JOHANNESBURG — All eyes turn to Nasrec this weekend as the ANC delegates vote on its next leader. It’s been painted as a head-to-head contest between Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – one firmly in the reformist camp, the other a traditionalist ready to carry the Zuptoid flag. And while they jockey both for position, what knock on effect will this decision have on opposition parties, in particular the DA? Cape Messenger editor Donwald Pressly explores, painting one more favourable than the other – despite the DA saying the decision doesn’t matter. – Stuart Lowman
COMMENT: The Democratic Alliance says it doesn’t matter who is elected on the floor of the African National Congress conference, to be president of the governing party. That is because it is waiting in the wings to be the government of South Africa, and it believes it won’t be an ANC leader who will be president of South Africa after the national elections of 2019. Is this a false hope, or is there some currency in its own ambitions?
By Donwald Pressly*
What is not true is that it doesn’t matter who is elected on 20 December at Nasrec by the 5,500-odd ANC delegates. It is of crucial importance to the future of the Democratic Alliance – and indeed, other opposition parties – who emerges as ANC president.
If Cyril Ramaphosa is elected on Wednesday week, there is a good chance that he can resurrect the African National Congress. He could “self-correct” the movement, something it has been claiming it has been doing for some months. He has promised a truth-commission for captured private and public sector companies to come forward and confess their crimes. He has all but said that wrongdoers will be prosecuted if they have benefited irregularly from public money. One can’t be sure, but he is likely to whip Jacob Zuma out of the national presidency rather smartly. He may even have him prosecuted swiftly. But it depends on the deal that is struck on the floor.
If Ramaphosa is successful in cleaning up the ANC in the year or so ahead – parliamentary elections must be held about mid-year 2019 – he could pull off a 50 percent or more share of the vote for the ANC. That would mean that the DA would not be in the running, even to be a coalition partner.
If Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma emerges as ANC president, the picture for the DA would be very different. It is constant talk in the parliamentary corridors among DA Members of Parliament that this would be the best case scenario for the DA. These MPs demand that they are saying this off-the-record! She would simply be an electoral Godsend for the DA. The ANC would dive below 50 percent. If the Metsimaholo general municipal by-election is anything to go by, anything associated with the Zuptas – the Zumas and the Guptas and their associates – would plummet ANC support to below 40 percent (it was only 35 percent in Metsimaholo/Sasolburg).
If there is a unity agreement before December 20 and Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma both emerge in the top ANC leadership – together with a mixture of their supporters in the top six and the 80-member national executive committee – then the DA’s chances of electoral success are also promoted. The ANC will still have the stink of Zupta-like state capture hanging over it – and Ramaphosa would be held in check not to upset the Zupta applecart. But this scenario is not as optimistic for the DA as a Dlamini-Zuma outright victory would be to the opposition’s electoral fortunes.
If Ramaphosa loses outright, it is likely that his grouping – about half of the ANC – is likely to split away and form a new political party. That could be extremely messy. New parties find it hard to find traction within the short time-period available before a national election. But Cope did well in 2009 – having been formed only about a year earlier – and the Economic Freedom Fighters did well in its first national election in 2014. Both parties, however, were relatively small splinters from the ANC compared to what a Ramaphosa breakaway would mean.
If he went into opposition, the SA Communist Party would be likely to follow him. So, too, would those unions that have become disaffected from Cosatu. But Cosatu unions which have remained in the ANC alliance have come out in support of Ramaphosa in the presidential race in the ANC. So they are likely to regroup together with their old union friends. This would mean a new party of the Left is likely to emerge.
In 2009 Cope – the Congress of the People – became official opposition in five provinces. The DA slipped to just three provinces, although it remained official opposition at national level. If a new Left party behind Ramaphosa – and including Makhosi Khoza, Vytjie Mentor, Zwelinzima Vavi and Blade Nzimande – emerges, it is likely to snatch official opposition ranking away from the DA, not only nationally but probably in just all about the provinces outside of the Western Cape.
Even if political factors all turn in the favour of the DA – the ANC elects dodgy people to its leadership, it continues its campaign to extend state capture to the private sector and South Africa becomes an economic basket case – it is unlikely that a 25 percent party will grow sufficiently to govern on its own in 2019. Such meteoric electoral fortune, while not impossible, is unlikely. The best scenario for it is that it gets to 35 to 40 percent and then has to seek alliance partners to form a government. But that seems like a tall political order.
So oddly enough, the future of the Democratic Alliance as South Africa’s second biggest party, is likely to be determined next Wednesday on the floor of the ANC conference. It is a political trick over which party leader Mmusi Maimane has little control. His fate and the fate of his party lies in the hands of those 5 500 ANC delegates.
It is just one of those horrible – some would say delicious – ironies of politics.
- Donwald Pressly is editor of Cape Messenger.