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Dr Zweli Mkhize, The "Accidental" ANC President

Here's why Dr Zweli Mkhize, the quiet, unassuming candidate, may emerge as the new ANC president in December 2017.

24/01/2017 04:55 SAST | Updated 24/01/2017 04:55 SAST
Frennie Shivambu / Gallo Images
Zweli Mkhize during 105th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the African National Congress (ANC) on January 06, 2017 at Vilakazi Street in Soweto, South Africa.

It was an immensely contested South African Football Association (Safa) president position between Danny Jordaan and Dr Irvin Khoza. They traded insults within Safa corridors and outside. There was a third candidate within the race. Little known by the media and football fraternity, Kirsten Nematandani, who was contesting for the top post as well.

Of course, he was offered little limelight, because the two big fish were well known in the soccer fraternity. Mr Nematandani became the accidental Safa president in Kempton Park with the two front runners pulling out of the race leaving their backers and supporters shocked and disappointed. It was an awful and repulsive fight between the two.

Expect a similar showdown between Cyril Ramaphosa and Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma -– where an accidental candidate might emerge in the midst of a dusty fight. The ANC elective conference in December promises to be a tough one. Between the two heavyweights expect neither to emerge victorious. Instead a unifying figure will emerge.

The Cyril Ramaphosa Candidacy

The Soweto-born deputy president of the ANC is no stranger to the fight for the top position within the ANC. In 1993, there was a battle for leadership position in the ANC. He was earmarked to deputise the late iconic figure -– Nelson Mandela. He was instead overlooked when Mandela picked former President Thabo Mbeki as his deputy president. Ramaphosa went to the business world and made it big on that side.

Fast forward to 2012 in Mangaung, the Zuma camp was mired with scandals and polarities after Zuma's first term. They wanted someone who was respected by the society at large. When he was called, Ramaphosa availed himself. He stood on Zuma's slate against former president Kgalema Motlanthe's slate, who was in the position for eight months. After that conference there were questions that surfaced within President Zuma's lobby group. What is to be done with this deputy in 2017? The moment of reckoning has now come and that question needs to be answered.

It's now evident that Mr Ramaphosa will not go down without a fight this time around.

Indeed, the Zuma camp have answered that question by discarding his candidacy and introducing another NEC member into their fold.

It's now evident that Mr Ramaphosa will not go down without a fight this time around. There is too much at stake. He has relinquished his businesses and tasted the honey in the Union Buildings. The warmth that comes with that seat in the capital is something he can't easily let go of. He has over the past year distanced himself from the stench of graft and misconduct associated with his boss. He enjoys the wider support of all South Africans but not necessarily in the ANC branches in many provinces. He and Zuma have grown apart. They may trade smiles in public but animosity is tangible whenever they are together. His choice of words in recent times are an indication that he is tired of Zuma's administration. We are yet to see his support base, especially among those branches that constitute 90% of the voting delegates in the conference.

But his latest campaigning speech in the Eastern Cape shows that the man won't back down without a fight.

The Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Candidacy

Dlamini-Zuma is one of the few within the ANC ranks who has served under all ANC presidents since the democratic dispensation. From Mandela's administration to Zuma's administration, her record in all the portfolios she held is impeccable. Though her success in the African Union Commission is subject to scrutiny, she did a sterling job on many fronts. Born in KwaZulu-Natal, she rose to prominence through hard work and tenacity.

When her erstwhile husband was sent packing from the Union Buildings second-in-command seat by Mbeki, she was approached to take his seat, an offer she declined. In 2007, she contested against her ex-husband slate in Polokwane, a battle she lost. In spite of this apparent enmity, she became a minister of home affairs under Zuma's administration.

Despite her record both in the SA government and in the continent, Dlamini-Zuma's candidacy will spark more division within the ANC. She is seen as a Zuma's stooge and protégé.

In 2012, she was put forward to challenge Jean Ping's reign in the AU Commission. She availed herself, and she won. She left the country to sit in the April heat and December cold of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. While away, her name was doing rounds within the ANC circles at home. But as was frequently said of her: Out of sight but not out of mind. Also in 2012, she was elected into the ANC NEC with a whopping number of votes.

Despite her record both in the SA government and in the continent, her candidacy will spark more division within the ANC. She is seen by some as Zuma's stooge and protégé. Calls for the country's readiness for a woman president will fall on the deaf ears in sections of our society. The timing is not right, or as we should rather say, she has the wrong backer. Her candidacy has been forcefully imposed onto branches of the ANC by a lobby group of premiers, dubbed "The Premier League". Her association with such group has nullified her competency. Within the ANC insiders, Dlamini-Zuma is not what they are ready for.

The Accidental ANC President – Dr Zweli Mkhize

The former Premier of KwaZulu Natal, chancellor of the University of KwaZulu Natal, and the current Treasurer of the ANC, is an "all-rounder" politician. In recent events, the ANC has been sending Mkhize to troubled and toxic areas where certain leaders within the ANC cannot go. He is after all the damage controller of the ruling party. Calm, collected, soft spoken and intelligent, the ANC treasury-general is someone the nation yearns for in these difficult times. Indeed, the party needs someone who will put into actions what the ANC has preached during the January 8th statement –- unity in action.

Like Safa's Nematandani, Mkhize is the "accidental" ANC president. Put aside his ethnic roots. He is the rank and file ANC cadre. Within the top six, he is one of the few leaders that is not tainted and remains a force of reason. He listens to both Zuma and Ramaphosa –- and still makes his position known. He will unify the irreparably damaged party of Olivier Tambo. As the branches look for an alternative to avoid another breakaway party, Mkhize present them with that opportunity.

There are many names that have been put forth. However, Mkhize tops the list of those punted as the ANC gears up for the 54th elective conference in December.

By all accounts, Khabazela is the next ANC leader and he will emerge, almost "accidentally".