Ramaphosa campaign strengthens (2016)

Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign to secure the ANC presidency in December has moved into higher gear. He still faces major obstacles to success including an incumbent Zuma faction that has strong support in rural areas, the likelihood of electoral manipulation and the lack of a personal power base.

But a series of countervailing factors mean Ramaphosa’s challenge has become more than credible.

He may not be young, but he is modern. The KwaZulu-Natal block vote that cemented Jacob Zuma’s dominance has fractured. Ramaphosa’s candidacy has been energetically promoted in the province of his birth, Gauteng, and in Limpopo, where he has family roots.

The electoral arithmetic no longer clearly favours the “premier league” provinces — Mpumalanga, North West and Free State. Figures released at the ANC’s national general council in 2015 indicate the provinces have a membership of 230,000, barely more than the three Cape provinces, where there is strong anti-Zuma sentiment.

Two potentially Ramaphosa-leaning provinces, Gauteng and Limpopo, recorded more than 80,000 members each, while KwaZulu-Natal membership fell by almost half to 160,000.

These data are all highly questionable. Ultimate conference support will depend on the control (or otherwise) of vote buying and gatekeeping and the regulation of interference in branch decision-making.

Ramaphosa has, however, become a beneficiary of the politics of “hard factionalism”.

Where factions are hard, mutually exclusive slates of candidates face off in a winner-takes-all election. Politicians want to be on the winning side, but also to be “insiders” who benefit from their faction’s victory by getting access to resources, jobs and protection.

Where no such benefits are likely to accrue, political entrepreneurs have strong incentives to defect to an anti-incumbent faction. This will comprise a diversity of aggrieved activists who know they must stick together if they are to win.

The ANC’s nomination process similarly militates towards a two-faction race. Each province or league can nominate only one candidate for each position, and this means “compromise” or “third” candidates cannot get a foot in the door.

So, the ANC will probably have a two-horse and two-faction race at the end of the year.

And Ramaphosa has established himself as one of the horses.

The other horse, it seems, is likely to be AU Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Her rise was planned many moons ago, her sojourn at the AU since 2012 primarily a seniority-building exercise. While her candidacy for the ANC presidency no doubt seemed a good idea at the time, the ANC now has a real electoral battle on its hands.

Dlamini-Zuma will be 70 in April 2019, when the national and provincial elections roll round. Her speeches reduce younger audiences to despair. Whatever her underlying personal merits may be, she will exemplify nepotism, gerontocracy and deference to rural barons.

Naïve pro-Zuma politicians have precipitately locked Dlamini-Zuma’s candidacy into place. Feigning concern for gender equity, they have made imprudent commitments that cannot be easily withdrawn. This is promising news for Ramaphosa. He was always going to have difficulty prevailing over ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize in any contest.

Now, thanks to electoral factionalism in the ANC, he faces a far less capable opponent. There is every chance he will win.


• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town

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