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.
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.
— HuffPost SouthAfrica (@HuffPostSA) December 17, 2017
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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.
WILL SLATE POLITICS CARRY THE DAY?
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.
DID KZN BLOW IT FOR NDZ?
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.
IS IT GAME OVER FOR THE PREMIER LEAGUE... OR ARE THEY BEING PROMOTED?
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.
DID THE BRANCH NOMINATIONS MEAN ANYTHING?
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.