The African National Congress (ANC) leadership nomination process is finally upon us. Members of the ANC have until November 26 to nominate their preferred leaders, but it is the race for the presidency of the party that will excite the popular imagination.
The question is whether President Jacob Zuma is going to hold on to the keys of Luthuli House and the Union Buildings or whether it is Kgalema Motlanthe – the only contender who can mount a serious challenge against Zuma – who is going to wrest the keys from the Nothing But Zuma faction. If he does, will he do so as the Lone Ranger of Mangaung or will it be on behalf of the Anything But Zuma lobby?
The first challenge facing the ANC is to defy expectations of a bruising and dirty campaign that will culminate in a chaotic national conference in December. The ANC must also defy the expectation that the losers, after refusing to accept the election result, will plunge the Mangaung conference into commotion and pandemonium of such a nature as to prevent the delegates from continuing with what remains of the conference agenda.
On top of all this, the party must contend with the expectation that the Mangaung conference is not going to deliver much on the imperative for internal stability and, depending on how close the margin of defeat is, the losers might hive off to form a new party some months after the Mangaung conference.
In short, the priority for the ANC in Mangaung will be order and stability at the conference itself and beyond. Obviously, internecine battles for power are going to undermine this goal. For this not to happen, it will probably be argued by some that a stable ANC can result only from adopting continuity and change as the dominant and guiding principle for the election. If this argument holds sway, the idea will be to apply the principle of continuity to the leadership question and that of change in relation to policy issues. As a result – if the argument is deemed per- suasive by the majority of conference delegates – Zuma, Motlanthe and Gwede Mantashe will keep their positions, even if changes occur in the remaining top six positions.
But this will work only if the rumours that Motlanthe is not interested in the top job are just that – rumours. In addition, because Zuma and his supporters stand to benefit the most from this approach, the Anything But Zuma faction might approach the proposal with suspicion, regard it as a ploy and reject it. Because this is a possibility, other scenarios are worth examining.
Our first, but not most important, port of call is the Julius Malema factor. If Malema loses the battle against the President, he will fail in his quest to be reinstated as a member of the ANC. If, on the other hand, Mangaung turns into Zuma’s Waterloo, the President will probably not complete his Presidential term and, if his enemies have their way, he will find himself singing Jailhouse Blues.
However, Malema may turn out to be the biggest weapon for Zuma since his nemesis has a predilection for basic errors in political communication. Malema must bear in mind the fact that some of the insults he is directing at Zuma, such as those pertaining to the President’s intellectual capacity and academic qualifications, may be hurtful to people other than the President, including those who do not support Zuma. More important, however, is the fact that not every ANC member who wants to vote against Zuma in Mangaung is favourably disposed towards Malema and his political interests.
This brings me to Motlanthe. So far, he has stayed above the fray of factional politics. This means that he will not be beholden to any faction and his Presidency may, in part, be about exorcising the demons of factionalism. If he, somehow, ends up being held hostage by the Anything But Zuma faction, the winners must remember that inkosi ayibusi nombeki wayo (a king does not rule with the kingmaker).
Having said that, the Anything But Zuma faction must face three challenges. The first is Motlanthe himself because there is no guarantee that he has an appetite for the top ANC job. We cannot rule out the possibility that he finds the job of Springbok, Bafana Bafana or Proteas coach less daunting and onerous. If he wants the job, he must remember that there are times when finesse and mud wrestling do not go together. The second challenge for the anti-Zuma campaign is another possible candidate – Tokyo Sexwale. There is a possibility that Sexwale, if he enters the race, will split the pro-Motlanthe lobby. The third challenge is the imprudence of Malema’s mouth.