The ANC Women’s League has been accused of imposing Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on its members, instead of waiting for branches to decide.
This factor – plus shifting allegiances by the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and fears that ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize is making inroads in Dlamini-Zuma territories – has shaken what has been considered the strongest presidential campaign.
Insiders in the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) said a discussion on who President Jacob Zuma’s successor should be was sneaked on to the agenda of the body’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting two weeks ago because its president, Bathabile Dlamini, had become “desperate”.
The discussion triggered many questions on what criteria had been used to bring the discussion before the ANCWL’s uppermost structure between its national conferences.
“The reaction from some of the women at the meeting was, ‘let us discuss, let us debate’ at branch level before forcing a name down everyone’s throat, but that fell on deaf ears.
"They insisted that they wanted to pronounce,” said a person who attended the meeting.
“It is complete abuse of power. People are abusing power because they are desperate and ignore the fact that you have to build consensus in the ANC.
"It is a risk to pronounce [early and] it might just backfire at branch level,” she said.
Those opposed to the discussion suspected that “the pronouncement was rushed partly to counter [ANC chairperson] Baleka Mbete’s campaign swiftly and ensure that there is only one woman president in the minds of the structures of the ANC”.
“Clearly Baleka is in the race and they know that. That’s why Bathabile is desperate, but this can have unintended consequences in the lower structures. The NEC cannot just come and impose.
"They can’t come and pronounce without a mandate. It goes against everything the ANC stands for.
“You don’t win an election by being the first to pronounce on a name. Everyone is not ready for a name and the directive from national [leadership] to engage should have been heeded instead of relying on politics of slates.”
Another ANC insider said that the extended ANCWL NEC took place outside the norm as the top six and national working committee (NWC) had not yet met, which is usually a prerequisite.
ANCWL secretary-general Meokgo Matuba rejected as “lies” any notion that Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign is headed for a nose dive.
“They are just trying to weaken her campaign, which, in fact, is gaining momentum. We have a lot of support. Moving forward, there are programmes that she will be doing around the country.
“In the meantime, we are waiting for the ANC process to be opened. Our campaign is still strong. The only thing we haven’t done is make posters like other lobbyists have done for their candidates.”
The women’s league was “working with people whom we think matter most in the organisation and in society” to ensure that her campaign is a success.
Once campaigning was in full steam after the ANC top six officials’ processes opened, South Africans would see that the women really meant business, she said.
Matuba said the ANCWL’s “decisions are supported by many, even outside the ANC. Women in the ANC don’t have a problem in [any of] the nine provinces.”
She said this was partly evidenced during the league’s build-up programmes ahead of the pronouncements.
Out of the nine provincial structures represented at the extended NWC two weeks ago, “not a single person voiced a different view and everyone was on the same page”.
She said that, despite the unfortunate criticism from those who accuse Dlamini-Zuma of being her ex-husband’s project, her record speaks for itself and she should never be judged based on Zuma.
Mkhize’s movements in KwaZulu-Natal have also been closely monitored amid anxiety that he was working hard to position himself, particularly in that province.
The threat of Mkhize eroding Dlamini-Zuma’s support in the province, which is a home base for both of them, has been mentioned among the reasons why Zuma had arrived unannounced at the ANC’s provincial birthday rally last weekend in KwaDukuza.
A meeting of the masterminds behind Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign is expected to be held in the coming week, where a plan to neutralise Mkhize will also be hatched.
“We are going to have a meeting where we are going to deal with these things,” said a chief lobbyist, who identified Mkhize and former KwaZulu-Natal premier Senzo Mchunu among the chief troublemakers.
“We know that he is doing that on the ground and he is working hard. That is why you saw Senzo speaking out recently and you see which side he is on. Obviously we are not expecting that KwaZulu-Natal will come united,” he said.
“But we will see as we engage at leadership level.”
Mkhize had previously featured on the Dlamini-Zuma slate, but is now associated with another challenger for the presidential seat, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
City Press understands divisions in the Dlamini-Zuma camp are deepening in the youth league.
Many of those who initially came out in support of her have not taken kindly to her reluctance to have either Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza or Free State premier Ace Magashule deputise her.
The brewing feud has seen the youth league opting to push for either Mabuza or Magashule as their preferred presidential candidate and toning down on talk of a woman president.
A senior leader in the Zuma camp said either Mabuza or Magashule would be nominated for the deputy president position, and if Dlamini-Zuma refused to cooperate, she would be on her own.
“If she does not want to work with them, then it is unfortunate. We will see how we deal with our things,” he said.
The youth league in KwaZulu-Natal was the first ANC structure to pronounce on Dlamini-Zuma, and its provincial secretary, Thanduxolo Sabelo, was mentioned as the chief campaigner.
Numerous sources in the province and the youth league national executive told City Press that Sabelo had clashed with the youth league top brass, including president Collin Maine, as a result of the league’s apparent U-turn on Dlamini-Zuma.
An ANC provincial leader said the youth league had been championing the Dlamini-Zuma campaign in KwaZulu-Natal, but the campaign was not gaining traction in the regions.
“Those youth league guys will go wherever there is money to be had and that is why they have been running around, making it sound as if most of the province supports her, but that is not the case.”
Both Sabelo and Maine have denied that they have fallen out, with Sabelo reiterating support for Dlamini-Zuma.
Maine added that when the youth league’s NWC sat tomorrow, a proposal would be made that the NEC sitting at the weekend be an extended one.
“We will take whatever decision is reached outside once the ANC gives the green light.
“As part of preparing ourselves for that eventuality, we will discuss names at that extended sitting and go from there,” Maine told City Press.