There’s more clarity from ANC conference now, but enigmas remain
Jacob Zuma probably has some final gambits to play, but they are all potentially counterproductive
A victory for ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa in December’s elective conference is probably now a little more likely than any other outcome. Some sources of uncertainty have diminished. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has put in place layers of oversight and appeal mechanisms to avert much-anticipated legal paralysis. So far, the courts have steered a prudent path, insisting that parties should (more or less) follow their own rules.
The prospect of the conference being postponed or collapsed has also diminished. Nasrec is a fortuitous venue for the management of a chaotic credentials process and for the containment of potential protests. As a former general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, Mantashe is one of the country’s most experienced directors of violence-threatened elections.
Once the conference gets under way, however, uncertainties multiply.
The likely fate of the proposed amendments to the ANC constitution remains obscure. Preconference deliberations between factions suggested there might be a consensus for some reforms, but in the end it will not prove easy to muster a two-thirds majority of delegates.
Proposals to introduce a second deputy president and two additional deputy secretaries-general would, if they are adopted, open up fresh and dramatic possibilities for the last-minute reconfiguration of slates.
Meanwhile, the current quasi-slates in circulation are curiously malformed. The candidates touted for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s team demonstrate a fairly single-minded pursuit of delegate numbers.
Mpumalanga chairman David Mabuza has been widely nominated for deputy president by branches aligned to Dlamini-Zuma, but Mabuza has remained carefully noncommittal. He may ultimately appear on Ramaphosa’s slate or as deputy president on a “unity” slate.
Ramaphosa’s ostensible team includes Mantashe, Paul Mashatile and Naledi Pandor (or perhaps, some insiders sigh, Lindiwe Sisulu after all). This team will secure support most reliably in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng, where the deputy president already has a decisive advantage, but it will not necessarily deliver the overall delegate numbers needed.
As Gauteng chairman, Mashatile’s enigmatic attitude towards his proposed election as treasurer-general has not been satisfactorily explained. He has been actively negotiating with proponents of “unity”, so creating the impression that he might be willing to cut a last-minute deal. He is influential, and just young enough to plan ahead for 2022 or even 2027.
Those who remain sceptical about Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign — and especially about her ability to run a presidential campaign in 2019 while carrying the Zuma name and legacy — are running out of time.
Current treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize has been running a quiet unity campaign since early in the year. Given the significant overlap between his support base and Dlamini-Zuma’s, the two cannot both sensibly run in the ANC’s elections. An apparent lack of enthusiasm for his nomination in the branches now creates a dilemma for his camp. He can only get onto the ballot paper if Jacob Zuma pulls the rug from under Dlamini-Zuma and switches his endorsement to Mkhize. But this would deepen suspicion that she was a stalking horse all along, and would probably generate resentment towards Zuma and Mkhize alike.
Zuma probably has some final gambits to play, but they are all potentially counterproductive. A long-awaited smear campaign linking Ramaphosa to international capital has not yet materialised.
• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town