The drama that played out in East London over the weekend, at the Eastern Cape ANC’s provincial elective conference, which saw police intervening to stop the carnage, and a number of cadres ending up in hospital, is a microcosm of what is playing out in the broader ANC.
While it is easy to dismiss what happened as local politics, the mayhem, bloodshed and manoeuvring is a reflection of the deep divisions in the ruling party as the two principal factions vie for supremacy in the lead-up to the December elective conference.
In a nutshell, former provincial secretary, Oscar Mabuyane, as well as former chairperson, Phumulo Masualle, were vying for the top job, and both had come out in support of Cyril Ramaphosa as incoming ANC president, so it appears there ought to be no national leadership-inspired divisions.
Until one looks behind the scenes, and sees Andile Lungisa firmly behind the Masualle campaign, and it all starts to make sense, because he’s the one who wants Nkosasana Dlamini Zuma on the ANC throne come December.
It was he who defied the ANC’s national leadership back in March when he stood for chairperson of the ANC’s Nelson Mandela Bay region while a serving member of the provincial executive committee, which the ANC constitution specifically prohibits.
And when secretary Gwede Mantashe instructed Mr Lungisa to step down, he figuratively gave him the middle finger, because none other than President Jacob Zuma flew down to Port Elizabeth to personally congratulate him on his election to regional chair.
It fell to the other five of the ANC Top Six to pull Mr Zuma back in line, and eventually Mr Lungisa stepped down as regional chair, and resumed his provincial executive role.
Although Messrs Mabuyane and Masualle both ostensibly support Mr Ramaphosa, it is an open secret that Mr Lungisa believed he could sway Mr Masualle to shift his allegiance to Ms Dlamini Zuma, once he became provincial chair.
What, you may ask, does all this have to do with our political future? Well, everything, actually, because although many people hope that the ANC will no longer be in control nationally after the 2019 election, that is by no means a foregone conclusion, so what happens in the lead-up to the ANC’s December elective conference is an indication of what will happen at that critical event.
The fight in East London over the weekend, revolved around accreditation of delegates to the conference, who would vote for the new provincial leadership, who would in turn decide which candidate the province will support in December. It is as simple as that. Whichever faction won, would determine who the province’s voting delegates would support in December. That is how democracy works in the ANC, which is a mirror of how it works in the ANC national caucus.
Mr Mabuyane triumphed, despite Mr Lungisa’s alleged attempts to exclude voting delegates who would support him, in the hope he could ensure Mr Masualle’s victory, and eventually provincial support for Ms Dlamini Zuma, Mr Zuma’s anointed candidate for ANC – and the country’s – presidency.
The inevitable outcome is a court challenge by the Masualle faction, in an attempt to overturn the result of the elective conference.
And this titanic struggle is playing itself out in many other provincial structures of the ANC.
In the Northern Cape, past chairperson, Sylvia Lucas, who has openly backed Ms Dlamini Zuma, has decided to challenge the outcome of the May provincial elective conference, despite declining nomination along with her entire slate at the time, which resulted in Zamani Saul assuming the top job. That Mr Saul backs Mr Ramaphosa, perhaps explains why Ms Lucas is belatedly mounting a legal challenge to his election.
Despite a recent high court ruling which found the Kwa-Zulu Natal ANC’s provincial leadership, elected at an irregularly called provincial elective conference in 2015, to be illegitimate, that leadership body has blithely continued with its campaign to ensure the election of Ms Dlamini Zuma in December.
Ordered to await the outcome of national executive committee (NEC) deliberations on legal advice about appealing the court ruling, the province’s leadership gave the NEC the middle finger, by filing notice of intention to appeal at the last minute on Saturday. Quite naturally, the current leadership in the province supports Ms Dlamini Zuma, and the faction that successfully challenged the outcome of the 2015 elective conference, backs Mr Ramaphosa.
The battle lines have clearly been drawn, and increasingly, the NEC seems incapable of reigning in its provincial, regional and even branch structures, which may be deemed a good thing, until the realisation dawns that in every instance, defiance of the NEC is motivated by factional agendas which favour one of the two principal contenders for the ANC top job.
As the support for each faction – Dlamini Zuma vs Ramaphosa – waxes and wanes and the December elective conference draws closer, it becomes ever more apparent that whichever side perceives that it is likely to lose, will probably try to delay the conference until it holds the balance of power and can ensure the election of its chosen candidate.
And all we can do is sit on the sidelines and watch the bloody tennis match unfold, as the divisions deepen, and the ANC plummets headlong towards implosion.