Choosing Lindiwe Sisulu as potential deputy president could cost him support of Mpumalanga
DEPUTY President Cyril Ramaphosa is facing a conundrum over the selection of his running mate as the ANC’s presidential succession race hots up.
Over the weekend, Ramaphosa addressed the Umkhonto weSizwe National Council flanked by presidential hopeful Lindiwe Sisulu.
While Sisulu’s presence at the council makes sense – she is a former combatant – insiders say it is another confirmation that Ramaphosa views her as his running mate in the succession battle.
Ramaphosa is up against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is supported by President Jacob Zuma. She is running on a ticket for a female president, with her staunchest backers coming from the ANC Women’s League.
It is probably this that led ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, viewed as a supporter of Ramaphosa, to publicly indicate that there could not be two men in the presidency, placing pressure on Ramaphosa to ensure that a female candidate was represented strongly on his slate.
Enter ANC treasurer-general and former KwaZulu-Natal premier Zweli Mkhize, and Mpumalanga party chairman David Mabuza, who both have their sights on the post of deputy president.
Mkhize and Mabuza are close, and it is understood that Mabuza would back Mkhize for the deputy president post, setting his own ambitions aside.
Mabuza has emerged as something of a kingmaker, with figures circulated by Mantashe indicating that his province was set to bring the second-largest delegation to the ANC elective conference in December, after Dlamini-Zuma-aligned KwaZuluNatal.
Herein lies Ramaphosa’s conundrum.
Should he throw his lot in with Sisulu, he risks KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga – constituencies that Mkhize and Mabuza claim to bring to the table.
Senior ANC leaders sympathetic to both leaders say that every candidate for a top position in the ANC should bring a constituency with him or her. Sisulu, according to leaders in various provinces, does not.
Those punting the “unity ticket” say that Mkhize, with Mabuza, brings a large portion of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. But, say Ramaphosa backers, so does a senior leader on his slate: Senzo Mchunu.
Former KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairman and premier Mchunu and his backers have successfully challenged the ANC’s 2015 elective conference, which put DlaminiZuma-aligned Sihle Zikalala in the post of provincial chairman.
Mchunu commands considerable support in the province, and his relationship with Mkhize is part of the reason the ANC treasurergeneral has fallen out of favour with the Ramaphosa faction.
Mkhize initially lent his backing to the provincial leadership elected at the disputed 2015 conference under Zikalala (he later withdrew his legal support). It is understood that, as a result, Mchunu’s supporters blame Mkhize for their candidate’s loss in that election, which has now been declared unlawful in court.
The court decision declaring the election of the Dlamini-Zumaaligned, Zikalala-led KZN leadership unlawful and void, was handed down last month at the Pietermaritzburg High Court. That decision – and how to handle it – is now a contentious issue among the ANC’s national leaders.
Zuma and his backers have pushed for the judgment to be appealed by the ANC in the province, while their opponents have opted for a provincial task team to be put in place to replace Zikalala and the provincial leadership structure.
Surprisingly, at a special national executive committee (NEC) meeting last month, even some of Zuma’s ardent backers opted for the provincial task team.
But Zuma resisted this, providing a legal opinion of his own – apart from one sought by the NEC itself – to push for an appeal of the judgment.
The party is at an impasse: the appeal is going ahead, but should it fail and the court decide as much after the national conference in December, the outcome of the key gathering itself could be nullified.
This is not the only legal assault the party is facing ahead of its national conference.
The Zuma faction has in the past week once again shown that it destroys what it cannot control. This was evident in the attempt by his faction in the Eastern Cape to collapse that province’s elective conference last weekend, culminating in a court bid to halt the gathering.
The court bid failed, but the fight is far from over. The ANC’s pandering to Zuma over the past decade, during which he has entrenched the bypassing of internal democratic processes, is catching up with the party.
Its NEC is now putting out fires in five of the nine provinces ahead of the December conference.
The committee’s biggest problem, however, is that the party’s own leader is driving the dissent as he desperately seeks to influence the outcome of the December gathering and ensure Dlamini-Zuma emerges as his successor.
The months ahead provide the ANC with a real opportunity to break Zuma’s grip on the party, but will it?
At an official meeting on Monday, in which the status of the Eastern Cape gathering was discussed, information peddlers were in overdrive, trying to spread the message that the election of the Ramaphosa-aligned Eastern Cape leadership was to be set aside.
However, this was disputed by leaders who were present at the meeting. According to them, the national officials cannot take a decision to nullify the conference – only the ANC NEC can order that.
The next NEC meeting takes place in December unless a special NEC meeting is called to deal with the issue, and no such decision has yet been taken.
The outcomes of the challenges to both the KZN and Eastern Cape elective conferences are significant – but so is Ramaphosa’s choice of running mate.
Should Ramaphosa remain with Sisulu as a potential deputy, he risks losing the support of Mpumalanga.
However, his backers in the province were adamant this week they would throw their support behind him, irrespective of the preference of provincial chairman Mabuza and “his so-called allies”.
There is another solution being punted by structures in Gauteng and the Northern Cape: a constitutional amendment that allows for two deputy presidents.
Possible amendments circulated to branches for discussion could allow whoever is elected in December to have two party deputies – to be deployed in government or the party, as decided by the conference.
While Ramaphosa backers in the main have scoffed at the suggestion, sources say the Northern Cape has punted the prospect to his campaigners.
So, while the outcome of political discussions on key court cases relating to ANC structures will have a far-reaching effect on the outcome of the conference, so too will Ramaphosa’s selection of a running mate. He needs to tread carefully.