Baleka Mbete (L) talks with ANC Treasury General Zweli Mkhize (R) at the party's policy conference on June 30, 2017, in Johannesburg. (AFP)
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The ANC leadership contest has taken
another strange twist with Dr. Zweli Mkhize emerging as a third frontrunner
barely two months before the conference is held in December.
It is not surprising that Mkhize, the ANC’s
treasurer-general, has become emboldened to state that he is available to lead
the party, despite earlier being openly associated with Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign,
which seeks to dismantle President Jacob Zuma’s legacy.
It has been my view earlier that the two
frontrunners in this campaign, Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, are
respectively weak candidates who seem unable to consolidate their positions. If
the two were able to do this successfully there would be no room for the third
candidate to emerge at this point, so close to the conference.
Some utterances that were attributed to
Mkhize also show that he does not see the two camps that exist as sufficiently
strong for him to join either before first attempting to challenge them by
proposing the third way.
Mkhize is reported to have stated that his
position as a candidate is neither for nor against Zuma’s preferred camp. Ramaphosa’s
candidature is based primarily on anti-Zuma sentiments while Dlamini-Zuma is
understood to be propelled by his allies.
Zuma has openly endorsed Dlamini-Zuma’s bid
for the party presidency. Ramaphosa’s camp, in turn, has attacked her, driving
the idea that her presidency will be an extension of the corruption and
maladministration that have characterised her ex-husband’s leadership.
These are the two camps that Mkhize has had
to choose between to guarantee his political survival. Earlier in the campaign,
he was closely associated with Ramaphosa’s camp although fell shy of making a clear
commitment. Mkhize can be non-committal and cryptic in his statements.
But his statement that he is available to
contest the party leadership in his own right and wishes not to be associated
with either camp is a clear indication that he believes he could make it by
distancing himself from what both camps stand for.
He wants to push a campaign that has no
reference point to Zuma. If it gains grounds, Mkhize’s campaign is potentially
He seeks to attract those who want to take
the party beyond the current impasse of pro- and anti-Zuma sentiments. From
this point of view, Mkhize would be an attractive candidate for anyone experiencing
For anyone who can’t stand Zuma or is tired
of making noise about him Mkhize is forging a political option. To those who
support Zuma yet find it uncomfortable to have to openly defend his
controversial decisions Mkhize is also extending a hand.
Zweli Mkhize is a leader who does not want
to waste time as to where he stands in relation to Zuma, yet he sufficiently
distances himself from the president and Ramaphosa at the same time. However, he
is willing to accept support from the moderates from both dominant camps.
By saying he is not anti-Zuma, Mkhize is nearly
attacking the anti-Zuma camp, particularly its exaggeration as to how different
they are from Jacob Zuma. By stating that he is not a Zuma compromise
candidate, he is hinting at credibility problems he sees in the Zuma factions.
The question is whether Mkhize can sustain
this middle ground position and unite the party. Well, that is a difficult task
given that the divisions within the ANC have intensified.
What Mkhize can achieve however is to cut
the lifeline of both pro-Zuma and anti-Zuma camps within the ANC by refusing to
endorse either. How to tell if Mkhize is not trying to negotiate a better
position from either camp by firstly challenging them and then accepting a deal
from either side?
He is also a politician; a profession of
highly talented people when it comes to hiding their intentions from the
people. Mkhize is testing the waters, and the situation seems to agree with
Dlamini-Zuma can be offered a face saving
deal to become deputy president under President Mkhize. I doubt Ramaphosa will
be a deal-taker in this regard, he seems more resolute to try to ascend to the
highest office. Being a deputy for the second time is just not going to work
- 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.
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