10/07/2017 15:01 SAST | Updated 10/07/2017 15:01 SAST

President Dlamini-Zuma? President Mbete? President Sisulu? 

Will the ANC gift South Africa its first woman president? 

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Baleka Mbete, Lindiwe Sisulu.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Baleka Mbete, Lindiwe Sisulu.


Three women who are ANC royalty are now officially in the race for the party's presidency in December. We analyse the contest and assess the campaigns of all three.

Baleka Mbete
At the weekend, the party's chairperson and Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete threw her hat into the ring for the second time. It was reported in January that she was running to become party president. At the weekend, she officially declared her intention to race.

At 68 years old, she is the age mate of the favourite candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The race for ANC president is currently regarded as a two-horse race between the party and country's deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, and Dlamini-Zuma.

Now Mbete has opened it up with a salty gambit: she is in a strong position because it is her decision, as Speaker, on whether to allow a parliamentary secret ballot in the no confidence vote which will be held on August 8. This is huge political leverage and she is using it.

A recent Constitutional Court judgment put the decision firmly in her hands and Mbete is clearly now using this power to open her campaign but also to secure offers as a deputy president on either the states of Dlamini-Zuma or Ramaphosa.

Mbete has long harboured presidential ambitions. This is because Dlamini-Zuma's campaign is regarded as closely aligned to that of President Jacob Zuma's and Mbete holds his future in her hands.

While ANC chief whip at parliament, Jackson Mthembu, is enforcing a strict line against a secret ballot, analysts say the ANC caucus could surprise if secrecy reigns.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
There is little difference in the political pedigree of Dlamini-Zuma and Mbete. Both have served the ANC in multiple global and local roles and have held positions of seniority and trust. Mbete was country deputy president for a year and she holds two powerful roles: as Speaker of Parliament and as ANC national chairperson. While the young guns from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have turned her job to a nightmare, she is a veteran Speaker.

Dlamini-Zuma has run two crucial ministries in South African Cabinets: Health and Foreign Affairs (which later became the International Relations and Co-operation portfolio).

Her role as African Union Commissioner chairperson has given Dlamini-Zuma unparalleled international and continental exposure although the jury is out on how effective she was as Africa boss while she served in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

Lindiwe Sisulu
Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has got her campaign out of the starting blocks slowly.

She is from the powerful Sisulu clan and she took a lead role in pushing back against a populist lobby to declare South Africa in the grip of "white monopoly capital" at last week's ANC policy conference.

As chairperson of the social transformation commission, she was instrumental in subtly changing the lobby for radical economic transformation to radical socio-economic transformation. The latter focuses on broader social justice goals while the former is the lobby to deepen state influence and support for a new layer of black business. While Sisulu actively supported Zuma's candidacy when he became ANC president in 2007, the two have hit a split in the road. Last week, Sisulu was outspoken about Zuma's attack on party veterans and stalwarts.

Sisulu is the only one of the trio with security credentials: she has been intelligence minister and also served as defence and military veterans minister.

Will the ANC gift South Africa its first woman president? The next six months are likely to see a bare-knuckle fight for the top spot on the ANC ballot, which will be decided at its national conference in December. But with the ANC's poll rankings flagging as it faces a crisis of corruption, there are no longer guarantees that the party's president will be the country's president too.