Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign to be announced ANC president on Sunday night gained steady momentum on day 1 of the ANC’s 54th national elective conference.
Although there is consensus that the two-horse race between Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is still too close to call, events inside and outside of Nasrec gave team #CR17 a boost on Friday.
Defeats in the courts for all Dlamini-Zuma’s major provinces – KwaZulu-Natal, North West and the Free State – were serious body blows to her campaign. Together, the potential votes lost in the three cases make up about 100 votes, but in a race as tight as this you cannot let one vote slip.
Dlamini-Zuma’s supporters looked visibly stressed, while Ramaphosa’s backers were breathing easier, albeit not arrogantly so.
Is the Premier League, led by provincial chairpersons and premiers Ace Magashule (Free State), Supra Mahumapelo (North West) and Sihle Zikalala (KwaZulu-Natal) finally imploding?
Together they still bring about 1 800 delegate votes to the table and it is too soon to write off Dlamini-Zuma, but they look rattled.
An emergency meeting of the outgoing national executive committee has been called for Saturday morning where the party will discuss the way forward in light of the court judgments. It is expected that this meeting will delay the start of the conference, which President Jacob Zuma was supposed to open at 9am.
Zuma said two things on Friday which may indicate that he is preparing himself for a Ramaphosa victory.
During an interview with the SABC Zuma said that he never supported Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign. This is of course not true: Zuma attended many a Dlamini-Zuma rally, said it was time for a woman to lead the ANC and rubbished the assertion (which he supported in previous years) that the deputy president of the ANC should automatically be heir to the throne.
Although he was economical with the truth, it is still significant that Zuma was trying to create distance between him and Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign.
At his final gala dinner on Friday night, Zuma thanked his top 6 and spoke glowingly of Ramaphosa, who he said was returning to office. Ramaphosa is only running for president and Zuma’s comments could be an indication of what he senses may happen.
Zuma tried to soften the praise by saying how wonderful the ANC’s democratic tradition was that allowed for seven presidential candidates to compete and that the losers should unite behind the ultimate survivor.
Significantly, Zuma made no reference to his former wife in his speech.
Ramaphosa was in high spirits at the dinner, even asking Dlamini-Zuma to pose with him for a photo.
All of this doesn’t mean Ramaphosa has it sealed. Disconcerting rumours of vote buying were doing the rounds at Nasrec, with stories of delegates being offered up to R100 000 in bribes for “selling” their accreditation tags.
What happens next?
After Zuma’s final address to the ANC on Saturday, the closed credentials session will address complaints about delegate numbers and irregularities. This is expected to be a heated debate.
Thereafter, nominations for the top 6 start, followed by voting, that would probably continue throughout the night.
The reaction to and outcome of the credentials and nominations sessions will give a clearer indication if Ramaphosa is indeed ahead, or whether Zuma was bluffing.
(Photo credit: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)