‘No campaigning!’ Chaos and deception in electing the next Presidents of the ANC and South Africa by Susan Booysen

‘No campaigning!’ Chaos and deception in electing the next Presidents of the ANC and South Africa

By Susan Booysen Author of The African National Congress and the Regeneration of Political Power


One cannot help but be filled with a ‘sense of wonderment’ (famous words once used by paleoanthropologist Phillip Tobias) at the glaring contradiction between the ‘no campaigning for positions in the ANC … we are a disciplined movement’ and the expansive maze of actual campaigning that envelopes both the African National Congress and South Africa.

The reality of pervasive campaigning and the need for campaigning – albeit veiled in denial, attempted ‘underground’ status, and proxy mobilisation – is well grasped by South Africans. After all, the ANC is in effect about to elect the next president of South Africa – for 2014, if Jacob Zuma retains his ANC president status, or if he gets beaten at the post by an unlikely effective challenger. With even longer term implications, the ANC may very well be set to be electing the subsequent president for South Africa – a now-deputy to take over from Zuma as ANC president in 2017 and 2019 as South African president. Should this yet-unknown person run for a second term, the 2012 ANC events could very well determine the president of the country for all of the period 2019-2029.

This argument on the rolling out of presidencies of the ANC and South Africa is based on a few assumptions, which are elaborated in my recent book The African National Congress and the Regeneration of Political Power (Wits University Press).

The first assumption, historically proven since the early 1990s, is that the ANC is a hierarchical organisation, with reverence for and deference to its top-leadership – also with respect for the right of the deputy president to succeed into the party presidency. The second assumption is that the ANC continues to advance its president into the presidency of the country. The third assumption in this analysis is that the ANC will remain in power at least until 2029.

Turning to assumption one. So far, this has been a no-contest supposition. Generational issues, however, do interfere. This means that Kgalema Motlanthe, same generation as Zuma, might not be deemed eligible (and may very well not make himself available) for a term after the Zuma time has finally run out (by 2017/2019). After all Motlanthe does already earn the ample (SA) Presidential pension.

The biggest question, in this time of the 2012 ANC election year, is probably that of ‘what about Motlanthe?’ Will he cast down the cards he is assumed to be playing so close to his chest and step into a challenge to Zuma, will he keep the ANC deputy presidency hot seat occupied, or will be exit all around … thus easing a Zuma trajectory of retaining power and opening up the space for the anointment of the next president of South Africa, 2019-2029? If he is ‘hungry for the position’, will his moment of showing appetite be too late a mount an effective challenge to ensconced incumbent Zuma?

The succession field remains ‘open’ when one again takes the shorter-term view of the next six months. Zuma is in there, with a declared candidacy in place. There are persistent rumours that Motlanthe is simply biding a strategic silence and will be ready to pounce. Tokyo Sexwale, with little except dented ego to lose, is on a transparently self-promotional campaign to try and leap into the presidency. Perhaps, his strategy is to ‘negotiate’ a deputy presidency of the ANC in exchange for, in the end, not opposing Zuma in the Mangaung stakes. Cyril Ramaphosa is the dark horse candidate whose name persistently pops up – presidency, deputy presidency? Some in senior ANC circles mention Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as Mangaung presidential material … Does that help explain the frenetic moves to deploy her in the African Union?

Such are the seriously high stakes around which there is ‘no campaigning’ – a farcical ruling that affects all of South Africa, irrespective of the fact that there is pervasive yet somewhat veiled ANC campaigning. Many of the ANC regions and some provinces are making their preferences known. Cosatu is pushed to show its hand in which candidate it backs. The ANCYL is campaigning on the ground for a Motlanthe presidency. The MK Veterans Association has its bread buttered on the Zuma side. Nationalist sentiment is stirred up to try and recreate the 2007 under-siege-of-the enemy sympathy around Zuma. Close Zuma associates try and root out criticism of their prime candidate. The SACP is basking in the opportunity to ride into Zuma sunset and try to map the ascendancy of candidate Blade Nzimande.

ANC branches are fighting tooth and nail to get the ‘right’ delegates in place, those that will help construct the winning candidacy and slate come Mangaung. Rival branches are springing up as preparations for Midrand’s policy conference and Mangaung take shape. They are on both sides of the contest. It is the ANC’s Luthuli House (firmly under Zuma’s control), however, that will wield the final accreditation axe.

These contests most importantly do not fall on virgin soil. President Jacob Zuma is the only one of the likely contestants with a declared candidacy. That was first put in place before the ban on campaigning was instituted. His declaration was in the vintage ANC style of ‘if the people want me …’

Subsequently, and in the context of the ANCYL’s thus far ill-fated rebellion, the ANC mantra of being disciplined cadres gained the force of imposition onto the leadership contest. It was a case of ‘all hands off deck; the president is campaigning’.

There is certain merit in the argument that the ANC needs to focus on policy, for now, and only campaign ‘when the time comes’. However, the argument fails on two grounds. First, there needs to be a pairing between policy and leadership. Top-leaders in particular need to tell the ANC and South Africa how they would go about solving the pernicious policy problems. South Africans and ANC members-supporters need to be able to make informed policy-driven choices about future leaders. While it is the ANC that determines policy, the policy-related authority and determination of individual leaders will shape the future credibility of the ANC. Furthermore, the October deadline for campaigning is a disservice to the ANC. October is the month of nominations – if campaigning only starts then there will in fact be no campaigning at all.

This is in effect how we conduct – or are gazing on in wonderment at the unfolding process of – the election of the (or a) next president of South Africa.


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