Johannesburg — The only thing certain about the ANC's 53rd National Conference is that 4,500 voting delegates will attend. If the election goes go down to a vote between Jacob Zuma and Kgalema Motlanthe, the margin may be quite narrow. And there may be some surprises from KwaZulu-Natal, which up to now appeared to be solidly behind Zuma.
As was to be expected, the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) was first out of the starting blocks, naming its selection of candidates for the top six positions in the ruling party. Predictably, Kgalema Motlanthe is at the top of that ticket as the apparently "a more appealing and energetic leader who represents the true beliefs of the ANC".
Trouble is, the ANCYL has not had a discussion with Motlanthe as to whether he will accept the nomination. So while the League believes he is the best person to lead the organisation and implement its "economic freedom" policies, it doesn't know if that is in fact what he would do, let alone whether he is up for a face off against President Jacob Zuma.
One thing that must have occurred to Motlanthe is that if he contests the ANC presidency and wins it he will be in the uncomfortable position of serving as deputy in government to the man he walloped in the ANC conference. Because of the way the ANC operates, with the party leading the state, he will effectively be his boss' boss.
Motlanthe is not the kind of person who would look forward to such a situation, and that is likely to be one of the considerations in his mind as he weighs up his decision whether to accept nomination. Adding to factors weighing against him competing is the fact that the ANC's two alliance partners, the SACP and Cosatu (and in particular his own constituency in the National Union of Mineworkers) are supporting Zuma's second term bid.
But the ANCYL is convinced that Motlanthe will not chicken out of the race, according to acting President Ronald Lamola.
"South Africa needs a new generation of leaders. We need new, fresh thinking. We need innovative leadership," said Lamola, "and we believe that is Kgalema Motlanthe."
Despite his campaign having fizzed out along the way, the Youth League continues to support Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula as its candidate for secretary general. However, it has not been able to decide between Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa for the position of deputy president, said Lamola.
ANC Gauteng Chairman Paul Mashatile, current Deputy Secretary-General Thandi Modise and ANC National Executive Member Thenjiwe Mtintso are being considered for the remaining three positions on the Youth League slate.
Besides putting out names, the ANCYL released a detailed statement setting out the criteria for leadership positions the league wants branches to take into account as they consider names for nomination. The ANC strategy and tactics document, Through the Eye of the Needle, should be the fundamental guide to selecting good leaders, the League said.
Therefore, according to the ANCYL, leaders should possess the following qualities:
- Striving for convergence between personal interests – material, status and otherwise – and the collective interest
- Handling conflict in the course of ANC work by understanding its true origins and seeking to resolve it in the context of struggle and in the interest of the ANC;
- The ability to inspire people in good times and bad; to reinforce members’ and society’s confidence in the ANC and transformation; and
- Winning genuine acceptance by the membership, not through suppression, threats or patronage, but by being principled, firm, humble and considerate.
In addition, and in order to advance its programme of action for "Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime", the Youth League said the kind of leadership required for the ANC post should include the following qualities:
- Sophistication to understand the modern economy and systems of government and ability to generate new ideas and solutions.
- Understanding of the nature and character of imperialism in the face of attempts to re-colonise the African continent.
- Versatility that appeals to a young South Africa.
- Morally acceptable behaviour and conduct to appeal to all South Africans.
- Fearlessness of the previous oppressor and imperialism.
These are obviously written to exclude Zuma, based on criticism of his leadership and conduct during his time as president.
"Guided by Through the Eye of the Needle document a leader should lead by example. He/she should be above reproach in his/her political and social conduct as defined by our revolutionary morality. Through force of example, he should act as a role model to ANC members and non-members alike. Leading a life that reflects commitment to the strategic goals of the NDR includes not only being free of corrupt practices; it also means actively fighting against corruption," the Youth League said.
While the ANCYL has gone through this elaborate exercise of defining "good" leadership to help guide ANC branches, how much of a consideration these would be is debatable. The race, particularly for the ANC presidency, is ostensibly a battle for and against Zuma.
Those who support Zuma know he doesn't quite pass "through the eye of the needle", and never did. He was elected in 2007 in order to defeat Thabo Mbeki. Those who support his second term bid do so either because they believe the alternative is an opportunity for Julius Malema and others to capture the ANC, or because they benefit from his continued presence in the presidency.
On Wednesday, the ANC released the breakdown of the final provincial and league delegate figures for Mangaung, which make up the total of 4,500 members who will vote for the new leadership.
These are as follows:
- Eastern Cape: 676
- Free State: 324
- Gauteng: 500
- Limpopo: 574
- Mpumalanga: 467
- KwaZulu-Natal: 974
- Northern Cape: 176
- North West: 234
- Western Cape: 178
Total: 4,103 (91.2% of conference voting delegates)
- ANC Women's League: 45
- ANC Youth League: 45
- ANC Veterans League: 45
- ANC National Executive Committee: 82
- ANC Provincial Executive Committees: 180
Total: 397 (8.8% of conference voting delegates)
Presuming that delegates vote largely according to stated provincial loyalties, with KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and Mpumalanga supporting Zuma, the margin of difference will be very narrow, with the leagues and executive committees able to sway the result.
But none of the provinces, including KwaZulu-Natal are expected to vote in solid blocs. On Wednesday, Sapa reported that some ANC branches in KwaZulu-Natal were nominating axed police chief Bheki Cele for a leadership position in the ANC. It is not yet clear as to whether this would be a position in the top six or for the NEC.
But the fact that Cele, now a firm detractor of Zuma's, has visible support in the province means the president may not have the previously presumed full backing of the province. The provincial leadership is strongly behind Zuma, claiming the organisation needs "continuity".
Since they will decide the composition of their 974-strong delegation, it is likely that mostly Zuma-supporting delegates will make it to Mangaung.
But as things stand, the balance of support between Zuma and Motlanthe remains too close to call. Zuma has the benefit of incumbency and high delegate figures in his strongholds. But he has an awful track record as ANC and state president.
Motlanthe is at a disadvantage for entering the race late and for the uncertainty over what kind of president he would be. But what counts most in his favour is that he is not Zuma. He was also an excellent ANC secretary general between 1997 and 2007, and kept the organisation together through extremely trying times.
Therefore, the moment he nods his head, it's game on.