NDZ vs Ramaphosa: the ANC’s weakest candidates yet

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – JULY 01: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma share a light moment 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)

As the ANC leadership battle intensifies, it is becoming clear that the race is dominated by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (NDZ) and the current party deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa.

NDZ’s campaign is relatively stronger because it is backed by the current president of the ANC and enjoys support from the ANC Women’s League and the Youth League.

Ramaphosa’s campaign on the other hand enjoys wider legitimacy across the country because it is seen as an escape route from rampant corruption that continues to engulf the country. It’s a strange configuration; with one candidate being stronger yet lacking legitimacy while the other candidate is weaker despite enjoying wider legitimacy.

Compared to candidates who previously contested the top leadership position of the party, NDZ and Ramaphosa have thus far been the weakest candidates to run. This is also demonstrated by the fact that four months before the ANC’s elective conference, people are still emboldened to raise their hands and present themselves as alternative candidates to both Ramaphosa and NDZ.

At this point, strong frontrunners would have consolidated their positions and presented themselves as unassailable top candidates. This would result in people having to choose between the two candidates instead of presenting a third or fourth option.

The likes of Lindiwe Sisulu, Mathews Phosa, and Paul Mashatile have recently been reported to be interested in the top position, despite Ramaphosa and NDZ’s positioning as the two front runners.

Be that as it may, it is still incumbent upon us to begin to imagine how the presidencies of each of the frontrunners would be like, in case he or she wins the contest in December.

This question is very difficult to answer in relation to NDZ, being the enigma that she is. With Ramaphosa one can expect a moderate, center-left president who is practical when it comes to how government ought to work with business. He would tone down on the rhetoric of radical economic transformation while rebuilding government’s technocratic capacity.

He would most likely be an incrementalist who believes in a strategic, cautious approach to resolving the country’s socio-economic problems. Yes, he might be as cryptic as how my previous sentence comes across: saying everything while emphasising nothing in particular.

NDZ is difficult to pin down, given the fact that she has not previously demonstrated a commitment to an ideological position. As a medical doctor, perhaps she is all about taking practical measures to save the situation instead of theorising about the problem and taking an ideological stand – assuming an ideological position on things might result in the problem escalating further.

Doctors would not stand around a patient and satisfy themselves by explaining how social conditions have conspired to create the situation where the patient ended up getting sick or injured. They would rather treat the patient immediately and call upon social workers to deal with the social condition.

This might be Dlamini-Zuma’s position; a person who is practical and yet caught in an ideological storm that has pushed her to align herself with a group of people who believe in radical economic transformation.

Realising that there just might not be another option to win the ANC presidency, NDZ may have decided to sing along with the radical transformation congregation, as long as that will earn her the presidency and allow her an opportunity to implement practical measures to end unemployment.

Weekend newspapers reported that NDZ is planning to offload President Jacob Zuma immediately after the party’s elective conference. She also mentioned a few weeks ago that she wants state capture investigations to take place.

She has served all three presidents from Mandela, Mbeki, to Zuma. One would have to be very practical to find conform in those three different presidents, particularly Mbeki and Zuma.

If elected to lead the ANC, she stands a good chance to make history and become the first female president of South Africa. I really wonder if she would waste an opportunity to cleanse herself of the Zuma curse by becoming the Zuma who got it right.

Or would she squander the opportunity by focusing on dispensing patronage to those who delivered victory to her, thus those within the ANC Women’s League, Youth League, and whatever would be remain of the premier league?

This is how difficult it gets when one attempts to plot the political life of someone who has not done anything extraordinarily good, nor extraordinarily bad. That’s NDZ.

– Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes.

* This column was first published on 28 August 2017 on News24.

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