South Africa: Who will stand up to challenge Cyril Ramaphosa in the ANC this year?

By Carien du Plessis

Posted on Wednesday, 19 January 2022 14:06
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on a state visit to Ivory Coast
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire December 3, 2021. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

At the end of this year, the governing African National Congress (ANC) is due to go into an elective conference to choose new leaders - and there are indications that President Cyril Ramaphosa's second-term bid could face opposition.

Former President Jacob Zuma still has considerable support in the party, and although he is unlikely to run for a third term as party president, he is the figurehead for a ‘Radical Economic Transformation (RET)’ group campaigning to oust Ramaphosa.

They are accusing him of neglecting to implement party decisions, such as changing the constitution to enable the expropriation of land without compensation – this was not passed, as opposition parties did not support it in parliament– and the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank.

A number in this lobby, including suspended ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, are also facing corruption charges and accuse Ramaphosa of targeting them.

The lobby’s candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, a minister and African Union chairperson from 2012 to 2017, narrowly lost to Ramaphosa in 2017 after David Mabuza lobbied his support bloc to vote for Ramaphosa at the last minute. Mabuza subsequently became deputy president with support from the latter.

The RET forces are, however, not as well-organised as they were five years ago. This is partly due to Covid-19 lockdowns and the November local government elections, which made an internal party campaign difficult. The RET also no longer has its hands on the levers of state power and resources.

Open campaigning for positions is frowned upon in the ANC, and it is unlikely that anyone would openly express their ambitions before December, when the party’s elective conference will take place.

Lindiwe Sisulu

Lobbyists have admitted, in private conversations, that they have been struggling to find a suitable candidate for their campaign.

This was despite efforts by tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu, in the past couple of years, to become the RET’s flag-bearer. She had been aligning herself with the grouping by attending events alongside their allies in the ANC Women’s League and also by showing up at Zuma’s rural home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, alongside a crowd of supporters ahead of his imprisonment in July.

Zuma was sent to prison after refusing to heed a constitutional court order to testify before the ‘state capture’ inquiry, which dealt with large-scale state corruption under his watch. Zuma was president from 2009 to 2018, when he was fired by the party, then led by Ramaphosa. His imprisonment sparked a spate of violent riots, arson and looting that followed, which saw 360 people killed and billions of rands worth of damage to shopping centres, warehouses and other buildings – and to the economy.

Sisulu only attracted serious consideration earlier this month when an opinion piece appeared under her name. It made the case for a decolonial constitution and included a scathing attack on black judges.

Chief justice Raymond Zondo, who also chaired the four-year-long state capture inquiry, hit back in a press conference saying her attack was “rich in insult, but very poor in substantiation and in any analysis“. The attack came a couple of days after Zondo handed over the first part of the inquiry’s report to Ramaphosa on 4 January.

In 2017, Sisulu also made a bid for the presidency, but when it appeared that she did not have enough support, she agreed to run as deputy president with Ramaphosa. She lost out to Mabuza in what could be construed as a betrayal of sorts.

She stands head and shoulders above us, not just in the ANC, but also in the government.

Sisulu, a long-serving member of parliament and minister, is well-regarded in the party and comes from a family with deep roots in the ANC. Her parents were struggle stalwarts. Walter and Albertina Sisulu both worked closely with Nelson Mandela, and she was an intelligence operative for the ANC’s military wing during the struggle. Still, many regard her as a light-weight candidate for the presidency because she lacks a strong constituency.

Nevertheless, she is not without high-level support in the ANC. Tony Yengeni, her long-time ally and ANC national executive committee member, leapt to her defence on television following Zondo’s response. Yengeni, who served a few months in prison in 2006 due to fraud related to his position as parliamentary defence committee chair, is one of the key operators in the RET faction.

“She stands head and shoulders above us, not just in the ANC, but also in the government,” he told eNCA. “She has a good idea of the problems confronting our democratic state and what could be the solutions to these problems.”

Ace Magashule

The suspended ANC secretary general spent more than two decades building a power base in the Free State Province, where he led the party before becoming provincial premier. He never finished his second term as he was elected ANC secretary general in 2017 – a full-time position based at the party’s Luthuli House headquarters in Johannesburg.

Last year, Magashule was suspended from the party because he refused to heed a resolution to step down after being charged with corruption in late 2020. This was in relation to a 2014 asbestos eradication tender worth R255m ($16m), signed under his watch.

The state capture inquiry’s report found that Blackhead Consulting, which received the 2014 tender to audit the number of houses with asbestos roofs – considered to be a health hazard – paid millions of rand to the ANC between 2013 to 2018.

We have lost elections… If you lose power, it means you have lost power. If you are not in charge of [the] government it means we are not in charge and we have lost power.

The commission cited this as an example ‘to sound the alarm’ around party political funding in the country.

Magashule has been banned from appearing on party political platforms but has been fighting in the courts to get his corruption case dropped. He recently used the funerals of two ANC leaders to hit back at the party.

He said “ANC structures are in a poor state” – something that the secretary general’s office oversees. Magashule also attacked party leaders for trying to downplay the ANC’s loss of support in November’s local government elections after it dropped to less than 50% for the first time. Ramaphosa’s critics have cited poor election performance as one of the issues that should see him step down.

“We have lost elections,” he said. “If you lose power, it means you have lost power. If you are not in charge of [the] government it means we are not in charge and we have lost power.” Coalition governments have seen the ANC ousted from all the metros in the populous economic hub of Gauteng.

Magashule has also shown support for Zuma on different platforms, ahead of his court cases, and also before his incarceration at Nkandla. Still, despite Magashule’s support base in the Free State, he lacks the wider appeal that someone like Zuma has.

Duduzane Zuma

With his charm and good looks, the former president’s playboy son bowled over a group of opposition Democratic Alliance protesters in front of a court where he had appeared on a homicide charge in 2018. The charge was linked to an incident, four years before, where he crashed his Porsche into a taxi and killed a man.

Duduzane Zuma styles himself as a businessman and has benefitted from his father’s close relationship with the Gupta brothers – which has been described in the state capture report as central to much of the corruption that happened under Zuma’s watch.

Duduzane Zuma ostensibly kicked off his bid for the party’s presidency by becoming chairperson of an ANC branch in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal in December. “I’m feeling very positive,” he told TimesLive when asked about his presidential ambitions.

Despite his charm, Duduzane Zuma lacks his father’s charisma, political nous and oratory skills in fluent isiZulu. It is also not clear whether he has been an ANC member long enough to qualify to be a candidate.

Other dark horses

Former health minister Zweli Mkhize was hailed as a possible successor to Ramaphosa for the authoritative way in which he managed the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Barely a year later, however, he was reported to have been involved in an inflated communications tender that the health department awarded to a company – Digital Vibes – which was run by a close associate.

Mkhize’s allies are now said to be lobbying for him as a possible candidate for the RET faction. He gets on well with Zuma and Ramaphosa, and could be punted as a last-minute ‘unity’ candidate.

Gwede Mantashe, the minerals and energy minister as well ANC chairperson, was a close ally of Ramaphosa in the run-up to his election in 2017. He now appears to have broken ranks with the head of state around energy policy issues, such as the amount of electricity government would allow independent power producers to generate.

He has been punted by some as a possible presidential candidate, but it is more likely that he will either remain in his role or, at most, make a bid for the deputy presidency position. Much would also depend on whether he faces charges related to testimony before the state capture commission – that he received kickbacks from a security company, which received huge state tenders.

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