ANTHONY BUTLER: There are a couple of dark horses in the ‘two-horse’ ANC race
Ramaphosa may be a front-runner, and Dlamini-Zuma is unlikely to get out of the gates, but the field is bigger than some think
Ignore people who tell you that leadership succession does not matter. They are wrong.
The ANC presidency matters most of all, because it leads almost inexorably to the state presidency. The ANC will probably remain the party of national government — on its own or in coalition with others — after 2019.
SA has an executive presidency, housed in a parliamentary system. The incumbent combines the authority of a head of state with control of a party machine. It is true that the power of a leader to do good is limited, but their capacity to create havoc is vast. This is why the notion of prudence is — or should be — so central for those who think seriously about politics.
President Jacob Zuma is a remarkable politician. His reign of destruction is proof enough that leadership really matters in human affairs. My suspicion is that Zuma is going to get precisely the successor he has planned for. And it is not Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
We have often been told that the succession struggle is a “two-horse race”. In one sense, this is correct. It is in the nature of a relatively fluid factional politics, dominated by the pursuit of resources, that two broad factions will fight for supremacy. There is no point joining a minority grouping.
One of the horses is definitely Cyril Ramaphosa. But it is starting to look like Dlamini-Zuma was never really in the race at all. She is a “stalking horse”: a horse-shaped screen behind which a hunter can stay concealed until it is time for him to strike.
When Zuma groomed her to compete for the highest ANC office, by sending her to the African Union Commission to acquire seniority, his acute political antennae would already have told him that she could not win in December. He promoted a no-hoper in full knowledge that her candidacy would not fly.
Why? Not because he believes she would not allow the prosecution of the father of her children. This is sentimental nonsense. Especially given that she cannot win.
A more likely explanation is that Zuma wanted to play the “third-term” card in the approach to the elective conference. “Tired though I am,” he probably planned to say, “I am obliged to step in and rescue the ANC from the unelectable candidate to whom I was once married, by staying on myself as ANC president.”
As events have unfolded, a third term for Zuma has become almost impossible to conceive, but Dlamini-Zuma remains eminently ditchable: this, after all, is why she is there at all.
Just as her un-electability in 2019 has begun to sink in across the movement, a third way, “unity” candidate has magically appeared: Dr Zweli Mkhize.
Mkhize is a very capable politician indeed. If, as appears likely, he is nominated for the presidency by a majority of branches in Mpumalanga, he will be on the ballot in December, and so will not have to rely on nomination from the conference floor.
Mpumalanga chairperson, David Mabuza, is young enough to wait out two Mkhize terms. He will probably trade his support — and the large number of provincial delegates he will control — for a place as Mkhize’s deputy, in the expectation that he will ascend to the presidency 10 years hence.
For his part, Ace Magashule will do anything to secure a national position before he is kicked out by his own Free State troops.
Once Dlamini-Zuma withdraws her candidacy — a decision that is effectively Zuma’s to take — Mkhize will cannibalise her support base in KwaZulu-Natal and the ANC’s leagues. He could then campaign on an “Anyone But Cyril” ticket. He would be a credible face for the ANC in the 2019 elections. And he could claim that he is not Zuma’s man.
• Butler is the author of Cyril Ramaphosa (Jacana, 2013). He is preparing an unauthorised biography of Dr Zweli Mkhize