In a matter of weeks, the African National Congress (ANC) will elect its fourteenth president.
Depending on who or what section of the media one believes, it is either Cyril Ramaphosa (CR17 to his supporters) or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (NDZ) who is, as they say, “miles ahead”. This is not surprising at all, given the fact that a leadership contest is not a leadership contest if the dominant factions do not adopt a system of propaganda as part of their overall strategy. The system of propaganda is about convincing opponents and those who are undecided that they are on the losing side. Better still, they must be able to co-opt some sections of the media and political commentators into their way of thinking and they, in turn, must convince readers, listeners and viewers that their candidate cannot lose and his or her opponent cannot win.
When President Jacob Zuma beat former President Thabo Mbeki at the Polokwane conference a decade ago, some journalists and political commentators were seen crying like mourners at the funeral of a loved one. It is partly for this reason that, for some of them, the succession battle between Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa is a contest between Jacob Zuma and Ramaphosa. A defeat for Dlamini-Zuma would be a defeat for the President, and they would, at last, be vindicated. For their sake, I hope Ramaphosa wins because rivers of tears will flow again if the Zuma dynasty wins another term.
Whether it is the supporters of Dlamini-Zuma or Ramaphosa who will be smiling at the end of the ANC conference is a prediction I am making only because I do not want to disappoint, notwithstanding the fact that political bone-throwing is a risky and foolish enterprise. But my predictions are provisional because the facts related to the balance of support may change between now and the day of the election.
As you know, there are seven candidates – what ANC secretary- general Gwede Mantashe calls a stampede – namely Ramaphosa, Dlamini-Zuma, Zweli Mkhize, Lindiwe Sisulu, Jeff Radebe, Baleka Mbethe and Mathews Phosa. I have decided to group the candidates into three categories: the frontrunners (Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa), the compromise candidate (Mkhize) and the rest (Sisulu, Radebe, Mbete and Phosa).
Let me start by debunking the idea of a compromise candidate and then proceed to Ramaphosa’s suicidal tendencies. A compromise candidate emerges under very specific conditions. There must not only be a stalemate between the dominant factions – the dominant factions must also accept two things, namely that there is indeed a stalemate and that neither faction will win the leadership battle. If this happens, both the Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma factions will start looking for a candidate who can enhance their chances of winning. The two camps will either woo the same person or different people. If they cannot find such a candidate, the candidate will be imposed on them from outside their respective camps. This, in my view, is not going to happen. Therefore, Mkhize is neither a compromise candidate nor is he the next president of the ANC.
As for Ramaphosa, I am convinced that he either does not want the job or does not know how to win a leadership contest. On the other hand, it is quite possible that his tactical mistakes are a function of the strategic and tactical ineptitude of those around him. Because I do not have enough space, I will limit myself only to the bizarre tactical mistake of announcing a slate at a political rally. Who does that? Slates are a product of factionalism, political intrigue and skulduggery. It is not something you do in broad daylight, since none of the candidates is a factionalist.
Further, Ramaphosa is putting the members of his so-called ‘winning team’ in an awkward position, since they need to find themselves on different slates. Their independence from factional politics and the politics of slates is critical. Well, pull the other one. For instance, Ramaphosa has made it difficult for Mantashe to ‘mantash’ the perception or reality that he is a Ramaphosa campaigner.
At a tactical level, Ramaphosa runs the risk of forcing potential allies to distance themselves from him until it is certain that the balance of support is not in Dlamini-Zuma’s favour. In case you have forgotten, Ramaphosa’s winning team comprises Naledi Pandor (deputy president), Senzo Mchunu (secretary-general), Paul Mashatile (treasurer-general) and Mantashe (national chairperson). I must confess that I like Mchunu, but I doubt that he has the national appeal Ramaphosa needs to win the contest. On the other hand, slate and candidate may become synonymous, to Mchunu’s advantage. And then … Pandor for deputy president. Really? Remember that support for, or opposition to, a deputy presidential candidate depends on whether ANC members want her to be president. I am not convinced Ramaphosa is ahead.