Who will be Number 1?

2014-12-14 15:00

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As the party prepares for its midterm conference, Rapule Tabane looks at the pitfalls that lie ahead

On Thursday, the ANC announced it was closing shop for the year until January?5.

The party deserves a break after a year in which it lost more support, the Nkandla saga refused to go away and it has had to deal with a new, aggressive adversary in the form of the Economic Freedom Fighters.

The party’s national general council (NGC), set to take place in June, will offer it the opportunity to take stock of its performance over the past few years, try a few remedial steps and give an indication of the direction it’s headed in.

NGCs are no small matter, despite ANC officials’ penchant for downplaying their importance by saying they are “policy discussion forums” (the last two NGCs were decisive in charting new paths for the party). NGCs also play an important role for those with leadership aspirations to get a feel of the arena in which they seek to play.

Trouble in the ANC

The next NGC assumes more importance given the president’s confession that the ANC is in “trouble”. But this statement must be interpreted in the right context.

Zuma said this while trying to justify why the recently held ANC Youth League conference had been downgraded from an elective conference to a consultative one.

Many league members were unhappy about this. In detailing the factors that influenced the decision and in emphasising the crisis, he ended up saying the party was in trouble.

But Zuma can afford the luxury of being honest and open about issues because his word is taken at face value, unlike those of other officials whose every action is weighed up and assessed against their ambitions.

This explains why ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe was booed at the youth league conference. Many members who supported Pule Mabe for presidency believed Mantashe preferred Magasela Mzobe.

They were convinced it was Mantashe who made the recommendation for downgrading the conference after he realised Mabe was going to win.

Mantashe came into the top six in 2007 on a Zuma ticket and was re-elected in the same manner in 2012. But it’s unclear whether he still commands respect and popularity among Zuma’s followers. He survived an attempt by the youth league to stop him from returning for a second term in 2012. But having served two terms as secretary-general, ANC structures must decide in 2017 if they want to deploy him as deputy president, national chairperson or, most unlikely, president of the ANC.

Party deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa is another top-six leader who is unsure about his future in the party. He has taken like a duck to water in his responsibilities as the country’s deputy president, but he had little choice as Zuma fell ill soon after the two were sworn in and Ramaphosa had to take over his responsibilities.

Since then, Zuma has swamped him with more work. The businessman has brought his mediation skills to bear in all the interventions he’s been tasked with. But his silky manner has not delivered the desired outcomes in the ANC.

He faced a parliamentary revolt from MPs when he tried to cut a deal with opposition parties to reduce parliamentary disruptions. This was abandoned when he accused the DA of acting contrary to its spirit, but it was clear he was on the back foot in the party over this matter.

His intervention with deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte in matters relating to the turmoil in union federation Cosatu could not save it from meltdown, as metal workers’ union Numsa was expelled and eight affiliates decided to boycott central executive committee meetings.

Before the decisive Polokwane conference in 2007, the youth league argued very strongly the deputy president of the party should automatically succeed the president. In this context, Zuma did succeed Thabo Mbeki but the chain was broken when, two years back, Kgalema Motlanthe refused to be told to wait for Zuma to complete a second term.

Ramaphosa will be hoping he will not be asked to abandon his active business life to serve one term. But it looks far from obvious he will be the chosen one. ANC national chairperson and parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete has already raised her hand to be the party’s number one. Influential voices in the ANC have mentioned the name of African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as possibly the next president.

As the ANC prepares for a busy 2015 in which it will plan for the 2016 local government elections, it will do so with an unsettled leadership watching each other’s every move.

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