04/12/2017 04:41 SAST | Updated 04/12/2017 04:46 SAST

Ramaphosa vs NDZ: Why It’s Too Early To Call

The race for the leadership of the ANC is entering the final stretch. But it’s impossible to say who is in front.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa  and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma share a light moment during the ANC 5th national policy conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre on July 01, 2017 in Johannesburg.
Muntu Vilakazi/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma share a light moment during the ANC 5th national policy conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre on July 01, 2017 in Johannesburg.


The ANC's leadership race is too tight to call -- and it will remain that way until day three of the governing party's elective conference at Nasrec in Johannesburg when the results of the leadership race will be announced.

The conference starts on Saturday, 16 December 2017. Voting for the party leadership will take place the following day with the results expected on Monday, 18 December 2017.

With only the ANC in Limpopo (Sunday) and KwaZulu-Natal (Monday) left to consolidate its branches' decisions ahead of Nasrec it seems that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is in the lead according to two metrics: (1) how many provincial delegates' support he claims and (2) the number of branch nominations he has secured.

  1. There are 4,723 branch delegates with voting rights attending the conference. According to the support pledged by provincial general councils, Ramaphosa can count on at least 1,535 delegates' support and his rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma can rely on 947 delegates. However, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo (combined 1,513 delgates) are still outstanding while Mpumalanga (736) is undecided -- but leaning towards Dlamini-Zuma.
  2. Ramaphosa has the support of 903 branches in seven provinces, Dlamini-Zuma is the favourite of 775 branches while 223 branches in Mpumalanga has pledged support to an unnamed "unity" candidate. Limpopo will be leaning towards Rampahosa and the vast majority of KwaZulu-Natal branches are expected to go with Dlamini-Zuma.

These numbers and figures can, however, merely be used as a yardstick of broad themes and, unlike for example during the US presidential elections where pollsters track movements every hour, cannot be relied upon to make a call one way or the other. The race between Rampahosa and Dlamini-Zuma was always going to be closely run and it is proving to be as nail-biting as expected.

What you need to know about the voting procedure

  1. Branch delegates are under no obligation to vote for the delegate his or her branch nominates or prefers.
  2. Provincial delegations equally don't have to stick to the outcomes of the various provincial general councils.
  3. That means once a branch delegate enters the voting booth, its every voter (and candidate) for her or himself. A branch delegate from Nkandla can vote for Ramaphosa, while a delegate from Johannesburg can make a cross next to Dlamini-Zuma's face.
  4. On page 18 of the document, Preparing For National Conference, the ANC says: "At national conference delegates are not bound by their province's or league's preferred nominations or any lists circulated by their region, province or league."
  5. It continues: "They can vote on the branch mandate, or the (sic) majority provincial nomination or be influenced by debates and other nominations that occur at conference."
  6. 10% of the voting delegates are made up of provincial and national executives as well as the leagues (women, youth, veterans). Dlamini-Zuma will be able to call on the majority of support in those structures.

This in effect means that the process up until now is akin to a phoney war, sabre-rattling and braggadocio. There is no doubt that both camps -- as well that of the biggest minor candidate Zweli Mkhize -- are pulling out all the stops to (a) identify which branches will be sending delegates to Nasrec and (b) how to influence voting patterns. This can be done by appealing to delegates' conscience (the future of the ANC or the necessity of radical economic transformation) of by greasing palms (rumours have it that one vote can set candidates back R30,000 a pop).

What do we know then?

There is no scientifically sound way with which to make an accurate prediction of who is in the lead and who will win the leadership contest less than two weeks away from President Jacob Zuma's opening address at Nasrec. There are, however, a number of trends (many that have been predicted with some accuracy by analysts and experts):

  1. Rampahosa and Dlamini-Zuma are performing as expected with Gauteng showing its displeasure with the Zuma dynasty and the majority of the premier league holding firm in their concivtions.
  2. David Mabuza, a vital cog in the premier league machine, has positioned himself as a kingmaker, a position he has manoeuvred himself into by drastically growing the number of ANC members in Mpumalanga, now the second-biggest province.
  3. Mpumalanga has sent both Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma a strong message: work with us or else. Given Mabuza's own questionable history, the premier league and his outsized influence it seems to be "Sophie's Choice" for at least one candidate.
  4. KwaZulu-Natal will -- again -- be key. But will it present a unified front at Nasrec? The provincial leadership has been in and out of court and factional favourite Senzo Mchunu is on the Ramaphosa slate. Factor in Mkhize and its influence could be diluted.
  5. Propaganda machines are working in overdrive, with Rampahosa acing his rival in the marketing stakes. "CR17" (the Rampahosa campaign moniker) seems to be everywhere and his people are telling anybody who wants to hear that they're "#winning!". But two weeks in ANC politics is an eternity in normal human beings' lives. It can and will change.

The road to Nasrec

Ramaphosa: He will win if the contest remains clean, by which we mean that the credentials process (the auditing of delegates and their right to vote) is managed fairly and is procedurally sound. He will also win if the majority of ANC delegates agree with his message that the ANC needs to be rescued from state capture and corruption. But, more importantly, he will win if the KwaZulu-Natal vote is splintered and he can cut a palatable deal with Mabuza.

Dlamini-Zuma: She will win if she gives Mabuza what he wants and gets the majority of support from KwaZulu-Natal. Mpumalanga, the majority of KwaZulu-Natal plus North West and the Free State will put her over the top -- easily. She isn't running on any clear message, apart from radical economic transformation and has for all intents and purposes been silent on the issue of state capture and corruption. It's a pure numbers campaign for her.