The African National Congress (ANC) succession race is likely to be the most robust yet, with commentators anticipating a factional bloodbath come December. As such, the next few months will be critical. It will shape the future of the ANC, and the country going forward.
Once nominations open in September, and the presidential nominees are formally acclaimed, so begins either the resurgence or slow death of the oldest liberation movement in Africa, with the hard, fast, unforgiving head-to-head run towards the elective conference.
In theory, Lindiwe Sisulu should be cantering towards a clear victory. After spending all her life as part of the struggle for freedom and democracy, Sisulu has extensive, possibly unmatched, experience in the executive. She has been tested in roles as varied as defence minister, public service and administration minister and intelligence minister in addition to human settlements minister. She has raised the profile of women in politics to new heights, undertaking her mother's lifelong role as "ceiling cracker" to the doors of the Union Buildings.
However, trust is always a big issue in presidential campaigns and, in Sisulu's case, despite her impeccable record in all the departments she has led, she has not escaped the "corruption tag" so easily "placed" on ANC members. She has, for example, been relentlessly chastised over the expenditure of R10 million by the department of human settlements on flowers (or gifts), even though she was not minister of human settlements during this period in 2013/2014. Despite the department having released a press statement clarifying the above, media houses still led with the story that she was responsible and needed to answer.
This "corruption tag" is further exasperated by claims that she was silent on Nkandla and state capture. These claims can easily be proved factually incorrect with a basic Google search. But the intention is clear: taint possibly the one person who could oversee the resurgence of the ANC as a corruption-free, strong and united organisation.
By smearing Lindiwe Sisulu's name, those who seek a changeover of power from the ANC (or who seek a specific faction to win) aim to manipulate branches into believing Sisulu is corrupt, separate from the people and unable to build a united and strong ANC.
Both so-called factions (in the form of CR and NDZ supporters) have run campaigns of divisiveness, fear and insults, pitting comrade against comrade for the prize of being president.
The fear that Sisulu might win has struck a deep chord with those who push factionalism, as well as those opportunistic few who want a changeover of power in 2019. This is the only justifiable reason why, on the day Sisulu accepts her nomination by branches, a certain opposition party releases a press statement asking the minister to explain the R10 million expenditure on flowers by her department. They failed to mention that she was not the minister of that department during that period.
Was this an oversight? Or a deliberate attempt to tarnish the reputation of a credible leader? In December, the ANC is going to have a new president. Things are going to change, that much is certain. The question is, what kind of change are we going to have? While the ANC has historically been a "home for all", a "broad church", united under the banner of the National Democratic Revolution, irrespective of faith, ethnicity or social class, the current factional battles seem to represent a far more divided ANC.
Both so-called factions (in the form of CR and NDZ supporters) have run campaigns of divisiveness, fear and insults, pitting comrade against comrade for the prize of being president. The result is a divided and weaker ANC. As such, the elective conference is not just about which names are put forward. It's about who we are as a movement, and whether we are going to experience change that makes us stronger together or change that splinters our beloved movement beyond repair.
This is something Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, specifically, need to think about, as it is the divide between their supporters that is threatening to destabilise the ANC further. In 1991, possibly out of a fear of creating greater divisions within the ANC, Chris Hani and Thabo Mbeki were persuaded to withdraw from the race for deputy president of the ANC in favour of Walter Sisulu.
While ambition, confidence and a set determination have always been characteristic of ANC leaders, we implore CR and NDZ to consider what their victory will mean. What kind of ANC will remain after the December conference? In 1991, the decision of Hani and Mbeki to withdraw was a selfless act committed in favour of the unity of the ANC.
Can Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma do as Mbeki and Hani did and step aside for the sake of unity? Sisulu might not be the leader the so-called factions want, but she is the leader the ANC needs.