South Africa: Ramaphosa rewards allies, fights dwindling ANC popularity ahead of 2024 polls

By Carien du Plessis
Posted on Tuesday, 18 October 2022 10:41

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in Cape Town, South Africa, September 29, 2022. REUTERS/Esa Alexander

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa's lobby group is the first to come up with a finalised list of running mates for the party's powerful top six positions, even though all the nominations by branches aren't in yet.

This list was produced almost two months ahead of the party’s December elective conference, and it capitalised on the camp’s strength of being united on who it wants for president – unlike the divided opposing camp.

But at the same time, Ramaphosa’s campaigners have risked alienating those who were left off the list.

Imposters

Party treasurer-general, Paul Mashatile, for example, was hoping to be nominated as deputy president by both camps, and he has used his powerful position as acting secretary-general to lobby for support.

Ramaphosa’s campaigners have also been accused of “imposing” candidates on branches since half of these have yet to meet to formally decide on who their members want to nominate as leaders.

Branch meetings have been slow due to the non-payment of staff members, technological glitches, and frequently scheduled power cuts.

Some in the party are even starting to contemplate the possibility of a postponement of the conference, which would be unprecedented in recent times.

Rewarding allies

Ramaphosa’s old ally, water and sanitation minister Senzo Mchunu, appears on the list as the lobby’s chosen candidate for deputy president. This move surprised some within the party as Mchunu’s name hasn’t thus far surfaced in campaigns, and also because the deputy president’s position is expected to be the most hotly contested.

Mchunu is, however, regarded as a faithful ally of Ramaphosa. In 2017 he was tasked with shoring up support for Ramaphosa in KwaZulu-Natal ahead of the party’s last conference. This took place at a time when then-president Jacob Zuma had most of the province under his control.

Mchunu ran on Ramaphosa’s ticket for the party’s powerful secretary-general position but lost out with just over a dozen votes to Ace Magashule, who has since been suspended due to corruption charges.

Campaigners for former KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary, Mdumiseni Ntuli, have indicated that this move made them feel snubbed, as Ntuli was hoping to crack the nod from the Ramaphosa camp for a position on his list, possibly secretary general.

Facing criticism

But instead, the camp has nominated Fikile Mbalula, a former ANC Youth League leader and transport minister.

As minister he has faced criticism that he is more bluster than action, but as the party’s chief organiser for over a decade, he has had numerous successes with filling stadiums.

He is also said to command some support in his home province of the Free State.

Magashule also hails from this province and has spent the past year and a half since his suspension building up his support base there.

Losing out

Apart from Mashatile, who has until recently had both supporters and detractors of Ramaphosa on his side, justice minister Ronald Lamola and human settlements minister Mmamoloko Kubayi’s names featured as possible contenders for that position on Ramaphosa’s ticket.

“Ronald and Paul were dropped because they are too ambitious,” a source in the Ramaphosa caucus said.

“They actually want to be president, not deputy president, and it would have been difficult for the president to trust them.”

Ntuli was hoping to crack the nod from the Ramaphosa camp.”

The ANC’s rapid drop in popularity has added extra pressure to the leadership race, as the 2024 elections might be the last one that the party wins outright. This means an opposition party candidate could occupy the country’s presidency by 2029.

Still in the running

One source close to Mashatile said he is still in the running for the deputy president’s position but it is up to the branches to nominate him.

He is now siding with the anti-Ramaphosa camp, which is as yet not united on who it wants to nominate as president.

…an opposition party candidate could occupy the country’s presidency by 2029.”

KwaZulu-Natal’s party leadership has expressed preference for former health minister Zweli Mkhize, whereas Zuma – a powerful figure in the province – has asked the anti-Ramphosa camp to support his former wife and cooperative governance minister, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

Dlamini Zuma lost out narrowly to Ramaphosa in 2017.

Watching nominations closely

Mashatile, as acting secretary-general, has been able to keep a close eye on what goes on in the branch nominations process, despite the appointment earlier this year of Gwen Ramokgopa, who has previously served in the Gauteng provincial government, to keep him in check.

Her appointment came after party deputy secretary Jessie Duarte was booked off on extended sick leave. She eventually died in July.

Ramaphosa’s campaigners remained concerned about Mashatile’s continued lobbying.

Slip-ups and awkward meetings

News24 reported that they tried to strip Mashatile of his role as party secretary-general, accusing him of slipping up on the party’s administration due to being overstretched.

A source with close knowledge of Mashatile said it was uncertain whether Mashatile and Ramaphosa could work together again after this meeting. “It might be awkward,” the insider said.

A campaigner for Lamola, 38, confirmed that he’s also still “very much” in the running since dropping off Ramaphosa’s list.

The former ANC Youth League leader is an advocate for getting younger leaders into the party’s leadership, and he was seen as a rising young star.

Lamola hails from Mpumalanga, which has dropped from being the second-biggest voting bloc in the party in 2017 to being the fifth-biggest this year.

This means that, even though Lamola has strong support in his home province, he still brings fewer votes to the Ramaphosa slate than someone like Mchunu, whose province has more than double the delegates of Mpumalanga.

One of Lamola’s campaigners says he’s still “very much” in the running, despite being rejected by Ramaphosa’s campaign caucus.

Other positions

Dlamini Zuma’s former chief of staff at the African Union and Luthuli House general manager Febe Potgieter-Gqubule is on Ramaphosa’s list as deputy secretary-general, a post unofficially reserved for a woman.

Ramokgopa has been nominated as treasurer-general in a nod to new party rules that there should be at least two women in the top six. Very few leaders have thus far raised their hands for this position.

The caucus wants party chairperson Gwede Mantashe, who is the minister of mineral resources and energy, to remain in this position.

In the past, aspiring presidential candidates have needed to have the secretary-general on their side if they wanted to have a hope of success.

Mantashe, who was party secretary-general from 2007 to 2017, has a good understanding of how the party’s branches work and the Ramaphosa caucus believes he will be useful in this regard.

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