunday Times, assuming every delegate from these three provinces votes for Zuma, he is assured of only 1,500 votes out of 4,500. The question is: who will get the vote of the remaining 3,000 delegates?
The sudden increase in membership in pro-Zuma provinces and the significant decline in membership figures in the ANC’s second largest and strongly anti-Zuma province, the Eastern Cape, has been questioned. However, not too much should be read into this as it should be noted that the one of the largest and most vehemently anti-Zuma provinces, Limpopo, has also dramatically increased its membership by almost 48,000.
Delegates also do not vote in blocs, but individually. Developments between now and December could still influence their choices. Not even the three provinces regarded as pro-Zuma are therefore a certainty.
More important has been the attempts at manipulating the allocation of delegate quotas to the different provinces. A conference preparatory committee led by Zuma’s close ally, secretary-general Gwede Mantashe – whose own political future will be on the line come election time – reportedly wanted to apply a new formula for calculating the number of delegates allocated to each province. Using the audited membership figures as basis, this would have strengthened Zuma’s, and Mantashe’s, chances of re-election.
However, after hours of heated debate over this at an ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting on Friday, a proposal by ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe to retain the traditional method of one delegate for each branch in good standing was accepted. Motlanthe is widely seen as the leading candidate to replace Zuma.
But, as the number of delegates that will attend the conference has been increased. A meeting on Tuesday this week, will have to decide how the additional 416 delegates will be divided among the provinces. This episode is viewed in a highly negative light by many in the ANC and could backfire for the Zuma camp.
Another issue that could further turn sentiments against Zuma and his allies is the controversial allocation of R203 million in taxpayers’ money for renovations to his private home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal. Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has been asked to probe this.
At the same time the village of Nkandla and other rural areas in Zuma’s home province are to undergo costly development upgrades. Impoverished communities like those in North West’s Marikana district – scene of the Platinum belt labour unrest - or in the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, may question this, further fuelling anti-Zuma sentiment.
Meanwhile the election chances of Motlanthe have been strategically strengthened by a number of significant developments these past few days. Not least of these the timing of a report by the Public Protector which cleared him and his partner, Gugu Mtshali, from any improper involvement in a business transaction with Iran.
Motlanthe, favoured for the position of ANC president by several provinces, senior ANC leaders on the national executive committee, the ANC Youth League and others, has been cautious not to openly side with any faction or present himself as a presidential candidate.
He has however at times taken positions diametrically opposed to Zuma. For instance, in a speech delivered to a small gathering some months ago in which he ridiculed Zuma’s proposal for a 'second transition'. The proposal was defeated at the subsequent ANC policy conference in June.
A book about Motlanthe, timed to hit the shelves next week, details how he asked ANC leaders, including Zuma, to rein in Zuma’s arch enemy, the now expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema. Later Motlanthe tried in vain to cool tempers and reach a compromise “political solution” to the Malema problem. In the book Motlanthe says it was a mistake to expel Malema and putting him through a disciplinary process was 'fundamentally wrong'.
In the book, Motlanthe makes the telling remark that “discipline must not be used to vindictively get even and settle scores,” a charge frequently levelled at Zuma by his opponents.
If reported indications by various unnamed ANC “insiders” are to be believed, Motlanthe seems to be positioning himself for a reconciliatory role to restore unity through inclusive leadership. According to a report in the Mail & Guardian he also told a secret meeting, the so-called 'Malibongwe gathering', that he did not want to be associated with slates or lists of candidates drawn up by competing factions saying they caused division in the ANC.
According to the report, others also associated with the Malibongwe meeting included Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, ANC treasurer Matthews Phosa, Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile and Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, most of them also likely candidates for top leadership positions in the ANC.
In a paper delivered by Sexwale on Friday he calls for renewal and change in the ANC, including change of leadership which may be necessary. However, Sexwale also cautioned that “a mere rotation of leaders, which leaves the substance and content of the problem as it is,” would be pointless.
In another development over the weekend Mashatile, who has openly campaigned for Zuma’s removal, was booed off the stage at a Gauteng ANC Women’s League meeting when he called for leadership change. But in a subsequent ANC Youth League meeting, he repeated the call and said Zuma would be removed.
A messy leadership fight seems to be developing.