Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza has put a gun to the heads of the party’s presidential contenders and told them to embrace a unified slate or forget about the province’s kingmaker support base.
Now the two frontrunners – Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and former African Union Commission boss Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – have two weeks to abide by Mabuza’s demands or face losing the bulk of the province’s 736 delegates to the opposing side.
With the numbers virtually neck and neck after several provinces declared their preferences, it will be Mpumalanga – the second biggest and most unified delegation to attend conference – that will determine who comes out on top. Ultimately, it will be Mabuza, the man who has wielded enormous power as provincial chair for the past decade, who will decide.
Mabuza, who is a strong contender for the deputy presidency, told City Press in an interview after the provincial general council (PGC) meeting on Friday that Mpumalanga would use its kingmaker muscle to force the candidates to adopt a mixed, inclusive slate that accommodated different factions.
With both candidates knowing Mpumalanga’s strength, they will have to abide by its stance if they want to stand a chance.
“Where Mpumalanga goes, you will win,” Mabuza said.
The message the province will be sending to the camps is “pull in so-and-so, so that we can maximise unity”.
Fears of fallout
A bitter contest would be destructive as many ANC members were not ready to accept conference outcomes.
Mabuza cited the fallout from the Polokwane and Mangaung conferences, as well as the provincial conferences, as proof that the ANC was not ready for bitter contestation.
There should be a “mixed slate, so we can say there is a semblance of organisation”.
“The important thing now is the survival of the body of the ANC ... We are reminding the ANC of its values,” Mabuza said.
He said Mpumalanga wanted the ANC to rather focus on fixing its problems and continuing with its “strategic mission” of creating a democratic state and uplifting the masses instead of embarking on a “stampede for positions”.
He added that this “stampede” – going right from the top down to the local level – was caused by people seeing leadership as a path to privilege.
“Members of the ANC are being killed left, right and centre. That tells you that there is a stampede to lead,” he said.
The existence of seven presidential candidates in this year’s race was a symptom of the stampede, which was “confusing the membership” and fanning “disunity”.
"If you can master the shenanigans, you can lead"
Mabuza said the danger of a badly managed succession and free-for-all contestation was that it led to the rejection of outcomes by sore losers, manipulation of electoral contests by unscrupulous people who knew how to work the system, and the hijacking of state power by businesses.
“We are not a mature democracy – and even mature democracies make blunders,” he said.
“If you can master the shenanigans, you can lead.”
He cited the triumph of Donald Trump in having been elected US president as an example, saying of the American people: “They are crying every day.”
In a move that caused much confusion on Friday, the Mpumalanga PGC’s 223 branches wrote the word “Unity” in the position of president on the ballot paper, while 123 branches nominated Dlamini-Zuma and 117 opted for Ramaphosa.
The Unity vote came out tops for all the remaining five office bearers’ positions.
Mabuza’s home-ground nomination for deputy president got 185 against Unity’s 236 and Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s 49. Preferred candidates for the other positions were also beaten by the Unity vote.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe came in second to Unity for the chairpersonship, as did his deputy, Jessie Duarte, for her current position.
Gauteng chairperson Paul Mashatile came second to Unity in the treasurer-general slot.
Mabuza said the fact that even his own nomination was beaten by Unity showed the province’s resolve.
He told City Press that the fact that Mpumalanga had advocated for Unity rather than individual names put it in a strong position to negotiate with other provinces in good faith.
“We are the deciding factor here. As Mpumalanga, we stand a better chance to negotiate because we have not pronounced on anybody. The pressure is that the country is trying to push us to say something, but we are holding tight. The advantage of this is that we can persuade people.”
Mabuza warned contenders who want Mpumalanga’s support that “if you are a clever person, you must try to persuade the majority” – namely, the province’s Unity camp. He hinted that Dlamini-Zuma stood a better chance of negotiating because, unlike her rival, she had not made any pronouncement on her preferred running mates for the top posts.
“Obviously, leaders will be approached. However, the only leader who stands a chance to negotiate is Dlamini-Zuma. Ramaphosa has pronounced his preferred leadership, and that means we will find out from him if it is negotiable,” he said.
Mabuza added that Ramaphosa had blundered by pronouncing on his list before the branch general meetings as his own supporters had not followed his script in their nominations.
“It was his wish, in fact, and branches have not followed what he said. Branches think on their own. He should have allowed the process to go on,” said Mabuza.
"I cannot say no to the ANC"
While refusing to state which way he would lean in negotiations, Mabuza admitted that signs of the province leaning towards Dlamini-Zuma were “real”.
“After Unity, who is the next candidate? It is Dlamini-Zuma. We have a sizeable number of branches that have supported Dlamini-Zuma.
“You have also seen the nomination of Comrade Paul Mashatile [as treasurer-general] and Gwede Mantashe [as chairperson] … This is an indication that the branches are trying to get these comrades together,” he said.
Should the attempt to have an uncontested conference fail, Mpumalanga will be open to persuasion and use its strong bargaining power to choose leaders who will be best for the organisation, he said.
“Delegates will finally vote at the conference, and, if everything fails, they will choose a way that they think will better serve the ANC. The Mpumalanga position is unity. That means the province says unite, and we are prepared to be persuaded.
“We are not going to abstain from the conference”, he added.
Regarding the likelihood of clinching the deputy presidency of the party in two weeks’ time – and of the country in 18 months – Mabuza said he would be ready to take on any task the ANC assigned him.
“If they want me to be deputy president, I cannot say no to the ANC,” he said.
“Do I have the energy? I would say I still have a little bit.”
He would, however, not make his own position a “line item” at conference and would accept the outcome of the conference eventually, in line with the ANC’s tradition.
“If there is someone who can do it better, that’s fine ... I am not hard and fast about any positions.
“I am going there knowing that I am a nonentity in the movement. I cannot make myself an item,” he said.
On fears that the conference might collapse because of the intense infighting in provinces – something President Jacob Zuma has expressed concerns about – Mabuza said the outbreak of fights at some meetings and on the go were cause to worry about the “mood” of delegates going into the conference.
“If you have delegates who are in that mood, it is not a good state.”
The spate of ANC members taking party structures and each other to court also gave a worrying indication of the “mood”.
In the majority of areas where the party has already held PGC meetings, losing members have threatened to go to court to dispute the results.
“I am not sure what their mood is and what mood they are taking to the conference,” he said of those involved in battles. This was more reason a unified ticket was necessary.
He admitted that some delegates might go against the common directive.