Where the succession war will be won

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa

Northern Cape premier Sylvia Lucas emulated Jacob Zuma the other day, when she reshuffled her provincial cabinet, firing two MECs without consulting Luthuli House, drawing harsh criticism from the ANC, with the secretary general’s office issuing a stinging rebuke, characterising her actions as a “flagrant abuse of power”, which will further divide the ANC.

Her “unbridled arrogance” says the statement, is a betrayal of trust within the ANC, which deployed her as premier, noting further that a 2007 Polokwane conference resolution made consultation on matters of deployment a principle of the organisation, and not a favour.

As the brouhaha unfolded, the truth emerged. Her reshuffle had nothing to do with ideological differences, but everything to do with the national leadership of the ANC.

Whereas Ms Lucas supports Nkosana Dlamini-Zuma, provincial secretary Zamani Saul is backing Deputy President Cyril Ramphosa, and her moves were seen as house-cleaning before the election of the provincial executive committee over the weekend, because whichever of the two won the post of provincial chair, would be able to enforce their preference.

With Mr Saul having been elected uncontested, it is likely that most ANC branches in the Northern Cape will be “persuaded” to cast their ballots in favour of Mr Ramaphosa, come the ANC elective conference in December.

The statement from Luthuli House lays bare the extent of division within the ANC, from national leadership, through provincial structures, right down to branch level. The factional battle that is being fought right now, will ultimately determine who will lead the ANC after December, and possibly the country after the 2019 election, if the ANC manages to cobble together sufficient support to garner the 50% plus one it needs to retain control of the National Assembly.

The latter is, of course, by no means guaranteed, even if Mr Ramaphosa does manage to win in December.

What happened in the Northern Cape is a microcosm of what is happening throughout the ANC, and each move and countermove in the game is aimed at eliciting the support, either by conviction or coercion, of the people who will cast their ballots at that fateful election in Gauteng in December.

Consumers of mainstream media can be forgiven for believing that the battle for control of the ANC is playing out before their very eyes in realtime, but nothing could further from the truth. The real battleground is in the branches, where the competing factions who support the de facto principal candidates – Mr Ramaphosa and Ms Dlamini-Zuma – are waging a savage war for the hearts and minds of the branch delegates who will travel to Gauteng to cast their ballots.

Granted, other names have been mentioned: ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, and ANC chairperson and National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, but none have tossed their hat into the ring – yet.

The ANC Youth League, as toothless as it has become, along with the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL), have both publicly endorsed Ms Dlamini-Zuma as their candidate of choice. It is worth noting, that the ANCWL is run by Ms Dlamini-Zuma’s sister, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini.

The shadowy Premier League, a cabal of rural-based Zuma supporters – Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza, North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, and Free Sate premier Ace Magashule – who, although they may not yet have publicly endorsed Ms Dlamini-Zuma, are hardly likely to come out in support of Mr Ramaphosa.

The MK military veterans are divided. Those who belong to the MK Military Veterans Council want the NEC dissolved, the MK Military Veterans Association still support Mr Zuma, and by extension, Ms Dlamini-Zuma.

These forces are working indefatigably behind the scenes to realise their alleged grand ambition – the extension of the Mr Zuma’s influence beyond his permitted two presidential terms, by installing his ex-wife as a surrogate, and thereby establishing a form of dynastic rule, not unlike the Kim dynasty in North Korea.

Until he endorsed her on Sunday, Mr Zuma had campaigned assiduously but indirectly for his ex-wife, never mentioning her name when speaking on the campaign trail, but routinely insisting that there is no tradition of succession in the ANC whereby the deputy president becomes president, while insisting that the country is ready for a woman president.

Civil society organisations aligned to the Zuma camp that are ardently campaigning for a Zuma dynasty, include the likes of Mzwanele “Jimmy” Manyi’s Progressive Professionals Forum and Danisa Baloyi’s Black Business Council, but aside from garnering a great deal of media exposure, their influence over the outcome of the succession battle is questionable.

The Rampahosa camp is less easy to pin down, because coming out in support of Mr Ramaphosa – read saying or doing anything against Mr Zuma or Ms Dlamini-Zuma – can lead to swift and terrible retribution.

The political landscape is littered with the corpses of those who have paddled against the current – Tokyo Sexwale, Nhlanhla Nene, Pravin Gordhan, Mcebisi Jonas – come to mind, and there will no doubt be more.

Gwede Mantashe, Zweli Mkhize and Cyril Ramaphosa, three of the ANC Top Six, managed to survive by the skin of their teeth after publicly criticising Mr Zuma’s recent axing of Messrs Gordon and Jonas, in and of itself a clear indication that Mr Zuma’s power and hold over the ANC is is the decline.

Cosatu, Fedusa, the SACP, and the newly-formed South African Federation of Trade Unions (FOSATU), led by dissident Cotasu president, Zwelinzima Vavi, have all publicly condemned the Gordhan/Jonas axing, calling for Mr Zuma to step down, and they have endorsed Mr Ramaphosa’s candidacy.

By comparison with the Zuma camp, the Ramaphosa camp has far greater and higher profile civil society support, albeit tacit.

Business Unity South Africa, the SA 1st Forum, Save South Africa, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC), and TAC among others, have all participated in widespread protest action around the country, calling for Mr Zuma to step down.

Chances are they would endorse Mr Ramaphosa rather than Ms Dlamini-Zuma, but how much influence these organisations and their actions will have where it matters – with the ANC voting delegates – is debatable.

Our fate is in the hands of the people with the most influence in deciding who leads the ANC after 2017 – the elective conference voting delegates – who are faced with a stark choice: to vote for a continuation of Mr Zuma’s kleptocratic, divisive, exclusionary rule – a veritable Zuma dynasty – or a chance to reboot the ANC so that it may find its moral compass, and veer back onto the road of principled struggle and societal leadership, envisioned by its founding fathers.