Who’s fooling who?

Mondli Makhanya, City Press editor in chief
Mondli Makhanya, City Press editor in chief

Spare a thought for the guys who work at the ANC’s national communications department. They have had their hands full trying to silence the loud succession debate going on in party ranks.

This week, they issued another exasperated statement from the national working committee (NWC) warning ANC members and structures to desist from talking about succession. It called on ANC structures “to refrain from pronouncing on names of comrades” to be elected to the national executive committee (NEC) and the top six. The statement went on to talk about “long-standing procedures of the ANC” that prescribe norms and guidelines for electing leaders that were still being developed by the NEC.

“The NWC directs members, leaders, structures and leagues of the ANC to desist from making any further pronouncement that either raises the name(s) of comrades for leadership or indicating their availability for the same. Doing so is in transgression of the decisions of the NEC,” the statement read.

It was a curious statement, given that those who had been pronouncing on the matter were among the most senior leaders of the ANC. These very same people were presumably in the room when the NWC discussed the issue. So, it begs the question: Who were they instructing to shut up?

Last week, President Jacob Zuma enthusiastically threw himself into the debate by pronouncing in favour of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and tacitly undermining his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa’s candidature. Zuma threw cold water on the notion that it was ANC tradition that the deputy president automatically ascends to the presidency.

“It’s not a policy, it’s not even like an accepted tradition as such,” he said, conveniently forgetting that it was this very argument that his supporters forcefully used to push him to the throne in 2007.

On Dlamini-Zuma he gushed that “she has grown in the struggle”, had extensive government experience and would do an excellent job if she were handed the baton.

Ramaphosa had already thrown his hat in the ring, having stated late last year that “it would be very humbling to get into a key position like that, to lead. I am available to stand.”

The ANC’s national chairperson, Baleka Mbete, told City Press last week that she was now ready to give back to the ANC that had “invested something in me” over the past 40 years.

Explaining her thought processes, she said: “For me, the question then became: What do I give back to the ANC, which has given me this honour?” Mbete added that “for as long as I am healthy and young, I am here – available to be at the service of the ANC and the people”.

A man who seems to have disregarded the Luthuli House statement as soon as he read it is ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe. Just a few days after the edict, Mantashe, who has been touted as a running mate to one or more of the candidates, rubbished the idea that he was not in the running himself.

“We’re not runners of a certain candidate, but leaders of the movement. We have a right to be candidates ourselves. We are not bag carriers of anyone,” Mantashe told an audience in his native Eastern Cape, where there is a strong lobby pressurising him to raise his hand.

Only treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize and deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte have kept silent. But don’t be surprised if Duarte pops up on ANN7 or The New Age one of these days yelling something about the succession race.

So, what does this tell us? Either that four members of the top six don’t agree with what is in the statement or that the rules do not apply to them. In which case they should have spelt it out and explained that only they are qualified to provide leadership on the subject.

The more pertinent conclusion to be drawn from this is that the whole silence thing is a folly. Campaigning for the 2017 national conference began as far back as December 2012 in the watering holes of Bloemfontein. That early campaigning may have been conducted in slurred conversations at the Cubanas and Capellos of this world, but even then the blurred eyes were firmly fixed on 2017.

Since then, campaign teams have been put together. These are not ramshackle, over-the-braai efforts. There is an actual infrastructure among those who have declared and those whose names are openly being bandied about. On these teams are ministers, provincial politicians, councillors and grass roots branch activists.

The teams have strategists for all manner of needs – from logistics to communications to finance to policy positions to swelling branches to gathering of political intelligence. Money is being raised and, if the numerous tales are to be believed, sacks of cash are being doled out. A full 11 months before the elective conference, people are either identifying themselves or are being identified as belonging to this or that camp. The horse has long bolted, jumped over the farm fence and is running fast across the countryside.

So, before the fine people in the Luthuli House communications department utter another word about the race not being open yet, they must hum the 1980s hit by R&B outfit One Way: Who’s fooling who?

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