Melanie Verwoerd

ANC election: it's a numbers game

2017-01-18 08:06

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As we entered 2017 the race for the presidency of the ANC (and almost certainly of the country) heated up dramatically.

Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma remain the two front runners, with Zweli Mkhize and Baleka Mbete hovering in the wings.  

Many analysts are already predicting a win for Dlamini-Zuma, largely based on her close ties to the current status quo. As with most things in politics it often boils down to the number of votes and although it is too early to make any accurate predictions, it is interesting to remind ourselves of the process and have a closer look at the numbers. 

I often encounter a lot of confusion about the ANC processes, which are very different from those of, for example the DA. The ANC has around 4000 branches throughout the country. An audit is conducted usually about six months prior to the national conference to determine the number of members in “good standing”. Depending on the outcome of the audit the total number of delegates to the conference is divided proportionally according to the number of members in each province. A certain allocation is also made to the Women’s League, Youth League and Veterans. 

At the conference delegates vote for the top six positions as well as for the additional 80 elected National Executive Committee members. Although voting takes place on an individual basis and is secret, the practice has been in recent years for provinces to support a certain “slate”. This means that provinces agree beforehand which group of candidates they want to support for the different positions and then expect their delegates to vote for this group of candidates.  

At Mangaung, for example, there was the Zuma slate, which included amongst others President Zuma, Baleka Mbete, Zweli Mkhize, Cyril Ramaphosa and Jessie Duarte. The opposing “pro-change slate” included Kgalema Mothlanthe, Paul Mashatile and Matthews Phosa.

We will have to wait till around June for accurate figures for the 54th annual conference which will be held in Gauteng from 16-20 December this year. However, the figures for the 2012 Mangaung conference are a useful guideline. 

During this conference, there were a total of 4500 delegates. The breakdown of delegates per province was as follows: KwaZulu-Natal 974, Eastern Cape 676, Limpopo 574, Gauteng 500, Mpumalanga 467, Free State 324, North West 234, Western Cape 178 and Northern Cape 178.  There were a further 180 delegates from the provinces, 82 from the NEC and 45 from the Women’s League, Youth League and Veterans respectively. 

Of course there have been many changes since Mangaung. Firstly, many who were previously on the Zuma slate are now opposing Zuma and his supporters. These would include Cyril Ramaphosa, Zweli Mkhize and Gwede Mantashe. Secondly, ANC membership numbers have declined dramatically as we gathered from the president’s fumbling announcement at the National General Council in 2015. At Mangaung the membership was just over 1.2 million compared to under 800 0000 in October 2015. Thirdly many provinces are in disarray at the moment with provincial executives not functioning properly. 

Despite the absence of any proper numbers at this stage it is interesting to ask what will happen if we were to hold the leadership race today – based on the Mangaung figures? 

We know that the Women’s League, Youth League and most probably Veterans will support Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. I think we can also fairly safely assume that both the delegates and additional provincial delegates from the Free State, North West and Mpumalanga will support her. If we use the Mangaung figures, this would add up to 1168 votes. The question is then whether the deeply divided KZN will give her their unanimous support. If so that would add another 974 votes giving her a total of 2142 votes. 

If Cyril Ramaphosa can get the support of all the other provinces, it would add up to 2114.  Note that this would require a move away from the Zuma camp by the Eastern Cape and Northern Cape, both of which supported him and the Zuma slate in 2012. But even in that scenario Ramaphosa would lose. However, if KZN splits and the Senzo Mchunu faction are able to secure half of the delegates and vote for Ramaphosa, it is a totally different ball game. This would mean that (on the Mangaung figures) 487 votes will go Ramaphosa’s way, which would mean victory. 

Of course if either Baleka Mbete or Zweli Mkhize decided to join the leadership race, they would split the votes, with Mbete most probably taking some of Dlamini-Zuma’s votes and Mkhize Ramaphosa’s. 

In any of these scenarios and based on previous figures, KZN and the Eastern Cape would be the kingmakers. So expect a lot more visits of the president and his deputy to these provinces in upcoming months. 

It is important to note that membership numbers are likely to rise dramatically over the next year as the national conference draws closer. This is nothing new and in the end the success of the individual provincial membership drives can dramatically impact on the outcome of the elections, e.g. before Mangaung the ANC in KZN signed up almost 100 000 new members between January and June of that year. (It is also worthwhile noting that KZN had almost tripled their membership from the Polokwane conference, whereas the ANC overall only doubled their membership). The Free State recruited almost 50 000 new members and Mpumalanga almost 40 000 over the same six month period. Compare that to the Western Cape which lost members. 

There is also much talk of a compromise list with Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma on a joint ticket together with some of the Premier League candidates. Of course the question then remains who would be willing to give up their aspirations for the top job and serve as the deputy? My guess is neither would be very keen.  

Whatever happens, one thing is certain: South Africans are in for an exciting and uncertain ride in 2017.

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    cyril ­ramaphosa  |  nkosazana ­dlamini zuma  |  election  |  anc

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