Even though the ANC’s national elective conference is still eight months away, and despite former president Thabo Mbeki’s warning last week for members to focus on serving communities rather than on who gets elected to be a leader, the picture across the provinces points to heavy contests taking place.
President Cyril Ramaphosa was in the Eastern Cape yesterday to meet with the extended provincial executive committee (PEC) in what the party said was a meeting to evaluate the outcome of the local elections last year, in which the party fared poorly.
However, the significance of the meetings is that branches and regions are starting a process of electing leaders who will ultimately choose its new leadership in December. Branch meetings have previously had to be stopped in the province after violence broke out. Ramaphosa was expected to address the closed meeting, which took place in Mthatha in the OR Tambo region, which is a stronghold of provincial chairperson Oscar Mabuyane, who is vying to hold on to his position amid a stiff challenge.
Those close to Ramaphosa are characterising the contest as being between those who support the process of renewal and those who are opposed to it.
But some of the splits relate to personalities in the provinces, rather than to differences in ideology or opinion about the national leadership. This holds true in provinces such as Gauteng, where the two strongest contenders – Panyaza Lesufi and Lebogang Maile – are expected to support the return of Ramaphosa for a second term as president.
Two possible challengers to Ramaphosa, former health minister Zweli Mkhize and Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, were seen together attending “an amakhosi and civil society engagement session” in Jozini in KwaZulu-Natal recently.
Supporters of Mkhize are hard at work in KwaZulu-Natal, where one of the largest, if not the largest, branch of the ANC this week pronounced its support for him.
Asked about the Digital Vibes scandal in which the Special Investigating Unit implicated Mkhize in personal protective equipment corruption, the branch leadership said that according to the country’s Constitution, any person was deemed innocent until proven guilty by a court of law.
“For now, there is no court that has pronounced on the guilt of Khabazela,” branch chairperson Mbongi Hlongwa said, referring to Mkhize by his ancestral name. “So, there is nothing that can stop him standing as one of the presidential candidates. And we are confident that at the end of the conference in December, it will be closed by Khabazela as the president of the ANC.”
City Press looks at the provincial dynamics so far.
For a while, current chairperson Stan Mathabatha looked certain to return as chairperson, but a freshly constituted lobby group is now starting to mount a challenge against him. Mathabatha’s faction has included in their group current VBS Mutual Bank accused Danny Msiza, which has alienated the group that now wants to challenge Mathabatha.
However, so far, all the groups in the province want Ramaphosa to return for a second term. Mathatbatha’s lobby is hoping that he gets to be appointed Limpopo chairperson at their conference, then nominated as national chairperson at the national conference in December.
Those likely to challenge Mathabatha include Dickson Masemola, Soviet Lekganyane, and Mopani ANC regional chairperson and mayor Pule Shayi.
Current chairperson and Premier David Makhura has made it clear he will not be running for another term as he aims for the national stage. His name has come up as a possibility for the secretary-general post, but he has said he has no interest in the position. His departure has revived an old rivalry between his deputy Lesufi and Maile, whose supporters dominate the current PEC.
The province is precariously close to being lost to the opposition, as the ANC won it by a marginal 50.19% in the 2019 elections. Both contenders might be aware that winning the provincial contest does not guarantee them the premier position, as was always the case in the past.
Maile and Lesufi are not known to have any deep ideological differences and would both endorse the return of Ramaphosa as president.
The party’s biggest province is torn between those who want Ramaphosa to remain president and those who are disappointed in him, but are yet to settle on an alternative candidate.
Mkhize is being positioned by his supporters as the man to represent the province in the ANC’s top six. But others in the province are backing Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu.
Mchunu narrowly lost out to Ace Magashule at the 2017 conference in Nasrec. Current provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli has also been hailed as ready to become the secretary-general of the party.
Mkhize’s backers have over the past month been trying to garner support for him. He got a shot in the arm this week when the biggest branch with up to 4 000 members in ward 1 in KwaXimba vowed to ensure his election as president in December.
The branch leadership said it was waiting for the ANC to issue guidelines to the nominations for the succession race. But, Hlongwa said, nothing stops them from meeting and engaging with each other. He said the branch agreed that Mkhize met the minimum leadership requirements as prescribed in the ANC’s Through the Eye of a Needle guiding document.
The provincial interim structure is in a rebuilding phase after the PEC was disbanded a year ago. The disbandment marked the end of years of control by Magashule and his allies, and saw the return of his foes, including Mxolisi Dukwana, who is the current convener of the interim leadership.
The province is also due to hold its conference next month, but Mbeki’s message to members last week was that it was more important to build the ANC and deliver services than to focus on who gets elected.
However, this is unlikely to prevent a sharpening of the knives as the provincial conference nears. The pro-Ramaphosa group is currently in control, but could still face a challenge at the conference.
Current chairperson Mabuyane is set to be challenged by the current treasurer of the PEC, Babalo Madikizela, who is also the MEC of public works and infrastructure.
Madikizela has a head start after getting support from four out of five regional executive committee meetings that elected their new leaders late last year and endorsed him to replace Mabuyane.
Another lobby within the province that is seen as a third option is that of former ANC provincial spokesperson Mlibo Qoboshiyane, who is the deputy Speaker in the Eastern Cape legislature. The provincial conference is expected to take place next month.
Mabuyane enjoys a lot of support in the OR Tambo region, which is the biggest in the province, and he also hopes to get a big chunk of support from his home region of Chris Hani, Sarah Baartman and Dr WB Rubusana to retain power.
Mabuyane told City Press that his support for Ramaphosa has resulted in him being targeted in smear campaigns by the grouping within the ANC known as the radical economic transformation (RET) faction. He said the group had infiltrated the province in a bid to divide it and paralyse it ahead of the December conference so that it does not go there as united as it was in Nasrec in 2017.
“The so-called RET faction that has been showing itself in different manifestations has made me its own project for the duration of the term,” he said.
Mpumalanga is busy with branch audits in preparation for the long-overdue elective conference. As soon as they reach the 70% threshold, the date for the conference will be determined.
At present, there are four contenders for the position of chairperson – acting chair Mandla Ndlovu, Premier Refilwe Mtshweni-Tsipane, Lucky Ndinisa and Peter Nyoni.
Ndlovu, who heads the Focus faction, is eventually more likely to go head-to-head with Ndinisa, who is the face of the Ngci faction, which has the backing of Deputy President David Mabuza. It is likely that all factions could consolidate and fight Ngci because they are weary of Mabuza’s stranglehold in the province.
NORTHERN CAPE and NORTH WEST
These provinces are yet to nail their colours to the mast, but it is expected Northern Cape ANC chairperson Zamani Saul will rally for a second term for Ramaphosa.
North West will be fiercely contested, as no group is currently dominant. Former chairperson and premier Supra Mahumapelo will be a handful for any ambitious contestants.