Ralph Mathekga

Mabuza's clever ploy to control the ANC

2017-12-04 08:48
David Mabuza (GCIS)

David Mabuza (GCIS)

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Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza is turning out to be the most powerful man at the forthcoming ANC elective conference.

Stubbornly insisting that he wants a "Unity" candidate, instead of opting for either of the two factions, DD "The Cat" Mabuza is yet to outline exactly what picture of unity he has in mind.

Before he started his unity antics, he was believed to be firmly placed in the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (NDZ) camp. Yet, he wasn't sure where on the top 6 list he would end up. It was rumoured then that NDZ's slate had Mabuza at No.2 as deputy president.

To make secure his position as deputy president, Mabuza partially withdrew support from NDZ and began talking to everyone who cared to listen about his newly discovered concept of unity.

At that time, a couple of months ago, speculations were rife that Mabuza could support Cyril Ramaphosa. I was never convinced of this idea because Ramaphosa's integrity ticket is an outright hostile environment for Mabuza. He would also become an overnight liability to Ramaphosa.

I believe NDZ's allies were concerned about Mabuza's crusade, hence the Free State and North West provinces assured him that he was settled on Dlamini-Zuma’s list as their No.2.

However, this seems not to have been enough for Mabuza, who is now escalating things further.

One would have thought that after securing a firm position in the NDZ camp, he would stop shopping for better options and openly commit to her campaign. I’m being unfair to Mr. Mabuza here; why stop at securing your own position on your preferred list if you could ask for more?

Realising that his position is secure on NDZ's list, Mabuza's ambition is now to ensure that he gets to decide who else is on that list. He has been openly sharing his views that whoever gets the support of Mpumalanga, will ultimately win the election. I agree with him. This places him in a position where he will not limit his demands to a better placement on NDZ's list – he now wants to decide the entire conference. It makes sense, at least from where Mabuza stands.

He can get away with this because both the frontrunners in this campaign do not have their own primary constituents within the ANC, and they are consequently weak. They both inherited a mandate and they have to live with the consequences of this, including being told who they should have in their camps by powerful players such as Mabuza.

Mabuza is reported to prefer the inclusion of Paul Mashatile on the NDZ list. This is a difficult demand to make because Gauteng ANC members will reject this attempt to divide the province that has long ago rejected Jacob Zuma. There has to be more to unity than merely including of Mashatile on NDZ's list. Mabuza is clearly not being forthcoming when presenting his picture of unity.

By trying to chop-and-mix NDZ's top 6 list, his trickery might bring about serious confusion for both her and Ramaphosa's supporters. This confusion could, in turn, bring about a strange mix of names on the top 6 that gets elected.

Instead of some clearly defined slates, Mabuza's attempt to reach out to the opposition camp by including Mashatile on the NDZ list could divide votes on the positions below deputy president all the way to the position of deputy secretary general.

Compromises can be made on the position below that of deputy president. The two positions that are difficult to compromise on are those of the president and deputy president. Knowing that he is secure as deputy president on NDZ's list, Mabuza is willing to gamble and cast wide open the other four positions on the list. This will certainly upset other premier league members, but they will have to tread carefully because the last thing anyone can do at this point is to push Mabuza too far.

Mabuza's game plan does not end with the elective conference, it goes further than the space I have for this article. In a nutshell, he is setting himself up to emerge as the most intriguing and influential politician in the country. If he can negotiate for some of his preferred people to remain in key positions within the party, then he will enjoy his deputy presidency because he will be controlling the party. 

For Mabuza, it is not just about being elected deputy president. It is about who is the party's secretary general, treasurer, chairperson, and deputy secretary general. These positions are useful in controlling the power levers within the party, while the deputy president and the president will be presumably in government.

A deputy president with allies in those key positions within the party will be more powerful than a president who does not have allies in those key positions. Mabuza could achieve this either as a deputy to Ramaphosa or NDZ. Either way, he is poised to have his conference. Were it a cake, he would eat it too.       

- 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. 

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Read more on:    david mabuza  |  mpumalanga  |  anc leadership race  |  anc votes
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