Is a Mashatile presidency on the cards?

ANTHONY BUTLER: Mashatile more than a long shot for the ANC presidency

The treasurer-general is seen to be amenable to a coalition with the EFF, a vision among some of the party’s youth

First published in BusinessLive

17 NOVEMBER 2022

We are now less than a month away from the ANC’s elective conference. Three sets of considerations suggest the outcome of the top six leadership election remains remarkably open.

The first, and most significant, clue to potential surprises came in ANC treasurer-general Paul Mashatile’s interview with Business Day earlier this week (“Ramaphosa and Mkhize scandals are not good for the ANC, says Mashatile”, November 16).

Mashatile claimed malfeasance allegations against the two probable nominees for the presidency — incumbent Cyril Ramaphosa and former health minister Zweli Mkhize — represent a dire threat to the party in the 2024 national and provincial elections.

Allegations certainly continue to swirl around Ramaphosa regarding the Phala Phala game farm incident. While the two-week extension granted to the “independent panel” conducting an investigation on parliament’s behalf makes it unlikely that any devastating findings will be made before the conference, anxiety about the longer-term implications is playing on activists’ nerves.

The same may be true of the fallout from the Digital Vibes contract scandal. Although criminal charges do not appear imminent, the matter will continue to cast a shadow over Mkhize, and weaken his claims on the leadership of the ANC.

Unofficial slates of the top six candidates from the Ramaphosa camp have not commonly featured Mkhize — or even his nominal factional ally Mashatile. This has encouraged speculation that the two shunned aspirants might work together in an anti-Ramaphosa slate, although it has become impolite to describe such collaboration in those terms.

The implication of Mashatile’s remarks about the cloud of scandals might be that he, and not Mkhize, should be the senior partner — the appropriate presidential nominee — in such a partnership.

The second clue to potential events concerns the widespread belief among ANC activists that the movement will need, sooner rather than later, to enter into a coalition agreement with the EFF. Younger activists tend to view such a coalition favourably, or even keenly to hope for the reabsorption of the red berets into the mother body.

It is widely assumed that Mashatile is amenable to such a deal, and that Ramaphosa and Mkhize are less so — another reason, in their eyes, for the younger man’s elevation to the top job.

Third, one can imagine that Mashatile had a wry smile on his face when, as acting secretary-general, he assembled the catalogue of proposed constitutional amendments to be tabled at the movement’s elective conference in December. The list included the exclusion of candidates older than 65 years from competition for leadership positions.

There is no chance of such a proposal being adopted, but it is a marker of intent that should be taken seriously. After all, it suggests that Ramaphosa, who turned 70 this week, should not run for another term. It also indicates that 66-year-old Mkhize is over the hill. Of course, at 61 Mashatile is no spring chicken, but all wise people know youth is relative.

Keen-eyed observers will object that Ramaphosa and Mkhize are both certain to be nominated for the presidency by the provinces and leagues, whereas Mashatile enjoys open support only for the position of deputy president.

But in these uncertain times we should be alert to the possibility that there could be nominations from the floor of the conference in December. According to the electoral rules anyone with the support of 25% of the delegates is added to the ballot.

Because there is now a two-stage ballot, with the deputy president elected later than the president, Mkhize could even withdraw from the presidential contest, throwing his weight behind Mashatile. A newly elected president Mashatile could then support Mkhize’s nomination from the floor as his deputy.

The odds are very much against such a deal being successful. But we cannot exclude the possibility that there is a third serious challenger for the ANC presidency: Paul Shipokosa Mashatile.

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

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