What kind of ANC collective leadership does Ramaphosa want?

ANTHONY BUTLER: Expressions of support for Cyril Ramaphosa may or may not herald a second term

First published in BusinessLive


The run-up to the ANC elective conference in December isn’t following familiar plotlines. In the Thabo Mbeki period, we had endless scheming and backroom deals. In 2007, Jacob Zuma brought zero-sum slate politics to the ANC, his faction sweeping aside the entire Mbeki top six at Polokwane.

In 2012, Kgalema Motlanthe’s phantom pregnancy delivered Cyril Ramaphosa as a surprise baby deputy president. The 2017, Nasrec “billionrand election” elevated Ramaphosa to the presidency, but surrounded him with dubious characters such as secretary-general Ace Magashule and deputy president David Mabuza.

What can we expect this time? A once dominant KwaZulu-Natal will still have nearly 900 delegates, but Eastern Cape will have almost 700 and Limpopo more than 600. Premature ejaculations of support for Ramaphosa, from Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, promise a second term. Paul Mashatile’s campaign for deputy president has also overstimulated many provincial executive members.

However, the overall pattern of results is tantalisingly difficult to predict. KwaZulu-Natal remains a province apart. Ramaphosa’s surprisingly strong 2017 support in the province has evaporated, but Zweli Mkhize and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma have little hope of national success.

The ANC deputy presidency has received a flood of declarations from inappropriate suitors. Oscar Mabuyane, Lindiwe Sisulu and Ronald Lamola would be sent packing by any responsible parent. Treasurer-general Paul Mashatile is the frontrunner at this stage. However, unlike Mabuza in 2017, he does not control delegates Ramaphosa has not already banked.

Meanwhile, the president has been big on gender talk, but short on action. There are well-qualified female candidates for office: Thoko Didiza for deputy president; Gwen Ramokgopa for secretary-general; and Febe Potgieter-Gqubule or Zingiswa Losi for deputy secretary-general.

Finally, there is the problem of the EFF. This external faction of the ANC was always coming back to its beloved mother body. If the ANC falls below 50% in the 2024 national and provincial elections the EFF’s moment of maximum leverage will have arrived: jobs, blue light convoys, contracts and pseudo-socialism can all be realised together — if only the ANC will play ball.

EFF leader Julius Malema has already expressed a preference for Mashatile as ANC leader for just this reason. The two might as well stand up together in front of a large crowd, hold hands, and declare that if the ANC falls below 50% in 2024 they will remove Ramaphosa, form a coalition government and institute an epoch of justice and harmony for all.

Ramaphosa needs to have a reasonably coherent team behind him in Luthuli House, and this means making clear what exactly he wants, and why. Is Mabuyane really going to ally with Zweli Mkhize if he does not enjoy Ramaphosa’s support for the position of secretary-general? Can Mashatile actually form a common front with Mkhize if his immediate ambitions are thwarted? Obviously not. Does Gwede Mantashe really need to occupy the office of ANC chair, a senior position that could be promised to powerful ANC regional or provincial leaders who add something to Ramaphosa’s slate?

Meanwhile, Mashatile should be forced to clarify his position on future alliances with opposition parties, and be asked to take on a serious government role before running for the highest office in the land. Ramaphosa also needs to be clear if he really values gender balance in the leadership and to set out the role he sees for KwaZulu-Natal in the future of the ANC.

Does he believe the role of deputy president — one Mashatile has appropriated for himself — should instead go to a strong candidate from KwaZulu-Natal such as Thoko Didiza — who brings generational change and executive competence — or Dlamini-Zuma, who has unparallelled experience and has been a model of servant leadership after her 2017 defeat?

What remains absent at this stage is Ramaphosa’s voice, and any public expression of his own conception of what a coherent ANC top leadership might look like in his second term.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

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