What's on the ANC’s 2021 political agenda

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What can we expect on the political front in the year ahead? Here are the issues that will most likely make headlines...

What can we expect on the political front in the year ahead? Here are the issues that will most likely make headlines...

Political activism took a knock in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the political horizon this year suggests a slight drift back to the usual state of affairs.

This year will most likely bring an all-out war for the soul of the governing ANC and that increasingly elusive “X” on the ballot from the registered municipal voters.

Of course, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has to give the country a return on investment and release the findings of the protracted, and occasionally petty, commission of inquiry into state capture.


The emergence of a new variant of the coronavirus Covid-19 has wreaked havoc with the political agenda, with the January 8 celebrations being the first casualty. 

The party has cancelled all events meant to coincide with the celebrations in order to prevent the spread of the virus. Now only the president will deliver the speech virtually on Friday, January 8.

It had been expected that the birthday celebrations would lay bare the divisions in the party, but that platform no longer exists. But the party is continuing with its national executive committee meeting that is normally held ahead of the celebrations.

The NEC meeting will concretise the January 08 statement that will be delivered virtually by the president. It was not clear whether the NEC meeting will have time to go into the substance of debates that divided the 85-person body in its last two meetings.

The current issue in dispute is whether party secretary general Ace Magashule should step aside from his position after he was indicted in court on corruption charges.


Magashule is expected back in the Bloemfontein Magistrates’ Court on February 19, which may well degenerate into another show of force against the pro-Ramaphosa faction in the ANC.

By that time, the ANC’s NEC will have met and probably reached consensus regarding Magashule’s fate. However, the boiling tensions generated by the issue suggest that it is highly unlikely to be resolved.

The Magashule faction has been warned against openly declaring a confrontation with Ramaphosa.

Yet there is no guarantee that they will heed this injunction. If they do not, the existing dissent in the party will most likely escalate dramatically.

ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule makes his first appearance on Friday at the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court on charges relating to the R255 million asbestos case in Free State. Picture: Rosetta Msimango

Magashule’s February court appearance will also provide clarity on the evidence that the National Prosecuting Authority intends to present there.

So far, and on the record, its so-called star witness against Magashule has been as shocked as all other South Africans by the revelations.

City Press reported last year that Magashule’s former personal assistant, Moroadi Cholota, initially learnt of her “state witness” status in the media, and was only officially informed of it by a Hawks official in the Free State afterwards.

Read | Ace Magashule saga: State witness bombshell

Furthermore, she had already absolved Magashule of any wrongdoing when she appeared before the Zondo state capture commission in December last year.


Two ANC provinces, North West and Mpumalanga, were barred from convening elective conferences this year due to Covid-19 national lockdown restrictions.

The latest word from Luthuli House is that, before the end of the first quarter of this year, all outstanding elective conferences must be concluded.

However, with the second wave of the virus impacting all activities, it is possible the party might change its timelines on conferences.

Understandably, the party would prefer preparations for this year’s local government elections not to be hindered by internal disputes, which are divisive and undermine its ability to gain optimal support on ballot papers.

The ANC in North West said in an internal memorandum last year that the provincial conference would be held in March.

Interim provincial committee coordinator Hlomani Chauke said branches had between this week and the second week of January to hold general meetings where nominations for the provincial conference would be processed.

A number of factional groupings have put forward the names of their preferred candidates for the provincial conference.

Household names like Chsuch as Finance MEC Motlalepula Rosho, former MP Nono Maloyi, Rustenburg mayor Mpho Khunou, former youth league deputy secretary Kenetswe Mosenogi, ANC MP Philly Mapulane and former premier Supra Mahumapelo seem to dominate.

In Mpumalanga, City Press has reported that Magashule appeared to be winning support.

However, it was not yet clear whether this meant that he and Deputy President David Mabuza had made peace after the fallout at the ANC’s Nasrec national conference in 2017, when Mabuza – who had all along advocated the unity card – tilted the support in Ramaphosa’s favour.

The ANC in Mpumalanga is divided into two factions, one led by Premier Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane and the other by provincial acting chairperson Mandla Ndlovu.

Both groups rallied behind Magashule when he made his first appearance on fraud, corruption and money laundering charges at the Bloemfontein Magistrates’ Court last month.

The position of provincial chairperson has been vacant since Mabuza became Ramaphosa’s second in command after the Nasrec conference.

The conference of the ANC Youth League, which is also scheduled for early next year, is likely to be split along the lines of divisions in the mother body.

The ANC Youth League’s conference will most likely be as rowdy as its previous ones Picture: Gallo images

As conferences held by the league go, it could be rowdy and chaotic, as the structure is always one of the most contested in the governing party.

A solidly elected leadership will have sway in the direction the ANC takes.


Consistent with the ANC’s historic preference for fighting its battles behind closed doors, many of Ramaphosa’s detractors in the party look to the mid-term review national general council (NGC) as the best time to voice their frustrations.

The pending motion of no confidence proposed by the opposition African Transformation Movement would probably provide the earliest opportunity to humiliate Ramaphosa in front of the ANC benches in Parliament. However, the more sober view favours the NGC approach.

The NEC announced that the council would be held virtually in May. Tactically, this means the local government elections could be used as a rallying point against any attempt by Ramaphosa’s opponents to push for his axing.

It would require the support of 50% plus one of the ANC provinces for the NGC to be turned into a special conference to consider the effectiveness of the party leadership. The ANC Youth League – which is currently on life support – and the ANC Women’s League also count as provinces.

The main criticism against Ramaphosa’s top six is that some of the 2017 national conference resolutions have either not been implemented or, at best, have been only half-heartedly enacted. This is one of the reasons that Magashule’s backers believe the step-aside resolution has been given unnecessary priority, compared with the others.

SA Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago has screamed “Barbarians at the gate!” when the resolution to nationalise the bank has been mentioned.

Ramaphosa has said that the implementation of that resolution would be too expensive. The resolution for land expropriation without compensation has also been going nowhere slowly.

Ditto the mooted state bank, with insiders claiming that opponents of the resolution regarding the SA Reserve Bank are frustrating the process.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni – who is also dragging himself to the finishing line – has frequently been at odds with ANC branch delegates. The buck will stop with Ramaphosa.


While it is unwise to read too much into the recent by-election results, as the voter turnout is always very different in national elections, it cannot be denied that the ANC remains a strong force.

The burden is on Ramaphosa’s shoulders to deliver “an overwhelming victory” for the party. Of course, given the circumstances, even a 51% victory could arguably be dubbed “overwhelming”, if one looks at voter turnout as the measure of support.

What is certain is that the ANC always has a captive following when South Africans go to the polls, partly because opposition parties have to some extent failed to appeal to the imaginations of undecided voters. The experiments of opposition coalitions outside the Western Cape have also failed spectacularly, further limiting options for undecided voters.

The 2021 municipal elections are unlikely to deliver any shock results for the ANC. The party will focus its fight on fully reclaiming Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay, Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg.

New parties will mushroom; older ones will strive to maintain their hold or cause an upset here and there. But the ANC will, by and large, probably limp to the 2024 general elections still in charge of most of the country.


Setumo Stone 

Political Journalist

+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

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