Daily Maverick 14 March 2019
On Wednesday, barely ahead of the Electoral Commission’s deadline, the ANC handed in its list of candidates for Parliament and the provincial legislatures. It has been long awaited, mainly because it is likely to be the best indicator of the different factions’ relative strength. The main question has been whether those that have been accused of wrongdoing are on the list. Secretary-General Ace Magashule has now confirmed that they are.
A quick look at the top names on the ANC candidates list alone reflect the tensions and difficulties in the ANC at present. More important, it appears that President Cyril Ramaphosa may have lost this round, perhaps making the chances of the party losing Gauteng greater now. Also, the idea of the ANC winning 60% in the national election is now possibly off the table, which is likely to weaken Ramaphosa further. In short, the composition of the list, as it is currently known, may well be an important turning point in this election.
Magashule knew that he was going to face a torrent of questions when he stepped outside the headquarters of the Election Commission. Just five short years ago, in 2014, then secretary-general Gwede Mantashe held a press conference and distributed the list to anyone who wanted it. He knew what was coming, controversy and difficulty – at the time, the name of the moment was Dina Pule. Her name was on the list, at number 70.
A few days later she “voluntarily” pulled out.
That memory says so much about what has changed in the party.
Now, Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane is at number 10. No one seriously expects her to pull out. Minister in the Presidency for Women and ANC Women’s League head Bathabile Dlamini is also on the list. As Magashule put it on Wednesday about those facing questions about their conduct, “They are all in the list, they are qualified. Anybody, anybody who has not been found guilty by a court of law is in the list.”
Magashule includes in that people like Malusi Gigaba (who resigned after a judge found he’d lied in the Fireblade case and his sex tape appeared on social media), Dlamini (found by the Constitutional Court to have lied under oath in the social grants payments system scandal), Mosebenzi Zwane (who as the Mineral Resources Minister flew to Switzerland to arrange the favourable sale of the Optimum Coal Mineto the Guptas), and Mokonyane (who left the Water Affairs Ministry in complete disarray and has beenaccused at the Zondo Commission of receiving money and goods from Bosasa).
Magashule is, of course, right to say that legally speaking there is no reason why people who have not been convicted of any crime cannot be on the ANC’s list. But this is an election, not a court proceeding. He is speaking as a politician, not a lawyer. And he may find that it is voters who feel that they have the power to make the distinction between what is political and what is legal. In other words, when facing voters, relying on legal arguments may not work.
Then there is what this says about the internal politics of the ANC. Just the top 10 on this list (as confirmed by Magashule) says much about the party. In order the top 10 are:
1. President Cyril Ramaphosa.
2. Deputy President David Mabuza
3. Mineral Resources Minister (and ANC Chair) Gwede Mantashe
4. Monitoring and Evaluation Minister (and Ramaphosa’s Nasrec rival) Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma
5. Ronald Lamola (one of Ramaphosa’s closest aides and the ANC’s point-person on land)
6. Fikile Mbalula (currently ANC head of elections)
7. Minister of International Relations Lindiwe Sisulu
8. Co-operative Governance Minister Zweli Mkhize
9. Police Minister Bheki Cele
10. Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane
A brief look at the list shows that for the first three positions, it follows the form of the ANC’s top leadership. Ramaphosa and Mabuza are the leader and deputy leader, Mantashe is the chair of the ANC (both Magashule and Jessie Duarte are unable to represent the party in Parliament as both the positions of secretary-general and deputy secretary-general are considered as full-time under the ANC’s constitution). Dlamini Zuma, of course, is the person who challenged Ramaphosa at Nasrec and appeared to be happy to be the face of the Zuma faction (she nearly won). Lamola is clearly on the side of Ramaphosa; he appears to have done much behind the scenes to ensure his victory at Nasrec, and has been the person who has done the most talking for the ANC on the land issue.
Mbalula, of course, was an ally of Zuma for many years, but was removed from Cabinet by Ramaphosa. He also faces claims that he was involved in a deal for a “grabber” to tap cellphones ahead of the Nasrec conference. Sisulu is clearly part of the Ramaphosa group, and has her own long history (both personal and familial) in the ANC. Mkhize withdrew from the election to a position on the ANC’s Top Six, but was elected in the first position on the ANC’s national executive committee. Cele, of course, was one of the most vocal supporters of Ramaphosa ahead of Nasrec. And Mokonyane faces serious claims of corruption, strongly supported Zuma (and famously said the rand “will pick itself back up”) and does not appear to be a fan of Ramaphosa.
Looking at the list, there is much to evaluate in terms of the balance of power in the ANC.
The most important point to make is probably that Ramaphosa was simply unable to push off the list those who are accused of wrongdoing. And he was unable to stop at least some of them from being placed fairly high on the list. In short, all of this indicates that Ramaphosa is far from being fully in charge of his own party.
While the Nasrec result was incredibly close, there are many who thought that Ramaphosa would have used most of 2018 to consolidate his power (those “many” include this writer). It now appears that that analysis was incorrect. Instead, it seems that he has not been able to stamp his authority on the party.
It is important to understand what the ANC had said that its candidate list must actually accomplish. The party said, when this process started in January, that the candidates must “enhance the credibility of the ANC”. To some, perhaps many of them voters, it may not be clear how the inclusion of Mokonyane,Dlamini, Zwane and others on this list achieves this credibility bump.
It is of course fairly difficult to make absolute statements and predictions. But certainly, those who were thinking of voting for the ANC as a way of “voting for Cyril” may now want to think again. It would certainly seem now, with this being the composition of the list, and recent polling data, that the idea of the ANC hitting 60% in the election is completely off the table. This would have implications for Ramaphosa’s executive power going forward. The idea, held by many for most of 2018, that a strong result for the ANC would increase his own power in the ANC is now falling by the wayside.
It is now more likely than it has ever been since he became President that the ANC is going to do less well than expected, and thus Ramaphosa’s own political power will not be increased. And could even be weakened.
Then there is the issue of Gauteng. While the ANC has disputed polls showing that it is well below the required 50% mark in the province, the composition of this list could well weaken it further. It is still true that the ANC is likely to do better than the Institute for Race Relations poll of 41% (the IRR itself warns that that is not a prediction, but a snapshot) because of issues around turnout, the campaign itself, and floating voters returning to their original political identity. But it may now be difficult to convince voters to cast their ballot for Mokonyane, Dlamini, Zwane, etc.
In the end, this list confirms two aspects of our politics. First, that this is going to be an incredibly contested election. And the contestation in the ANC is still at incredible levels.