Ralph Mathekga

Is the Premier League ditching Zuma?

2017-09-26 10:13
David Mabuza

David Mabuza

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The circumstances surrounding the ANC leadership contest are changing so rapidly that there is no strategy that will easily adapt to such rapid change.

The new reality is that Cosatu is emboldened to take the ANC head on, insisting that President Jacob Zuma steps down. The federation is staging a march against state capture this Wednesday. In simple language, Cosatu is marching against Zuma.

This is taking place amidst a reported breakdown of trust in the so-called Premier League, an alliance made up of the premiers of the Free State, Mpumalanga and Northwest provinces.

It has been reported that Free State Premier Ace Magashule might not support Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (NDZ) in her bid to lead the ANC. Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza is also said to be considering a way out of the league. Both Magashule and Mabuza are reported to be seeking a unifying candidate.

Electing a unifying candidate is simply a way of finding a middle ground between the two frontrunners, namely Cyril Ramaphosa and NDZ.

A unifying candidate could be found either by agreeing to a list of top six leaders representing the two factions within the party; or by way of identifying someone who could stand right in the middle of the two leading candidates.

This could turn out to be in the interest of the frontrunners, unless one of them rejects this option and insists on contesting the leadership position openly instead of agreeing to an arrangement that would avoid a nasty contest.

There is no doubt that there is an element of self-interest among Zuma’s allies, ie. the Premier League, who are now reported to be seeking a compromise solution.

Compromises are a way to come up with an arrangement that would not produce an outright loser. This means that even the staunchest Zuma supporter would have to come to the conclusion that they are no longer fully in control of the process leading up to the elective conference, hence they need to guard against an outright loss by agreeing to a compromise beforehand.

While Mr. Zuma has been pulling all stunts to guarantee victory for NDZ, ANC members have also perfected the art of frustrating Zuma, by contesting some of his manoeuvres in the courts, as is the case with KwaZulu-Natal’s nullified provincial leadership.

Zuma’s battles are too many and this is beginning to weigh on his supporters to a point where they are seeing his vulnerability. This is why they are beginning to bargain hard and willing to consider a unity candidate, as long as that gives them a central role.

It’s too early for anyone to pop the champagne and celebrate the demise of the Premier League. What could be happening within the Premier League could simply be attempts to bargain with Zuma by exploiting his exposure and weaknesses as the conference nears. 

It is not only Premier League members who are seeking to bargain hard for a favourable outcome from the leadership contest of the party.

Cosatu has also thrown in their voice and the federation is even taking this further by marching against Mr. Zuma and his administration this Wednesday.

Because the situation is becoming more uncertain – amidst Zuma’s increasing weakness – Cosatu also wants their candidate, Cyril Ramaphosa, to win the contests.

Of course, Cosatu has not openly stated conditions for their support of Mr. Ramaphosa. Perhaps niggling questions such as this will be answered once the leadership contest is over. Cosatu seems to believe however that the federation ought to have a bigger say in who becomes the leader of the ANC.

The ANC is so torn apart internally that allies such as Cosatu are seeing a realistic opportunity to feed off the remains by insisting on their leadership preferences for the party; even if that means marching openly against the sitting ANC president.

The developments surrounding the ANC’s elective conference in December are furthermore such that it could be anyone’s conference; even Cosatu has a shot at influencing the election.

The best way out of this is indeed for the ANC to seek a compromise before going into the conference. There is a clear shift towards a compromise. The only question for me is to what extent will that compromise reflect Zuma’s preferences?

As long as the Premier League are willing to think of their political existence beyond Zuma, they will be willing to consider a compromise that could save the party, as opposed to an arrangement that is essentially aimed at protecting Zuma’s political interests.   

- Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes. 

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:    ace magashule  |  david mabuza  |  anc leadership race  |  politics 2017  |  premier league  |  sa politics


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