The battle for succession in the African National Congress is getting nastier as its outcome looks more uncertain. Supporters of the main protagonists fight their battles, firstly within the ANC structures, then in the security services, the courts and the state broadcasting service.
For months, the main contest was between national President Jacob Zuma, who seeks re-election as ANC President, and the party’s Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe. Now, the field is opening up, with Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale and business tycoon Cyril Ramaphosa emerging as serious contenders. Even long-term backers of Zuma now concede that he might not be able to finish a second presidency but argue that he is needed to steer the party through the next few troubled years.
ANC traditionalists abhor such personality contests in the party and the contenders remain coy about their plans. The leadership contest doesn’t formally start until October and will be decided at the party’s elective conference in December at Mangaung (formerly Bloemfontein), capital of Free State. Of the three challengers, the gentlemanly Motlanthe looks the most committed; Sexwale and Ramaphosa could still strike a deal with the Zuma camp which could, on paper, leave them as heirs apparent in five years’ time.
Aside from the personality element, the ANC leadership race is about control of provincial branches, the security services and the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC). Hostility, from differing quarters, has been growing against Zuma: from nationalist such as sacked ANC Youth League (ANCYL) leader Julius Malema to national trades union leader Zwelinzima Vavi. All the challengers are struggling to cut into Zuma’s support in the provinces. Nothing is set in stone yet. Sexwale’s strategists say their candidate is positioning himself in case the cautious Motlanthe withdraws his candidacy at the last minute. Others say that Sexwale doesn’t want to confront the wily Zuma head on, but wants to put down a marker now.
Ramaphosa urged to stand
Supporters of Ramaphosa are urging the former ANC General Secretary to stake his claim now, believing the climate will have completely changed in five years. On 19 May, at a symposium for the late Walter Sisulu, Derek Hanekom, the Deputy Minister for Science and Technology and NEC member, called on Ramaphosa to run, arguing that the party needed leaders of his ‘calibre’. The party faithful remember that Ramaphosa was former President Nelson Mandela’s original choice as successor in 1999 but he was outmanoeuvred by Thabo Mbeki.
At the same symposium, Ramaphosa said the ANC ‘needs leaders who are selfless, courageous, patient and humble’. He stayed silent about a possible challenge to Zuma. Ramaphosa chairs the ANC’s National Disciplinary Committee of Appeal, which confirmed the expulsion of ANCYL President Malema. We hear that Zuma has been wooing Ramaphosa to run alongside him for the ANC deputy presidency. Ramaphosa would be presented as the business-friendly candidate and ‘natural successor’. That could prove a winning ticket at home and abroad but Ramaphosa risks becoming a prisoner of the Zuma system.
Moreover, Zuma’s political weight shouldn’t be underestimated. His campaign won a boost on 13 May when the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal Province threw its weight behind Zuma’s re-election bid. Yet the Province’s ANC leader, Zweli Mkhize, whom some suspect of secretly supporting Sexwale, said that although KZN was now publicly backing Zuma, ‘anything may change’ at the Mangaung conference.
Some ANC provincial premiers, such as Gauteng’s David Makhura, questioned the KZN ANC’s announcement; Zuma and ANC General Secretary Gwede Mantashe had banned ANC members and provinces from publicly campaigning until October. Opponents of Zuma’s second-term bid accuse him of manipulating party rules and state institutions.
Journalists at the SA Broadcasting Corporation say they are under pressure to expose corruption and wrongdoing by Zuma’s opponents to boost his record. The Zuma camp is to propose that new senior television and radio appointments will be vetted by the intelligence agencies, which have themselves been purged.
Malema still hopes to affect the outcome at Mangaung by backing Zuma’s foes. ANCYL Spokesman Floyd Shivambu, sacked along with his close ally Malema, forecasts that Zuma will lose the leadership. They have been galvanising ANCYL structures to support them across the provinces, which are the basis of their political muscle.
Malema and the League outraged Zuma by appearing at an ANC rally in Limpopo, calling for Zuma to stand down and for Motlanthe to replace him. Thousands of ANCYL supporters wore T-shirts sporting the General Secretary’s face and reading ‘Motlanthe for President’. Motlanthe, who was present, unconvincingly told his supporters that T-shirts promoting one candidate were not in the ‘spirit’ of the ANC. Deputy General Secretary Thandi Modise came out in support of the League. Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale is one of Malema’s most powerful allies and has tilted the provincial government against Zuma.
Zuma and Motlanthe now talk to each other only at ANC events, where they have to appear cordial. Motlanthe’s strategists believe the Zuma camp is trying to leak dirt and dent his rival’s image. Some reports have emerged claiming that Motlanthe’s partner, Gugu Mtshali, used her ANC and government connections to secure sanctions-busting deals in Iran. Motlanthe’s camp said these allegations were ‘fabricated’ by Zuma’s campaigners. At a press conference, Motlanthe invited the police, prosecuting authorities and the Public Protector to investigate the claims – in contrast to Zuma’s aggressive response to any claims of wrongdoing.
As for Malema, Zuma is happy to have him tied up in appeals and court battles to lift his suspension, sidelining him as a force in the party. Zuma also wants the ANCYL’s pro- and anti-Malema factions to battle it out over how to respond to Malema’s suspension and to bar ANC leaders such as Mathews Phosa and Motlanthe from supporting Malema at public rallies.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela last year instructed the Limpopo government to stop contracts awarded to On Point Engineering, a company linked to Malema, while she investigated the contracts it had won. Malema’s family trust, Ratanang, is a shareholder in On Point, which received big contracts from Limpopo. Leaked documents also showed that Sexwale’s company, Mvelaphanda Holdings, allegedly paid R100,000 to Ratanang Trust in 2010. Zuma’s people claim they have evidence of other cash payments from Sexwale to Malema.
In this very personal fight between two former allies, Zuma may be older and wiser but Malema and his network are showing surprising resilience. Most remarkable is how seriously party heavyweights such as Sexwale and Motlanthe seem to take the Malema factor. Several tough months of party in-fighting lie ahead.