Ramaphosa’s deputy president headache

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – JULY 04: Naledi Pandor shares a light moment with Jeff Radebe on the side-lines of the African National Congress (ANC) 5th national policy conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre on July 04, 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 / The Times / Masi Losi)

After months of criss-crossing the country to woo ANC delegates branches are finally eliminating pretenders to the throne.

The nomination patterns confirm that the battle for the presidency will be between Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Much has been said about their contest, but the big question is who will emerge as deputy president, especially if Ramaphosa wins.

The Dlamini-Zuma slate has been clear – it will be Mpumalanga ANC chairperson and premier David Mabuza. He was a strategic choice – expected to deliver #NDZ17 a sizeable number of votes.

Mpumalanga has emerged as the province with the second largest number of delegates – standing at 736. However, the nomination process is indicating that Mabuza’s grip on the province is not as tight as he would like us to believe, with Ramaphosa making inroads in the province.

Mabuza, who until now has been coy in public about who he backs, has been touted to be behind treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize’s ‘third way’ campaign because of “differences” with Dlamini-Zuma. He is also said not to be convinced that she will be able to win the party the 2019 national elections.

Those close to him say he has his eye not only on Luthuli House but deputy president of the country.

Few inside the ANC are giving Mkhize’s campaign even a shoe in. If that’s the case, Mabuza will likely go with Dlamini-Zuma.

Mkhize’s late entrance to the presidential race some argue was motivated by the fact that neither Ramaphosa nor Dlamini-Zuma’s campaigns were talking to him about a position in the top 6. His support in KZN is no longer as strong as when he was chair of the province – and his future now could be hanging in the balance.

Without a province backing him he will need 25 percent of voting delegates’ support to make it onto the ballot – that is over one thousand delegates backing him from the floor at the conference.

Ramaphosa will be hoping that even if he doesn’t win the Mpumalanga provincial nomination – a sizeable number of delegates will back him should he need to do any horse trading with Mkhize or Mabuza.

As things stand neither are, however, an option for deputy president.

Dlamini-Zuma and the Women’s League’s clarion call that South Africa is ready for a woman president has gained traction within the ANC and has forced him into a corner – his deputy has to be a woman.

The other senior positions of secretary general and national chair of the ANC are taken.

Former ANC KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Senzo Mchunu, who is expected to deliver the much needed support from parts of the province, is standing as SG while Gwede Mantashe, who is expected to boost the campaign with votes from the Eastern Cape, is standing as national chair. Those inside the #CR17 campaign say those are the two positions that are “sacrosanct” on their slate.

Mantashe initially had his eye on being second in command, but he has bowed out to make space for a woman.

Ramaphosa’s option now appears to be Lindiwe Sisulu. She is not bringing any real numbers to the campaign, with only a few branches in the Eastern and Western Cape nominating her.

However, she carries the required gravitas and her open presidential campaign has made her hard to ignore.

But Sisulu has not won herself favours in the camp. Her recent off-the-cuff comments at the Umkhonto We Sizwe Military Veterans Council conference that she will bring Ramaphosa to give the closing address did not go down well with the #CR17 campaign machinery.

It was interpreted to mean that as his future boss, she will order him to attend.

“I am closing the session tomorrow and I will make it a point that we get Cyril to give an address that was expected because they need to recognise without us they would not have been here. That recognition is necessary and that recognition we must get,” Sisulu said.

Others saw it as a desperate attempt to cement her position on his slate. Then as her comments were blowing over she was in a public spat with Mantashe and ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu (also key in the Ramaphosa camp) sparked by her questioning Mantashe’s credentials.

Sisulu was said to have been angered by Mantashe’s earlier comments that suggested that to manage succession, a woman DP must be elected for now, and only stand for the presidency in 2022.

It is not clear if Ramaphosa and Sisulu have officially met, but she has appeared on his top 6 slate and some branch nominations show that she is getting the nod to be his deputy.

Insiders say Sisulu is unlikely to accept just being a deputy president without clearly defined roles – especially if she ends up at the Union Buildings in 2019.

She would want to avoid Ramaphosa’s current difficult position where Zuma has given him authority only to take it away when it suits him while at the same time receiving the brunt of criticism for the president’s ludicrous decisions as his second in command.

On the face of it being deputy president is a powerful position but the ANC constitution states that the deputy “shall assist the President, deputise him or her and when necessary carry out whatever functions that are entrusted to him or her by the National Conference, the National General Council, the President, the NWC or the NEC.”

For now Ramaphosa appears to be leaving it to the branches to give indications with the numbers – hoping they strengthen his position when the behind the scenes horse trading becomes necessary ahead of the conference.

– Mahlatse Mahlase is political editor of News24.

(Photo credit: Gallo Images / The Times / Masi Losi)