4 December 2012

South Africa: Weak Internal Processes for Choosing Leadership Threaten the ANC in the Long-Term


As Mangaung steadily approaches, the weaknesses of the internal electoral processes of the African National Congress (ANC) become more evident.

The first problem is that there is no acceptance of and therefore rules guiding open campaigning by those wishing to stand for leadership positions. In the run-up to the ANC's National Conference in Mangaung, two clear camps emerged early on. These consisted of those who wanted the incumbent President Jacob Zuma to serve a second term as ANC president and those who wanted Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe as the new ANC president.

However, as the National Executive Committee of the ANC allowed no one to discuss or openly talk about leadership until the beginning of September, campaigning ended up taking place 'underground'. This situation would obviously favour the incumbent and work against Motlanthe, who could not remain a disciplined member of the ANC and campaign for a leadership position at the same time. Consequently, President Zuma secured 2 421 nominations for the position of president while Motlanthe only secured 496 nominations as of Monday, 3 December 2012.

Ironically, because Motlanthe played by the rules he may find himself out in the cold. Those supporting President Zuma were accused of breaking all the rules by openly campaigning for his retention of the presidency, rigging branch audit processes and, in some cases, using violence and intimidation. Because Motlanthe did not allow himself to be associated with any 'slate' (a list of nominations supported by a particular faction), he is likely to lose his position of ANC deputy president at Mangaung.

Those supporting President Zuma nominated Cyril Ramaphosa as their preferred candidate for ANC deputy president. The fact that this voting pattern appeared in most Zuma-supporting structures reveals the use of a slate as a weapon in the run-up to the National Conference. In the provincial nomination results, Ramaphosa garnered 1941 nominations, with Motlanthe in fourth place with 194 nominations (trailing Tokyo Sexwale with 411 nominations and Baleka Mbete with 235 nominations).

Although the pro-Zuma faction may have secured a victory in Mangaung, their work is far from over. They have a number of issues to consider, including Ramaphosa's acceptability as a candidate among leftist alliance partners and members, the reaction of the anti-Zuma faction in the ANC if Motlanthe is removed from the leadership, and the continued deterioration of the national perception of the ANC under the leadership of President Zuma.

The selection of Ramaphosa as a candidate for Deputy President was widely viewed as a ploy to force Motlanthe's hand to announce that he would not run against President Zuma. This did not happen as Motlanthe remained a disciplined cadre and correctly argued that it would deny branch members the right to choose their leaders. Given that President Zuma's supporters used the slate system, it is not clear to what extent those nominated with him enjoy widespread support in the party.

The process for choosing the ANC leadership has resulted in a range of problems for the party. Three provinces were unable to conclude their conferences due to problems with the verification of branches and intimidation from President Zuma's supporters. Therefore, the Western Cape, Limpopo and North West concluded with no endorsements. Parallel meetings were held where one came out in support of Motlanthe and the other in support of President Zuma. Motlanthe supporters are currently contesting the results of the Eastern Cape conference, as there have been allegations of ghost voting.

The divisions witnessed at the provincial conferences raise the question of what will happen to those who lose at Mangaung. President Zuma will have to contend with a divided organisation where large numbers of disgruntled members may undermine his leadership. In an effort to reduce this possibility, backroom deals are currently in play. However, Motlanthe has stated in an interview with Business Day that he will not partake in any deal as this undermines the will of the branches.

Therefore, a more divided ANC post-Mangaung is possible.

The biggest obstacle post-Mangaung would be the continued deterioration of the perception of the country under the leadership of President Zuma.

It is expected that President Zuma's 'blunders' will continue, which will increasingly undermine the party's image and discourage voters from supporting it in 2014. While many disgruntled ANC voters will not vote for the opposition, their absence at the polls may reduce the ANC's majority in parliament to less than 60%. Indeed, the ANC only polled 62% of the national vote in the 2011 local government elections. This reduction in support will be blamed on President Zuma and it could increase the anti-Zuma sentiment in the party. It could also prompt a breakaway left-wing labour-orientated political party from among those in the alliance, as this is where a clear gap exists in the political landscape.

There has been speculation that President Zuma may be asked to step down as presidential candidate in the run-up to the 2014 national election, to allow Ramaphosa to step forward as the ANC's presidential candidate.

However, there are many factors contributing to President Zuma's unwillingness to give up power voluntarily. The numerous criminal charges against him may be reinstated, and he also wishes to avoid investigations of decisions that he took while in office (for example the waste of state resources at his personal homestead in Nkandla). He has also based his path to the presidency on patronage networks and therefore there is considerable interest in his continuance.

The infighting that the ANC has experienced over the past five years since Polokwane is seen as symptomatic of the slow demise of the once proud party. It will be important to see how the pro-Zuma camp steers the ANC as times become even more turbulent in the future. The decisions made in the next month will undeniably affect the lifespan of the party.

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