Prof Lucky Mathebula – New in-ANC coalitions – the rise of stalwarts: innocent or malignant

In South Africa’s 2024 election aftermath, ANC veterans endorse a Ramaphosa second term, igniting succession debates. Ramaphosa faces internal opposition as factions vie for power. Thabo Mbeki’s resurgence signals a call for ANC renewal, emphasising democracy, economic growth, and global solidarity.

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By Dr FM Lucky Mathebula*

“It is certainly easy to be wise after the event, and yet this facile wisdom is sometimes illuminating; for life, after all, is a game of blindman’s buff or a horse race in which some dark horse is always the winner”, writes Arnold Toynbee in his 1934 rendition on the aftermath of the Versailles Treaty. The rise of the stalwarts in the last phases of the 2024 election campaign poses a question: ‘To what end is the embrace of a Ramaphosa second term by the ANC veterans and stalwarts complex’? Will a dark horse emerge as the winner, or will the race be dominated by proxies of the main racing horses? 

Following the announcement of the election results shortly after May 29, South Africa will be thrust into a fierce in-ANC succession battle. As history has shown, mainstream ANC politics between 30th  May 2024 and 16th December 2027 will revolve around who succeeds Ramaphosa as ANC President. Regardless of the election outcome, forming a coalition or national unity government will significantly influence RSA’s trajectory. The economic establishment has already signalled its determination not to be sidelined in governance decisions, characterizing any coalition between the ANC and ‘non-establishment’ endorsed parties as a ‘populist coalition’ or ‘vulture state scenario’.

From the 30th of May, President Ramaphosa will enter the politically weakest phase of his presidency. As he embarks on his terminal term and announces his seventh administration Cabinet, he will face a barrage of in-ANC opposition. New in-ANC coalitions and factions will emerge, potentially altering the political landscape. In the race towards the 2027 ANC National Conference, President Ramaphosa’s political future hangs in the balance, a fate that Nelson Mandela was spared. 

The re-entry of the Thabo Mbeki complex into mainstream in-ANC politics, marked by the endorsement of a Ramaphosa second term, is not a mere political move. It is a strategic step towards renewing the ANC’s playbook for the post-Ramaphosa era. The MK Party dynamic, which has divided the ANC into the ‘nine-wasted years faction’ and ‘undefined others’, has left a void that could potentially be filled by ANC Deputy President Paul Mashatile, if he can navigate the treacherous waters of in-ANC politics before December 16, 2027. 

Many in the ANC, especially the renewalists, eagerly anticipate a further escalation of the succession battle, a sure strategic distraction for the not-so-advanced cadres, confident in their ability to win the hegemonic war on the control of the ANC, primarily as the liberation movement and then as a political party. Amongst these in-ANC coalitions, the prevailing belief is that only the loss of state power at the hands of a post-Mbeki-as-President leadership or prolonged in-ANC factional battles could halt their momentum to reclaim hegemonic control of the ANC. The prize is the restoration of the pre-Polokwane dignity and return to the first ‘productive fifteen years’ and continuing with the programme.

Renewalists have, to date, won significant battles to ensure that a centre, or locus of power, is established. The power of ANC branches as determiners of its direction has been progressively shrunk by deliberate and coincidental malfeasance. The ‘members of members’ and ‘buying of conference delegates at all levels’ practice has gradually liquidated the credibility of conference outcomes. The several court rulings on the credentials of ANC conferences have made ANC delegates suspect of being left with the power to determine who becomes its President.

An intergenerational plan led by a sophisticated cohort of stalwarts is threading a return to the ANC, whose ‘primary task is the mobilisation of all the classes and strata that objectively stand to benefit from the cause of social change’. The renewalist movement has been able to temper how the list of candidates to Parliament is finalised. A hybrid system where branches were afforded the gross listing role and ‘an electoral college working on a strict criterion, integrated with the member integrity management system and accreditation from the OR Political School became authoritative in who ultimately carries the reputation of the ANC as a public representative.

At the end of conferences which have involved various breeds of delegates and members and which have ended in a knock-out blow, the illusion of omnipotence is probably stronger than in any other social situation, for, at such a moment, there is, after all, an unusual concentration of in-ANC power. One of two groups of belligerent branches would have just been beaten and finds itself constrained, for the moment, to conform passively to the will of the victorious faction. At the same time, the general will is given to a few dominant personalities within these factions, as we have seen over the last three decades. 

The history of the past three decades gives prominent, if not pre-eminent, attention to the emergence of a leader of society brigade that brings together several generations of the ANC whose membership is defined by their acceptance of specific rules which enable them to hold together. As a convergence of interests drawn to each other by the pursuit of preserving an enduring ANC heritage, this brigade has found in the nodes of stalwarts relics of past factions and generals that can become the framework or template to build from. With the rise of stalwarts and veterans, the ANC is in a position, in some respects after a self-imposed lull, to make sense of the Tintswalo-era experience and highlight, if not foreground, the cutting-edge issues it poses to its members.

The counter-revolutionary element within the ANC, which has spent much of the past fifteen years doing everything in its power to limit or truncate the creation of a National Democratic Society, is relentless in sowing seeds of despair about the liberation promise the ANC has painstakingly threaded into the Constitution of South Africa. The Constitution has become a legal framework to execute a National Democratic Revolution.

In his interaction with voters, President Mbeki, the foremost advocate of a renewalist ANC, does not leave any available opportunity to remind society, and ANC members in particular, that beyond the elections, the ANC should search for a reset to default settings button to renew itself. Since he entered into the campaign, Mbeki’s message has been consistent with what was discussed at the 50th ANC Conference, which incidentally defined his ANC Presidency. Mbeki’s condition for investing his retirement time and resources, which he has made a public undertaking that there should be a dialogue on the renewal of South Africa, is premised on the following pillars as the immediate tasks to reconnect with where the ANC might have veered off;

·    building and strengthening the ANC as a movement that organises and leads the people in social transformation.

·    deepening democracy and the culture of human rights and mobilising the people to actively change their lives for the better.

·      strengthening the hold of the democratic government on state power and transforming the state machinery to serve the cause of social change.

·   pursuing economic growth, development, and redistribution in such a way as to improve the people’s quality of life; and

·      working with progressive forces worldwide to promote and defend our transformation, advance Africa’s renaissance and build a new world order.

The above are as relevant today as in 1997 when Mbeki was elected President. The rise of stalwarts is not innocent. It echoes deeper and more concerned voices within the ANC for a well-considered renewal. As this blog has opined before,

“Therefore, the institutionalisation of the veterans league should be about tightening the screws of what makes up the template of our constitutional order. Internal to the ANC, veterans should be the ultimate think tanks to influence the liberation movement. They should seek to be modern grandparents by recording and writing about their experiences.

The most significant contribution elders can make in any society is to die as their past selves and be born again as the future they can never be part of. This will require a suicidal relationship with the urge to dominate the present, save for monitoring the liberation promise template. A democracy’s childhood ends when its elders become its unencumbered heritage”.


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*A Harvard Senior Executive Programme Alumni who holds a Doctor of Administration degree from Pretoria University.

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