by Stef Terblanche

ANC presidential race

Hot ANC presidential race remains wide open

Jacob Zuma
Policy change main.jpg
With most political developments in South Africa having taken a break along with Parliament’s winter recess or a “constituency period”, not much is happening on that front. However, the one political theatre that is not resting is the African National Congress’ ongoing presidential race, with new candidates speculatively being added to the list almost daily. 
Although nominations for presidential candidates by ANC branches only officially open in October, ahead of the party’s December national conference, “anonymous sources” in the ANC and its allies, the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), various trade unions, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the media among others have already all effectively nominated their candidates.
Last week, Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe, was punted in the media as having declared his candidacy and Zuma remarked on his alleged candidacy.
But more positions than just that of president of the ANC will be at stake in Mangaung. Congress of South African Trade Unions' (Cosatu) general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, is now also allegedly making a play for a top post.
The unofficial list for president already includes Zuma, Motlanthe, and Human Settlements Minister, Tokyo Sexwale. Apart from Zuma, the most serious contender is Motlanthe, although he has given the least indication, if any, that he will challenge Zuma.
The other position that is likely to be hotly contested is that of secretary-general. It is currently held by former trade unionist, Gwede Mantashe, who until recently was also chairman of the SACP. The fact that he stepped down as SACP chairman seems to indicate an all-out attempt to retain his ANC hot seat.
In practice, the ANC president also becomes the state president. The ANC secretary general runs the party and wields serious political power in the broader ruling alliance.
The latter consists of the ANC with its two leagues and its veterans association, the SACP, Cosatu with its 21 affiliated labour unions, and the South African National Civics Organisation (Sanco).
The South African Students Congress (Sasco) and the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) can be considered junior partners in the alliance. All of these organisations will bring some voting clout to the ANC’s elective conference, either directly or indirectly.
Apart from the positions of president and secretary-general, the December conference will have to elect a national chairman (currently Baleka Mbete), deputy president (currently Motlanthe), deputy secretary-general (currently Thandi Modise), and treasurer general (currently Mathews Phosa).
A number of names have been thrown into the mix for these positions by various factions and leaked in varying combinations and permutations. Besides the incumbents, Sports Minister, Fikile Mblalula, Arts and Culture Minister and Gauteng ANC chairman, Paul Mashatile, and Public Service and Administration Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, are mentioned as possible candidates.
Zuma has the support of his home province, KwaZulu-Natal, as well as the Free State and Mpumalanga for re-election.
While losing the support of three smaller Eastern Cape regions, he has secured considerable support in Cosatu, although the federation is divided.  
The ANCYL wants him removed, the ANC military veterans association is unhappy with him, and the ANC Women’s League has yet to show its position.
Perhaps a tell-tale sign that he is not all that certain of re-election came last weekend when he denied ever wanting to lead the ANC or the country. He did so, he said, only because the party had asked him to do so and that if asked to step aside, he would do so.
Motlanthe is a strong candidate: he is popular in most factions and organisations in the alliance. He has kept his nose clean and has avoided any scandals and he is not seen as being involved in any one faction.
A veteran leader, he has filled various positions throughout the alliance and is seen as an astute and intelligent politician. But most importantly, he has the right kind of experience having been deputy president to both Thabo Mbeki and Zuma and having served as stand-in president between Mbeki’s forced resignation and Zuma’s election.
But Motlanthe has been very careful not to show his cards. There is nothing firm on record anywhere that he will indeed be standing against Zuma for the position of president. The most telling development suggesting that he may challenge Zuma came recently when he shot down, in a public memorial lecture at Liliesleaf Farm, Rivonia, the so-called ‘second transition’ strategy and tactics document advanced by Zuma and his close allies at the recent ANC national policy conference. 
The policy conference did not adopt it, perhaps something of a victory for Motlanthe if he is a presidential candidate.
Motklanthe’s stance thus far, at least in public, has been to maintain a position of unambitious neutrality. Last weekend his spokesman dismissed a Sunday Times report that he had turned down an alleged deal proposal from a Zuma-aligned lobby group that would remove him as a challenger.
The spokesman reiterated Motlanthe’s consistent position of past months that it is not for him but for the branches to decide who they will nominate and elect as leaders of the ANC.
The ANCYL is strongly promoting Motlanthe with its deputy president Ronald Lamola last weekend again making such a call. However, ANC spokesman Keith Khoza, poured cold water on Lamola’s call by also saying the branches would decide.
Sexwale is viewed by many in the alliance as too closely associated with the black economic empowerment lobby, a group that is under pressure on many fronts.
Critics of the ANC’s BEE millionaires believe that is why Sexwale so enthusiastically supported the nationalisation of the mines when the ANCYL, and its expelled leader, Julius Malema, first started propagating this.
Nonetheless, Sexwale enjoys some popularity in the structures of the ANC going back to the underground era, and in the provinces, especially in his home province of Gauteng.
He has also been active on something of a campaign trail, visiting various provinces, especially the key Eastern Cape and Western Cape, and making carefully targeted speeches. Furthermore, he has openly challenged Zuma in closed meetings of the ANC leadership, specifically on the issue of the ANCYL and disciplinary action taken against Malema.
Sexwale challenged Mbeki in 2007 for president but, seeing which way the ANC winds were blowing, withdrew and threw in his lot with Zuma who gave him a cabinet position.
Now he may be ready to challenge for the top spot again.
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