President Jacob Zuma’s bid to be re-elected as president of the ruling African National Congress at its December national conference in Mangaung, does not look as secure as it did only a few weeks ago. The expected outcome of the elective process at the conference has become unpredictable.
President Jacob Zuma’s bid for re-election as ANC president for a second term has been under attack from, among others, the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) since last year.
Zuma’s strategy for fighting back, at first, seemed to be succeeding. Besides apparently getting rid of the troublesome Julius Malema as leader of the ANCYL, he secured significant support in three provinces, KwaZulu-Natal (the biggest ANC province), Mpumalanga and Free State.
There were also signs of strong support from within the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), despite the opposition from its general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi and major unions like the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa).
Zuma also went on a country-wide charm offensive that included pro-worker speeches at trade union congresses, strong overtures towards women (read the ANC Women’s League) and policy proposals that appeared to be closer to positions held by the ANCYL and Cosatu. There were also promises to communities and interest groups and the handing out of gifts.
Opposition may be growing
But then the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) split 60-40 in favour of Zuma.
Serious political division also started surfacing strongly in other unions, including the national congress of the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) last week.
Even worse for the ANC and for Zuma, is that ANC branches, regions and provincial structures became divided around the country. In North-West the Ngaka Modiri Molema region, seen to be aligned with the anti-Zuma ANCYL, was disbanded by the pro-Zuma provincial leadership – allegedly to improve Zuma’s re-election chances. Protests and instability in the local structures followed.
The Eastern Cape’s two largest regions, OR Tambo and Amatole, repeatedly postponed regional conferences because of divisions and squabbles reflecting the larger pro- and anti-Zuma divisions across the province. In the OR Tambo region, the second biggest in the country, the latest postponement of its conference came after “ghost voters” were detected.
The ANC’s Western Cape structures are equally divided on the Zuma re-election issue.
Similar situations prevail in most provinces. Zuma has the support of the South African Communist Party (SACP), but its influence at the December national conference will be limited.
The ANCYL is largely opposed to Zuma and wants to see him replaced by deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe.
The ANC Women’s League has not yet openly shown its hand and while Zuma has some loyal supporters in its national leadership structure, the picture in the provinces may be quite different.
Despite Zuma’s good historical relations with a large section of the ANC Veterans League, some in the league have recently been very critical of his leadership.
It would seem that opposition to Zuma’s re-election bid is gaining momentum.
Ultimately voting patterns at the national conference will be dictated by the delegate strengths of the various provinces and structures. To determine applicable delegate quotas, a countrywide membership audit is currently underway.
Earlier this year, the ANC claimed its total membership stood at 1 027 389, almost double its 2007 membership.
The relative voting strength of the provinces might have changed considerably since the 2007 Polokwane elective conference where Thabo Mbeki was replaced with Zuma as president.
For example, in June this year in Limpopo, ANC-membership stood at 114 385, 11.1% of the national total and almost double what it was in 2007. Home of the expelled Julius Malema, some of the strongest ANCYL-aligned anti-Zuma pressure may come from this province.
Mpumalanga, presently representing 9.6% of the total national membership, has also almost doubled its membership since 2007 to 98 892. This province, however, may generate strong support for Zuma.
The biggest change may be in Zuma’s native KwaZulu-Natal which, by all recent accounts, has replaced the Eastern Cape as the largest ANC province. With 23.8% of the total national membership (244 900) it is likely to be consolidated in support of Zuma.
The Eastern Cape, the second largest ANC province on 22% of national membership (225 597), seems to be divided, giving Zuma a strong hand in the two largest provinces combined.
If he secures half of the Eastern Cape vote, plus KwaZulu-Natal’s, it will give him about 35% of the total vote based on the latest known membership figures.
Some 90% of the delegates at the national conference in December will come from branches, making up the composition of provincial representation. The final composition will be decided by the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), a structure where Zuma still seems to have majority support.
For now, Zuma's faction still controls the NEC and the powerful office of the secretary-general, currently occupied by Zuma's ally Gwede Mantashe. But the NEC, too, has to be re-elected in December and Mantashe’s position is also under attack.
The remaining 10% votes will be allocated by the NEC from among the provincial executive committees of the ANC, and its three leagues.