The most remarkable thing about the African National Congress’s elective conference was not Cyril Ramaphosa’s victory. It was how narrow the victory of the Old ANC over the Captured ANC was.
President Jacob Zuma’s Gupta-aligned wing must be kicking themselves. Were it not for the failure of fewer than a 100 of the 4776 delegates to vote for her instead of Ramaphosa, Dlamini-Zuma would have triumphed.
There was another tipping point missed by the Captured ANC. Were it not for the exclusion by the courts of more than a 100 mostly pro-Dlamini-Zuma improperly elected delegates, she would also have won.
The shock election of captured Free State premier Ace Magashule to the powerful position of secretary-general indicates, too, the range of subterfuges that were in play. He survived by nine votes a recount, after three dozen “mislaid” votes turned up. This result may yet be challenged legally but, for the interim, it means that the “top six” politburo is split three/three.
It is a cleavage that extends down the middle of the entire new ANC national executive committee (NEC). Some number crunchers aver that, at best, Ramaphosa holds a majority in the NEC by an edge of only two or three people.
This all stacks up to stark evidence that the Capture forces failed by a hairsbreadth in their attempt to hijack the party. It means, also, that despite being thwarted, they will be emboldened in their determination to continue swaying the ANC’s agenda to suit their agenda of continued looting of state resources, especially if President Jacob Zuma manages to hang in for his full term, which ends in 2019.
What happened at Nasrec is even more stunning if one considers how this result flies in the face of what ordinary South African voters want. The polls show unambiguously that Ramaphosa is preferred over Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, by a wide margin, by almost every demographic of the voting public: race, ethnicity, language, gender and rural/urban location. It is only when it comes to geographical distribution, that she has edge in three of South Africa’s nine provinces.
It’s a devilishly difficult situation for Ramaphosa and the Old ANC. But it does not equate, as some infer, to a state of impasse.
There is, most importantly, the enormous powers of patronage and retribution that the president of the country has simply by being the incumbent. Zuma is the textbook example of this. Through the cunning appointment of his lackeys to key positions, and the insidious marginalisation of his opponents, he soon negated the numerical majority of Old ANC leaders and officials that had survived the ousting of former president Thabo Mbeki.
Ramaphosa, from the opposite ideological position, will do exactly the same. There is no reason to believe that the savvy negotiator of South Africa’s 1994 constitutional agreement is any less manipulative than Zuma and the Dlamini-Zuma acolytes will readily bend the knee to the new boss.
It does, however, mean that Ramaphosa will want Zuma removed from office, so as to negate the president’s influence, as soon as possible. It’s not only a matter of internal manoeuvring. For the ANC to be able to engage with any success in the 2019 general election behind a façade of party unity, Zuma’s malevolent behaviour has to be curbed.
Zuma must either be prevailed upon to resign or, like Mbeki, be recalled – which would be far more difficult and destructive to both the party and the country. But it is a signal of the pressure that Zuma is going to come under, even before the shambolic elective conference had ended, both NEC factions were warning about the dangers of two centres of power: that of an ANC president at odds with SA’s president.
It is in the DNA of every political party to do everything possible to hang together, for that is how they best retain power. The splintering of a party only happens when one faction is clearly so strong in numbers that it can to drive out another without facing electoral defeat. Or, alternatively, when the splinter group believes it can win enough support because it has taken a better reading of the electoral temperature than its erstwhile colleagues.
So, there is no split imminent in the ANC. Despite the loathing that exists between the two factions, internecine warfare and uncomfortable compromise is for both, for the moment, far more secure in terms of hanging onto power, than going it alone.
But the result of this is unambiguously bad for the country. Ramaphosa will have to at least pretend to compromise, with some seriously dumb policy ideas – like amending the constitution to allow land expropriation without compensation, as well as free tertiary education – that the ANC conference this week committed the party to.
The 2019 election is just 15 or so months away. Ramaphosa will have to act fast, especially against corruption, to buff the complexion of a party that has seen its share of the vote slide from 70% in the national elections of 2009, to a vulnerable 54% of the vote in the 2016 provincial elections.
The Jaundiced Eye column resumes in the second week of 2018. Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye