Legal challenges loom in ANC leadership race - analysts

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe (Amanda Khoza, News24, file)
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe (Amanda Khoza, News24, file)

Cape Town - The African National Congress's national elective conference could be the subject of various legal challenges, if the party's provincial problems are anything to go by, analysts say.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe announced two weeks ago that no regional and provincial congresses would be held after September 30, to allow the party's national conference to go ahead in December.

This would mean that certain provincial and regional executive committees, who were due to elect new leaders this year before the national conference, would have served beyond their term.

The problem has been exacerbated by two High Court challenges to provincial elective conferences that managed to beat the September 30 deadline, in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

While the freeze was made with practical intentions, aggrieved parties could use the legal implications to question the outcome of the national conference, analyst Mpumelelo Mkhabela told News24.

READ: ANC calls off scheduled post-NEC briefing

"What the secretary general was trying to say was to affirm the power of the branches to decide the outcome of the December conference, instead of allowing the conference to be dictated by power brokers in the regions and provinces," he said on Monday.

"The power the provincial and regional leaderships hold over branches [though] could easily manipulate branches that are aligned with them, to challenge the procedural legality of the conference in December.

"That possibility remains there, as long as there are people who feel aggrieved that their branches were not eligible to attend."

Some of the areas that are still due to hold provincial and regional conferences are the Free State, North West and Northern Cape.

ANC members preferring the courts

Analyst Ralph Mathekga said the recent court challenges in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal may spell trouble down the line.

"These PEC [challenges] have become just another level at which ANC members are expressing what they are likely to do going into the national conference," Mathekga told News24 on Monday.

"They are very tense, and I think even those remaining provinces who still have to hold provincial congresses will still be subjected to a court contestation.

"It would have been better if they simply cancelled them and focused on the branches."

WATCH: Violence erupts at ANC Eastern Cape conference

Provincial leaders in each province have to prepare around 4 000 ANC branches to select delegates who will represent them at the national conference in December.

Mathekga said the provincial leaders wouldn't have any kind of formal vote in the leadership race, so their potential "illegitimacy" wouldn't have a direct impact on the outcome of the national race.

However, if there was no valid PEC leader present at branch general meetings before that, aggrieved parties could use that as grounds to contest the election of their delegates.

Mkhabela said, however, that the party's national executive committee, as the highest decision-making body, could appoint interim leaders to solve the legal pitfalls of some of the provincial executives.

'Serious implications'

Either way, it seems inevitable that the ANC will see more court challenges to provincial, regional, and even the national, conferences in the next six months.

The ANC has had problems prior to national conferences before, but none with this dynamic, Mathekga said.

"This has serious implications. It could mean those who might feel they won't do well at the elective conference; they might use this PEC freeze to say: 'The branches were not in order.'

"Usually it has not been about this. But now, what we are seeing is that members are realising they can have more success going to court than to fight with each other.

It will thus become more tense closer to December, he said.

ANC national spokesperson Zizi Kodwa on Monday said there would be no media briefing following this weekend's national executive committee meeting.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told News24 he was currently attending to a family bereavement, and would be taking some time before speaking on the issue.

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