18/12/2017 05:48 SAST | Updated 18/12/2017 06:18 SAST

Down To The Wire: Ramaphosa's And Dlamini-Zuma's Last Push

ANC delegates to the party's national conference at Nasrec have two stark choices in front of them: CR17's team, or NDZ's offering. They ain't the same.

The long and acrimonious battle for the leadership of the ANC is set to come to a head on Monday when the governing party is expected to announce who will succeed President Jacob Zuma: his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, or a former Cabinet minister and his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

The air at the Nasrec exhibition centre on Sunday was thick with anticipation, misinformation and wishful thinking as numbers were crunched and propaganda from the two campaigns vetted. The finalisation of the candidates for the top six positions presented a stark choice for the 4,776 voting delegates who will decide on the ANC and the country's immediate future.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former minister and chairwoman of the African Union Commission, attends the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa December 17, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The Ramaphosa slate seems broadly representative of various interest groups (women, KwaZulu-Natal, the old guard, up-and-coming stars and Gauteng), while the Dlamini-Zuma slate gives a nod to the Premier League and women, with three of the six candidates being female.

While some in the Ramaphosa camp contended they had enough numbers to secure victory and others in the Dlamini-Zuma entourage argued their candidate would break the tape first, there are many variables and enough dynamism in the process to make sure this thing goes down to the wire.


Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa listens to delegates disputing votes during a plenary meeting at the NASREC Expo Centre during the 54th ANC national congress on December 17, 2017 in Johannesburg. South Africa's ruling African National Congress holds its 54th national conference, with the party expected to elect its new leader, who will probably become the country's next president. / AFP PHOTO / MUJAHID SAFODIEN (Photo credit should read MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)

The ANC has attempted to move away from so-called slate politics, i.e. where delegates vote strictly according to a predetermined list. Even with the realisation that divisions are crippling the party, delegates shot down any attempts at nullifying the practice. Both sides want a complete and clear win. If slate discipline holds up, we could get two very distinct leadership cohorts (with very distinct programmes of action), which will look like this:

Ramaphosa - Dlamini-Zuma

Lindiwe Sisulu - David Mabuza

Gwede Mantashe - Nathi Mthethwa

Senzo Mchunu - Ace Magashule

Zongiswa Losi - Jessie Duarte

Paul Mashatile - Maite Nkoana-Mashabane


Ever since Mabuza's Mpumalanga emerged as the ANC's second-largest province, the question on everybody's lips has been: "What will Mpumalanga do?" Mabuza has positioned himself as kingmaker, willing to do a deal with whoever will have him. That turned out to be Dlamini-Zuma, who has elected to look past the provincial premier's dodgy and questionable history in order to lay claim to the province's 708 electoral college votes. But it seems to be uncertain whether he can indeed deliver the whole pile. Ramaphosa's people believe they can claim as much as 50% of votes, while some estimates put Ramaphosa over the top even with the undecided "unity" votes in the Dlamini-Zuma bracket. Either way, "the province where the sun rises" will be key.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Delegates sing and chant slogans during the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa December 17, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko


KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) has always been the biggest ANC province and conventional wisdom has it that "as goes KZN, so goes the ANC". But the province, a constituency where Dlamini-Zuma invested a lot of time and energy, did not deliver the overwhelming victory in the branch-nominations process that she expected. In fact, Ramaphosa scored almost 28% of support, a number that put a subdued grin on the faces of the CR17 team. Dlamini-Zuma should have done better there.


Ace Magashule has been the provincial chairperson of the Free State since the dawn of democracy. He was elected when Schindler's List won the Oscar for best movie, when Boyz II Men's I'll Make Love To You ended the year at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and when FW de Klerk was still part of the Government of National Unity. He's bided his time, manoeuvred and manipulated his province and is poised to move from provincial player into the big time. The same goes for Mabuza, who, like Magashule, represents the patronage network established by President Jacob Zuma and is the polar opposite of what Ramaphosa seeks to achieve if he wins. If Dlamini-Zuma, however, triumphs, they will get to it at the big table.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
ANC members and delegates attend the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa December 16, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko


During the plenary session on Sunday, before nominations for the top six positions were accepted, there was some debate among delegates whether or not delegates were obliged to vote according to the mandate given to them by their branches. The ANC Women's League, particularly, objected quite strenuously that it should be the case and that lobbying (and other methods of convincing delegates to change horses) should be allowed. If branch nominations hold up in the final estimation, then it must be Ramaphosa to win. But that's not how it works, even though it does give us something to work with.