By Professor Bheki Mngomezulu
This week Kgalema Motlanthe officially announced the list of contenders for the top six positions in the ANC. This is in preparation for the party’s elective conference, scheduled to take place on December 16 to 20 at Nasrec. He did this in a media briefing at Luthuli House, the ANC’s headquarters. Motlanthe made the announcement in his capacity as ANC electoral committee chairperson.
These results emanated from the calculation and consolidation of the nominations made by the ANC’s branches. Although many names had been mentioned as contenders for different positions, only those who met the threshold appeared on the list.
But while this announcement is reflective of the wishes of the ANC’s branches, the results raise a lot of questions. At the top of the list is: what do these nominations mean for the 2024 general election? Put differently, if the list remains as it is until the conference in December, and if those who lead the pack emerge victorious, will the ANC face its opponents at the ballot box with confidence? If not, what should the party do when it converges on Nasrec in December?
One major concern is the gender issue. Of the six positions, only one is contested by two women, Nomvula Mokonyane and Febe Potgieter. This is the position of deputy secretary-general, which was previously held by the late Jessie Duarte. There are two issues here. First, these two women are contesting the position of deputy secretary-general, not secretary-general. The second issue is that, as was the case in the previous leadership, there will be only one woman in the top six. What happened to the 50/50 gender representation which the ANC has been talking about all along?
Another observation is that each of the two presidential candidates (President Cyril Ramaphosa and Dr Zweli Mkhize) has a cloud hanging over his head. With the president, it is the Phala Phala scandal. In the case of Mkhize, it is the Digital Vibes saga. To be sure, neither of them has been formally charged. Therefore, the ANC’s step-aside rule does not apply to either of them.
But what will this do to the ANC in 2024, when its presidential candidate will lead the national election campaign with a cloud hanging over his head? If the National Prosecuting Authority were to lay formal charges against one or both of them before the 2024 general election, what would that mean for the ANC?
The absence of incumbent Deputy President David Mabuza from the ranks of the deputy president hopefuls has left many guessing. One commentator concluded that Mabuza had been “relegated to the dustbin of history”. I hold a different view. Mabuza understands the politics of this country very well, and he knows how to play his cards right. He may have lost the battle, but not the war. Until nominations from the floor are concluded during the conference, he remains in the race like all those aspiring for various positions. If Mabuza were to be nominated from the floor, what would that mean for Ramaphosa and Mkhize?
Another question is, given the huge support Paul Mashatile enjoys, what if someone at the conference proposes that he run for the presidency? If Mashatile were to face both Ramaphosa and Mkhize, who would win the day?
The national chairperson position being contested by Stanley Mathabatha, Gwede Mantashe and David Masondo does not seem to be associated with too much drama. If KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo support Mathabatha, and if they lobby other provinces, Mathabatha stands a better chance of winning. Mantashe has been there. Masondo has done a good job at the national level. Mathabatha has operated at the provincial level (Limpopo). Which of these politicians has the potential to prove himself? The answer to that question will give us clues as to who stands a chance. My view is that Mathabatha (with the support of KZN and other provinces, and not having operated at the national level) has the edge.
The secretary-general is the engine of any organisation. As such, the incumbent should be able to operate beyond factional politics. Mdumiseni Ntuli has played this role in KZN. In the past, he worked at Luthuli House. Despite not having received support from the KZN provincial executive committee, he still emerged with the highest number of votes. This says a lot about his credentials. Phumulo Masualle could be a contender. Fikile Mbalula changes his allegiances quickly. Can he be trusted in this position? I don’t think so. Currently, the ANC is experiencing financial challenges. Will Bejani Chauke, Pule Mabe or Mzwandile Masina be equal to the task? Only time will tell. With these dynamics in play, the ANC should be strategic at the conference and keep its eye on the bigger picture.
*Bheki Mngomezulu is Professor of Political Studies and International Relations at the University of the Western Cape