Can Ramaphosa broker a deal to avoid becoming a one-day-special?

SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA – DECEMBER 18: New president of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa, deputy president DD Mabuza and Paul Mashatile during the announcement of new party leadership at the 5th African National Congress (ANC) national conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre on December 18, 2017 in Soweto, South Africa. As ANC delegates‚ supporters of the two presidential candidates were equally confident that their preferred choice will be announced as the new president of the ANC. The race was between Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa‚ the only two nominees for the party's top position. (Photo by Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

So there we have it folks. After all the months of speculation, number crunching and debates we finally know that Cyril Ramaphosa is the new ANC president.

Well, that is if nothing still goes badly wrong today with the ongoing saga around the missing 68 votes.

At first it did not seem to be much of an issue. When the final count was announced on Monday night it became clear that the final tally was 68 short of the total number of accredited delegates. Nothing strange about that. After all, people can get “permanently delayed” for various reasons – upset stomachs, faulty alarm clocks, sore heads or as someone once put it: “Ah comrades, the bus just left me.”

But a few hours later a WhatsApp message was sent to the 2500 odd Ramaphosa supporters. It reminded them of the daily caucus meeting at 9:30 on Tuesday morning at which they were to be given the wishlist for the additional NEC members. Then came the indication of trouble: “We will also report on the 68 votes that were not included in the report of the Electoral Commission at the Plenary which, when included, will change the number of comrade Senzo [Mchunu, for the position of secretary general] drastically and positively.”

And within less than 12 hours of being elected Ramaphosa was facing the first major challenge of his presidency. By 8am yesterday morning his cavalcade of black SUVs and BMWs arrived and a crisis meeting was called of the steering committee (which ironically consists of the secretary general and chairperson of each province).

We now know that 68 fully accredited delegates turned up at the polling station on Sunday night to vote only to find out that their names were not on the voters’ roll. Apparently, originally some fake delegates tried to take their place at registration on day 1. This was discovered, the fake ones evicted and the legitimate ones re-instated. But through some glitch, the voters’ roll was not adjusted. Understanding this the Electoral Commission (consisting of ANC veterans) allowed them to vote but kept those votes separate.

This is where the story gets interesting if you believe those who claimed to have been there. They say deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte was informed and asked to get some clarity on the matter, which she didn’t. (She denies this.)

Whatever the case, the votes were apparently then included in the final tally which showed in the case of secretary general that Senzo Mchunu beat Ace Magashule. From what I can gather the provincial monitors (who are present at the counting) then went back into the plenary and whispered the results to candidates. All the NEC members wanted to shake Ramaphosa’s hands and take a selfie with him, but no announcement.

People sang and sang and sang. Then the president disappeared from the stage. Rumours also started to circulate that Nomvula Mokonyana was demanding a recount (She denies this.)

The president re-appeared from what we assumed was a lengthy toilet break. He called Magashule and David Mahlobo over and they had what looked like a very serious discussion. Then came the announcements.

There was joy and jubilation from one corner when Ramaphosa was announced and deadly silence from the other. Then followed the results of the deputy president (David Mabuza) and chairperson (Gwede Mantashe). No surprises there.

But things were about to change. As the numbers for the secretary general were read out it was clear that Magashule won with just 24 votes. Yet, Mchunu supporters carried him victoriously on their shoulders towards the stage. As they reached the front of the hall they suddenly realised that Ace was already on stage shaking hands with Ramaphosa. There was a moment of bafflement and Senzo was dropped.

After a few seconds Senzo also strolled on stage and had a word with the Electoral Commission, presumably to ask if they did not have a Jacob Zuma moment with the numbers.

Let’s be clear, an ANC conference will never be an ANC conference if there is not some drama around the voting process. The problem is that this is not just an argument about whether the votes were counted correctly, nor is it just an aggrieved candidate making a bit of noise. The stakes are extremely high.

If this decision can be overturned the balance of the top six officials will dramatically shift towards Ramaphosa’s side, thus making it much easier or even possible for him to put his stamp on the direction the ANC (and country) will move.

Given the crucial role the secretary general plays in running the organisation, the president needs to be able to trust and rely on the person in this position.

So why not just overturn the decision?

The problem is that those in the premier league quickly indicated that if the Ramaphosa camp wants the decision to be overturned they will ask for a total revote of all the positions and insist that the roughly 200 delegates that were originally excluded because of the court cases be allowed back.

This would spell disaster for Ramaphosa. With the margins so close it is highly likely that a new vote could see the end result changing completely.

And the last thing that we want to see is Ramaphosa becoming a one-day-special.

The problem is how to resolve it. Everyone now knows that the rightful person has not been announced as the winner. Yet, with someone like Magashule involved and given the size of his support this could end up very badly if the decision is just overturned.

So either they have to get the premier league to agree to have a revote on this position only, or convince one of the candidates to withdraw whilst hoping that their supporters will accept it.

This is a massive crisis for the ANC. With the delegates already restless after almost a week away from home, time is running out.

Ramaphosa must be wondering if it wasn’t easier to get a deal with the National Party than with his own members. With the stakes this high let’s hope that “Mr. Codesa” will also be able to broker a deal here.

– Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

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(Photo credit: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)