19/12/2017 12:03 SAST | Updated 19/12/2017 12:03 SAST

The Rise Of The Premier League, And Their Failed Bid To Install NDZ

The group comprises North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza and Free State premier Ace Magashule.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former minister and chairwoman of the African Union Commission, arrives for the 54th national conference of the governing African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg.

The contribution of the so-called "Premier League" to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's campaign for the presidency of the ANC was a major stepping stone to her accumulating more than 2,000 votes for the number one spot.

It was a tight race, only 179 votes separating her from now ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. But she would not have got that many if it weren't for the help from the Premier League.

The term, coined to describe the relationship between three ANC premiers, has been floating around political circles since the ANC's last national conference in Mangaung five years ago.

The pro-Zuma lobby group have been a constant backbone of support to the now-outgoing ANC president, and they have been key in petitioning support for his preferred candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Although its members deny its existence, the group comprises North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza and Free State premier Ace Magashule.

READ: Ramaphosa vs Dlamini-Zuma: The Race For ANC Presidency By Numbers.

Politics expert Theo Venter said the strategy between the three was to organise branches and increase ANC membership in their respective provinces.

"They influence decision-making by means of good administration. By January this year, we thought they were unassailable, and it is clear they all had ambitions to get into the ANC's top six," Venter said.

It worked.

Mpumalanga toppled the Eastern Cape as the ANC's second-biggest voting bloc‚ with Mabuza's province emerging second in size to KwaZulu-Natal, with a total of 736 voting delegates. There were also marginal increases of voting delegates from Free State and North West.

Getty Images
North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo and President Jacob Zuma during the unveiling of a monument dedicated to Zuma at the Groot Marico site on October 05, 2017.

Mabuza was also nominated as ANC deputy president post and Magashule as secretary-general.

"Looking back, I think the Premier League peaked too soon –– nine months in advance. That influence is unsustainable over such a long period... It shows that it pays to focus on administration," Venter said.

Independent political analyst Molifi Tshabalala said another tactic to gain support was the dispensing of patronage at various levels.

"These premiers know how to work the branches. They don't rely on credible membership; they just want the numbers. More numbers equal more voting delegates," he said.

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President Jacob Zuma and the premier of the Free State Ace Magashule ready to release white doves during the Nelson Mandela statue unvailing in Mangaung at Naval Hill on December 13, 2012.

Mabuza was the wild card –– his province seemed split in the run-up to the ANC elective conference, with about a third nominating Cyril Ramaphosa, another third raising their hands for Dlamini-Zuma, and the last bunch writing in the word "unity" across ballot papers.

However, Mahumapelo's and Magashule's work paid off for the Zuma camp. Dlamini-Zuma received five times the number of nominations that Ramaphosa did.

Although they didn't get their preferred president, the Premier League has now entered the doors of Luthuli House. They have done their job –– and done it well.