ANC vote stirs debate over Zuma’s successor

November 20, 2015, 4:53pm

By Joe Brock, Business Day Live. Photo: GCIS

A HOTLY contested party vote earlier in November has deepened divisions within the African National Congress (ANC) and stirred debate over President Jacob Zuma’s successor.

His ex-wife, African Union (AU) head Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has just edged ahead of the frontrunner, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, after a vote in the ANC’s Zulu heartland swung in her favour, exposing rifts in the tripartite alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

Mr Zuma, who is expected to stay president until a 2019 election and is likely to be influential behind the scenes in picking a new ANC leader at a conference in 2017, is expected to support Ms Dlamini-Zuma. But Mr Ramaphosa, who as vice-president was assumed to be the incumbent to the position, has the support of powerful business lobbies and possibly of the ANC secretary-general.

"The provincial election has exposed two clear factions: one behind Dlamini-Zuma and the other supporting Ramaphosa," said political analyst Nic Borain. Neither Ms Dlamini-Zuma nor Mr Ramaphosa have declared their intention to run for leadership of the ANC and spokesmen in both their offices did not respond to a request for comment.

A newly emerged "kingmaker", Sihle Zikalala, a Zuma ally who won a tight November 8 race to become chairman of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, has called for party unity. Ms Dlamini-Zuma is a Zulu and were she to run would be likely to have the support of Mr Zuma’s powerful voting block within the ANC.

Despite their separation, he backed her for the AU job and gave her a position in his Cabinet. Analysts say she would be unlikely to follow up on the scandals that have plagued his tenure.

She was regarded as a capable technocrat during her time as Minister of Home Affairs between 2009 and 2012 and has since gained international exposure during her time at the AU. Her supporters within the ANC have said it is time SA had a female leader, a rarity on a continent. 

Mr Zuma has previously said that SA is ready for a female president. Party loyalty Mr Ramaphosa, a wealthy businessman who was once touted as a successor to former president Nelson Mandela, would be the first choice for many investors because his background in commerce suggests he will support more pro-business policies than many in the traditionally left-wing ANC.

However, he will face criticism from opponents for his role at Lonmin where he was a director and shareholder at the time of the Marikana massacre .

An investigation has cleared him of wrongdoing. He must also find his own "kingmaker" to build support for him within the ANC to counterbalance the growing support for Ms Dlamini-Zuma.

Like other ANC leaders, Mr Zuma, has prioritised cementing loyalty to the party, and its liberation legacy, over backing for himself since his presidency began in 2009. This has meant that the party has stayed popular even as his own ratings dipped due to the scandals and criticism over his handling the economy.

"A common mistake is to assume Ramaphosa will win because he has business support and strong policy credentials," Eurasia Group’s southern Africa analyst, Mark Rosenberg, said. "People vote for the party and that is why the ANC has remained successful despite Zuma’s poor performance. Dlamini-Zuma is currently the favourite."

One potentially powerful backer is ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who criticised an investigation that cleared Mr Zuma of wrongdoing in a controversial state-funded security upgrade to Nkandla.

Mr Mantashe, who has also been touted as a potential ANC leader, could now be in the Ramaphosa camp. The SACP could also support him after falling out recently with the ANC rump, even though its political ideology runs in stark contrast with Mr Ramaphosa.

Higher Education and Training Minister and SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande said during the KwaZulu-Natal election that the SACP was tired of defending Mr Zuma, prompting sections of the ANC to call for his suspension from the Cabinet.

Reflecting divisions in the ruling alliance, several news stories have quoted ANC sources and junior officials from both camps slinging muck. Meanwhile, Cosatu’s position on the future ANC leadership is unclear.

"The SACP and other factions are extremely opportunistic. There are many twists and turns to play out," Mr Rosenberg said.