5 questions to Melanie Verwoerd: Who will win the ANC election?

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – JULY 01: President Jacob Zuma, his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, Baleka Mbete and Zweli Mkhize during the African National Congress (ANC) 5th national policy conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre on July 01, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The conference is a gathering of about 3500 delegates from branches across the country to discuss the party’s policies going into the elective conference in December, where changes and new policies will be ratified. (Photo by Gallo Images / City Press / Muntu Vilakazi)

With the branch nominations finalised, why can we still not say conclusively from the numbers who will win the ANC election?

While Cyril Ramaphosa comes out ahead in the branch nominations, these numbers aren’t an accurate reflection of how many voting delegates there will be at the conference. Some branches have numerous delegates. (Each branch has one delegate, and if it has more than 250 delegates it may send one extra delegate per 250 extra members.) That can change things significantly. So you need to look at the delegate numbers, and when you do that, the numbers change significantly and the race becomes much closer.

There’s also another 10% of votes that will come from PEC and NEC members, as well as the leagues, where Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is expected to win much further.

Then, of course, there’s the so-called “unity” factor that comes from Mpumalanga, where, instead of voting for any of the candidates, branch members wrote “unity” on the ballot. We’ll need to see which way that goes.

Ultimately, there is a big fault line in the whole election process, and that’s that each delegate, when they get to conference, has an individual, secret vote and nobody knows whether they will follow any of the mandates they’re supposed to be following.

How much can still change in the time leading up to the conference?

At best, the branch numbers we have are only a guideline, and it can tell us that if these numbers change dramatically at conference, that something strange has happened. But ultimately, whoever can babysit the delegates best between now and the moment they go into the voting booth, that person will win. That could mean anything from making sure the right delegates get to the conference, that their accreditation goes well, and more dubious practices like vote buying and sabotage don’t take place.

Why has David Mabuza emerged as such an important figure?

The race for the deputy presidency is really between Lindiwe Sisulu, Zweli Mkhize and David Mabuza. If you look at the numbers, Mabuza almost has twice as many votes as any of the two other candidates. If you also acknowledge that he has the “unity” faction in Mpumalanga behind him, he is not going begging to either side. In fact, he becomes the master who can demand what he wants and decide whose slate he wants to join, because that person will in all likelihood become president.

Despite speculation that it won’t, it seems that the conference will go ahead. But the chaos at provincial level in the past months leaves a lot of room for the outcomes to be contested. What is the likelihood of this happening?

The ANC is going to put a lot of effort into making this conference happen, if for nothing else but the fact that they have put down the deposits. A lot of things can still go wrong. The conference can be disrupted and the ANC is very concerned about that. But then we could also get to the end and the losing faction will dispute the outcome. We’ll see the disputes as they arise as the delegates vote for the different positions.

The courts will be very reluctant to intervene in these processes unless there is a gross violation of the ANC’s constitution or some serious criminal activity.

Are you willing to call the election at this stage?

On paper, it looks like Ramaphosa should win, but I maintain what I’ve said all year: There is too much at stake for the Zuma camp; the Ramaphosa camp are fighting for jobs, they’re fighting for their lives and their children’s lives. Therefore, I’m confident that unless something very dramatic happens at the conference, Dlamini-Zuma will probably win.

(Photo credit: Gallo Images / City Press / Muntu Vilakazi)