ANC: A motley crew takes power

2017-12-24 06:05
The newly elected ANC president, Cyril Ramaphosa takes a selfie with party member Pule Mabe and the outgoing president Jacob Zuma at the ANC's elective conference in Johannesburg. (Themba Hadebe, AP)

The newly elected ANC president, Cyril Ramaphosa takes a selfie with party member Pule Mabe and the outgoing president Jacob Zuma at the ANC's elective conference in Johannesburg. (Themba Hadebe, AP)

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Ramaphosa will be required to renew and unite the party while appeasing the corruption beast in the belly, writes Susan Booysen

As the Zuma era nominally came to an end this week, new centres of power emerged and old centres dug in.

A transition from a Jacob Zuma to a Cyril Ramaphosa era began, but the new order was being forged under conditions of a forced union of antagonistic ANC factions as the outcome of the party’s conference spelt compromise and caution.

Despite Ramaphosa’s victory, the two intra-ANC power centres of the Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (read Zuma) factions remained balanced and were still at war. Yet the contest had switched to the new terrain of conquering the other in the name of unity and by means of a stalemate.

Ahead of the conference, Ramaphosa promised to root out corruption and end state capture.

But, upon taking over the reins, he received an added mandate to maintain ANC unity by strategically embracing those he targeted during his anticorruption campaign.

Now he is required to renew and unite the party while appeasing the corruption beast in the belly.

The balance of power is delicate, and mistakes could mean failing to invent a new ANC.

A cacophony of contests between centres of power drives this effort to get South Africa to transition again; multiple pretty and ugly centres of power in the ANC, the state and civil society vie for space to direct this struggle.

The final centre is the ANC’s supporters and the electorate, who need to be persuaded that a sufficiently new ANC is in the making.

Ramaphosa faces the task of a lifetime – to create a credible ANC but retain unity. This will be a difficult but vital juggling act between fluid centres of power.

As part of the old but not yet eclipsed order, Zuma retains power in many state institutions and among the so-called Premier League provincial moguls, who this week leapt to the top of the ANC power pile.

It was not coincidental; it was the culmination of years of strategising to take over the ANC by the force of numbers and strategic positioning.

They missed out on victory at the ANC presidential level, but won three powerful positions in the top six – deputy president, secretary-general and deputy secretary-general (this also asserted control over ANC headquarters), thereby gaining power over the ANC organisationally and, potentially, in government.

This constrains Ramaphosa’s ANC presidential powers, along with his prospects of removing Zuma from the state presidency before the 2019 elections.

In addition, Ramaphosa does not have the hold over his fellow top sixers that had enabled Zuma to act without their consent.

Rather than simply the two conventional competing centres of power (state versus party), there is now a matrix of centres, and Ramaphosa will have to settle for gaining definitive power gradually, and accepting that subversion is also possible.

Simultaneously, the pull of Ramaphosa’s ANC presidential power is substantial and may convert many.

Even without being the state president, he can distribute much (legitimate) patronage, but the counterfoil of the Premier League plus Zuma’s state-institutional power is so strong that Ramaphosa has little guarantee against subversion.


The first vivid illustration of South Africa and the ANC’s new hypercomplex structure of political power came from the site of the conference this week. Stalemates and compromises showed contours of the competition between competing centres of power within the party.

Within hours of the announcement of the top six leadership results, Premier League players could issue the threat of a “revote” of the top six should they be forced to forfeit the newly acquired ANC secretary-general position that had gone to Free State Premier Ace Magashule.

There were 68 “missing votes” in each of the top six results; their inclusion could have cancelled out the 24-vote margin that sent Magashule to the top.

This was later proven not to be so. The Premier League as a centre of power was confirmed.

The earlier pact between new treasurer-general Paul Mashatile (Gauteng) and new deputy president David Mabuza (Mpumalanga) to get their provincial constituents to help vote the other into power further demonstrates the new dynamic.

The battle for control of the ANC’s 80-member national executive committee (NEC) was also where the intra-ANC war for positions was fought.

The NEC determines the power of the ANC president, and the factions went head-to-head.

Those loyal to Zuma won the battle for slate lists to be allowed into the voting booths. The results gave Ramaphosa a mixed bag NEC – a decade earlier, Zuma was able to count on an undiluted, virtually unanimous NEC.

In contrast, the ANC Women’s League and youth league neutralised themselves as power centres within the party.

They had been fostered to serve narrow Zumaist power projects, and the conference’s presidential election result meant they had lost their patron.

The women’s league imploded during the course of a media briefing.


The collective of this set of internal sites determines the power that Ramaphosa has to remove Zuma as the state president.

However, because there is no clear break with the Zuma order at this stage, Ramaphosa will have to negotiate his ANC power base continually. Compromises appear certain.

For example, while Zuma’s time as our president is running out, his Cabinet appointments remain in place.

Many of these ministers are powerful operatives who will most likely not allow a smooth transition away from their patron.

Circumspection will have to define Ramaphosa’s game as he prepares for the non-negotiable task of resurrecting state institutions, which will only be possible once he assumes the role of state president.

Many security, prosecutorial and procurement state institutions had been removed from public control during Zuma’s tenure, as capturist entities such as Zuma’s Gupta empire often ruled over both state and party.

All of these entities retain power and will continue to lure many of those with whom the new ANC president is now in a Faustian pact.

The small opening for Ramaphosa to appoint a new national director of public prosecutions looms large.

This party-state interface will determine whether a post-Zuma epoch can emerge while Zuma resides in Mahlamba Ndlopfu.

The Ramaphosa order will stand or fall on this front. He and “his” ANC will be judged in 2019 by an astute, cynical electorate – still South Africa’s ultimate centre of power.

They will check on the delivery triangle of cutting out corruption and capture (especially by Zuma), serving people and creating jobs.

Booysen is a professor in the Wits School of Governance and author of Dominance and Decline: The ANC in the Time of Zuma

Read more on:    anc  |  cyril ­ramaphosa  |  jacob zuma  |  david mabuza  |  ace magashule

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