Nailbiting race between Ramaphosa and Mkhize for ANC top spot – Richard Calland

Two nominees have emerged for the top position of President of the ANC at Nasrec in Johannesburg where the party is electing its new leaders. They are President Cyril Ramaphosa and Zweli Mkhize. After a delay in balloting as the party struggled to complete the registration of more than 4,500 delegates, several candidates were nominated from the floor for what is now the top 7 of the ANC, with a new position of a second secretary-general. Prof Richard Calland, political analyst and law professor at the University of Cape Town, told BizNews that Ramaphosa and Mkize appear to be neck-and-neck in the race for President and that horse trading was taking place behind the scenes to persuade candidates not to split the votes of the Ramaphosa camp. He also gave a glimpse of what a Mkhize presidency could look like should he manage to pip Ramaphosa to the post. Calland says whoever wins: the ANC is tired and unable to grapple with the country’s challenges. – Linda van Tilburg

Huge amount of horse trading in both camps 

There’s been something of a mood swing. Whether the mood swing converts into a vote swing remains, of course, to be seen…. But the race is tighter than expected, and it’s a very fluid situation. The normal numbers game, a normal number crunching and logic of the number crunching doesn’t really apply as well as in previous conferences. That’s because of the fluidity and the fact that there is a huge amount of horsetrading going on behind the scenes. The biggest issue right now is whether the Ramaphosa camp can organise itself sufficiently so that it has only one of its candidates for each of the positions on its side of the ballot paper. As things stand, for three or four of the critical positions in the top seven of the ANC, there is a real potential for a divided vote which would allow RET candidates to win.

Ramaphosa camp has settled on a preferred candidate for some of the other top 7 positions

Well, I have been engaging with the Ramaphosa camp on this point in the last hour and the situation now is that the Ramaphosa campaign team has settled on their preferred candidate. So, for example, with that position you mentioned now, deputy president, their preferred candidate, their third nominee, I should say, is Oscar Mabuyane from the Eastern Cape. The reason that’s important is first, not to split the vote on that position, but second, to connect it to the top race for president. What it should do in that case is firm up the support of the Eastern Cape delegation in support of Ramaphosa for the top job. So, because of  the mood swing and the potential swing towards Zweli Mkhize in the sense that there’s a desire for change from the floor of this conference, I think the Ramaphosa camp is keen to pull out all of the stops to ensure that it’s not wasting votes. But every single position in that top seven is contested in a way that gives it the maximum opportunity for each position, but also for firming up the delegate numbers for that top position. 

Even if Ramaphosa wins, he could end up with a less friendly Top 7

Let’s take the chair position. There, the candidates are Gwede Mantashe, of course, David Masondo and Sam Mathabatha from Limpopo. Now, the Ramaphosa camp has now decided that they want Gwede Mantashe to be their chosen, anointed nominee for that position. As things stand, however, I have to tell you that David Masondo has not officially withdrawn and nor has Ronald Mamola officially withdrawn as a candidate for the deputy-presidency. So it’s a bit of a mess. The Ramaphosa camp is working extremely hard. They tell me they are attending to this issue, as they have to. If they don’t sort this out, then even if Ramaphosa wins the top position – and there’s a bit of a question mark about that, the race is tight now – even if he wins, he could end up with a top seven even less friendly to him than the poisoned chalice NEC that he inherited back five years ago at the last conference at Nasrec in 2017. 

Ramaphosa could have Mission Impossible if RET occupies many senior positions

What we’ve learnt from the last five years and certainly since he became president of the country and head of government, is that he tries to govern in a way that kind of compromises in relation to the issues at Luthuli House, the ANC. He tries to balance these issues. Well, that path will become even more of a Mission Impossible if things work out in the next 24 hours in the way they might, in which case he could have a top seven with a really unfriendly group of people on there. People like Mdumiseni Ntuli as Treasurer General, Nomvula Mokonyane as First Deputy Secretary General, Phumulo Masualle as Secretary-General and Paul Mashatile as deputy president. That sort of collection of M as I’m calling it now, the four Ms, five Ms essentially with Sam Mathabatha as chair, could be really difficult for him. So, that’s an important place to watch. The first prize, of course, tonight, if we get the votes counted and if the result is announced late tonight as I suspect – it will be the earliest we can hope for them – then Ramaphosa, yes, he could still sneak home, but it’s going to be tight. It feels like dĂ©ja vu. It feels like five years ago. 

What would happen if Mkhize wins? 

Well, look, I think that Zweli Mkhize himself should not be seen in black and white terms as an RET candidate, per se. But in order to have won this election, if that is what happens, then he will only have won because of the support of the RET faction, and inevitably, therefore he will be somewhat beholden towards them. Inevitably he is going to be nodding his head in the direction of the Zuma camp, for example. And whilst he himself has shown certain capabilities in the past, he was a reasonably effective minister of health, for example, during the Covid crisis until the Digital Vibes scandal bit him. It’s going to be very tricky to convince anyone, least of all the markets and the business community, that this is going to be a president of the ANC who will be market friendly and who will be able to confront the deep crisis that the country is facing, which is holding back any hope of sustainable growth. 

Zuma’s private prosecution of Ramaphosa failed as a political tactic and will fail in court

I think it had very little impact. It’s certainly not part of the other conversation in the corridors. I think it must be seen for what it was, which was a last ditch chance to try and unravel the Ramaphosa candidacy. There was zero chance for the conference to accept the notion that because he’s been charged with a private prosecution on the eve of the conference by Jacob Zuma, that would have constituted the grounds for him to step aside according to the rules of the ANC. So, I think it was laughed off, frankly, and it failed as a political tactic. And it will certainly fail in court because it is legally bogus. It is a completely invalid prosecution. It discloses no criminal offence, so it’s fatally flawed. 

Vote buying allegations have not been denied by ANC spokesperson 

In the press conference held by ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe, he was asked about this issue by a couple of journalists and he chose not to take the opportunity to deny that such things were happening. It was quite interesting. He thanked the journalists who were raising it. He said it was important that it was raised with him because if this information was coming to light through the media, then he wanted to know and the ANC leadership wanted to know about it. It is in many ways part and parcel, unfortunately, of recent national elective conferences that a certain amount of largesse passes hands, the wheels of negotiation are lubricated, let’s say, and that the camp that has the greatest resources often finds itself prevailing. 

A report of the ANC credentials committee show the party’s membership is down from 1.6 million in July 2020 to 691,391

Regardless of who wins, it’s just another step in the steady and irreversible decline of the ANC 

The ANC is in decline, in my opinion, on all fronts, by all metrics, and that’s just one of the organisation’s reports that reveals a substantial drop in membership numbers. There has to be concern for any political organisation that shows they’re not able to attract people who are willing to pay even a modest sum of money to be a member of the party. Of course, it reduces the footsoldiers available to the party to run its organisation machinery and then of course to fight campaigns for election. But I think what we’re seeing, regardless of who wins tonight, I think we are seeing yet another step in the steady and probably irreversible decline of the ANC. And I think this may well be the last ANC national conference which takes place during a five-year term of government in which the ANC has a majority

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