South Africa: New ANC rules raise bar for national leadership hopefuls

By Carien du Plessis

Posted on Friday, 15 July 2022 20:39
President Cyril Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses supporters of his ruling African National Congress (ANC) at an election victory rally in Johannesburg, South Africa, May 12, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

South Africa's governing African National Congress has raised the bar for those wanting to run for national leadership as the party is hoping to clean up the graft that has caused it to lose support in the polls.

The ANC has also for the first time explicitly outlawed any form of vote-buying, including the use of food or alcohol to curry favour, and called on prospective candidates to be transparent about their campaign finances for the first time.

The rules, set by the party’s national executive committee six months before the party’s elective conference, effectively bars the party’s suspended secretary general, Ace Magashule, from returning to office. He faces fraud and corruption charges in court with relation to an asbestos eradication tender while he was Free State premier, and has so far not succeeded in having these charges scrapped.

A number of other prospective leaders could find themselves disqualified, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, who wants a second term. His detractors last month alleged that he tried to cover up the theft of millions of dollars from his game farm. They also alleged that he committed a crime by keeping so much foreign currency in cash.

Ramaphosa has insisted that he has nothing to hide, and on Friday again promised to appear before the party’s integrity commission to respond to any questions the might have. They are yet to find a suitable date for the hearing.

Some high-ranking ANC leaders have been implicated in wrongdoing and unethical behaviour by the state capture commission, headed by chief justice Raymond Zondo.

The final report was released last month and the National Prosecuting Authority has already initiated prosecutions against some of those mentioned in the report, including Magashule.

Most are allies of former president Jacob Zuma and some, like Magashule, have accused Ramaphosa of using the fight against corruption as a pretext for ruling them out of the race.

Others who risk disqualification

Some of Ramaphosa’s allies could also be disqualified by the new rules should they be charged.

ANC chairperson and minerals and energy minister, Gwede Mantashe, who was one of Ramaphosa’s key allies in his rise to power, was also mentioned in Zondo’s report.

He has allegedly received kickbacks from former government contractors Bosasa Operations in the form of free security upgrades to his home.

The new election rules, set down by the party’s national executive committee at its meeting earlier this month, imposes for the first time strict criteria for prospective ANC leaders, ruling out from the contest anyone who has been “charged with unethical or immoral conduct, or any serious crime, or corruption”.

It defines a serious crime “as a crime that could result in a prison sentence of longer than 6 months”.

The rules are meant to guide the electoral committee, a newly-established structure headed by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, and meant to oversee the party’s electoral process.

Changing culture

The rules, which were sent to the party’s provincial secretaries on Monday 11 July, denote a changed culture in the former liberation movement, which has been slow to modernise in the 28 years that it has been in power.

Open campaigning and the expression of leadership ambitions were previously prohibited by the party, a leftover from its days when it was banned and had to operate in secret underground.

But earnest efforts at modernising started about four years ago, soon after Ramaphosa was accused of raising private funds to run his CR17 campaign to be elected party president in December 2017.

Leaked bank statements showed that he was funded by some big businesspeople with an interest in seeing Ramaphosa as president of the country.

His opponent, minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, relied on money raised by the camp of then president Jacob Zuma, whose administration, it has been alleged, was involved in a large-scale operation to siphon funds from government departments and entities.

Debates permitted

The new rules for the first time also allow for debates between candidates for the top six positions, something which brings the party in line with the rules of the liberal democratic system South Africa introduced after the end of the apartheid government in 1994.

Referring to campaigners for the party’s top six positions, the rules stipulate that they “may hold public meetings, interviews and debates” but for these it’s only allowed to incur costs for the venue, sound, and travel and accommodation for organisers and candidates.

“Modest refreshments, excluding alcohol and other psycho-active substances, may be served where necessary,” the rules state.

ANC structures are also allowed to host meetings where candidates can address members, on condition that they invite all the nominated candidates for that position, and that they are all given equal access.

The party also for the first time lays down rules on fundraising. While some in the party have been pushing for a complete ban on fundraising, the rules set by the party’s NEC merely state that candidates must “keep a clear record of all sources of donations in money or in kind, and all spending on their campaign”.

The different campaigns must also keep a full financial record and submit it to the electoral committee, which has the right to demand further details.


An ANC leader belonging to the faction of Ramaphosa’s detractors vowed that the report will be opposed, while some party members have privately been asking whether there would be anyone left to run for office if the rules are strictly applied.

A pushback against prohibiting criminally charged individuals from running for ANC positions already started earlier this year, when three provincial leaders from Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal who had been charged with serious crimes found a loophole that allowed them to run for office, even though they had been forced to step aside. That loophole has now been closed.

There have also been instances where criminally charged leaders have stepped aside from their positions and government jobs, only for their charges to be dropped years later.

“It will be contested,” the party leader said about the new election rules.

This is likely to happen at the ANC’s policy conference, set for the last weekend of July. Ramaphosa’s detractors had been calling for a national general council to be held in conjunction with the policy conference so that they could move a motion that would either weaken or unseat Ramaphosa.

Due to a funds shortage the policy conference is likely to be a hybrid one, with a reduced number of delegates attending in-person.

This reduces the opportunities for in-person lobbying or for motions to be moved from the floor, all of which work in favour of incumbent Ramaphosa.

The memo accompanying the rules also announced the date of the party’s year-end elective conference as being 16 to 20 December, although this hasn’t been publicly announced as yet.

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