JOHANNESBURG - Does everything else that has happened in this conference so far suggest that it will herald a new beginning for the African National Congress (ANC)? The answer is unclear. The beginning promised to, but the subsequent proceedings have thrown that possibility into doubt. Today, on the fifth and last day of the conference, it looks likely that, rather than re-orient the party, the ANC may actually be frozen in a stalemate.
What initially sent a promising signal was the adoption of the credentials at the opening of the conference. This is often a contentious issue. Contestants (or their lobbies) challenge them either maliciously or legitimately to gain an advantage over the other. That was a real worry. The previous day, before opening, had been marred by numerous reports of attempts to sneak-in bogus candidates and deny legitimate delegates registration for the conference. One delegate even complained that he was turned away on account that he had already registered. His protestations were unheeded. That could only mean someone else registered, pretending to be him. Our subsequent concern that credentials would be fiercely challenged, however, did not materialise.
Credentials were adopted, surprisingly quickly. This suggests efficiency and fairness of the administrative process. That’s because those primarily responsible for the administration - Gwede Mantashe and Jessie Duarte - are on the opposite sides. They didn’t only have direct access to the data, but they were also vigilant, keeping an eye on each other not to employ any trickery. Because the disputes were adjudged quickly and fairly, there was no reason to challenge the credentials of the delegates. That was a surprisingly perfect start.
Events of the last two days, however, imply that the perfect start could be a false promise of a new beginning. Rather than facilitate a renewal of the organisation and improve the party’s reputation in government, the newly elected officials point to a stalemate. Their backgrounds and reputations are at odds. The election of Cyril Ramaphosa, Gwede Mantashe and Paul Mashatile accords with the promise of renewal, whilst David Mabuza, Ace Magashule and Jessie Duarte represent ignominy that has characterised the ANC in the past few years. Ramaphosa, for instance, is keen to have a commission of inquiry into state capture instituted, arrests executed and the stolen money recovered. Mashatile has repeatedly called for Jacob Zuma to resign. At its recent policy conference, Mantashe insisted that the party confront its problems and commit to solutions. This elective conference is meant to adopt such corrective measures.
Magashule’s election, however, promises to stymie any corrective measures. As secretary-general, Magashule will be responsible for the administration of the organisation. This places him at the centre of that reform process. But, Magashule is not a reformer – he’s a wrecker. Twice the courts have found his provincial leadership guilty of flouting organisational rules. As a result of both rulings, his PEC was barred from attending the party’s 2012 and the current elective conference. His is the only province to have suffered such ignominy twice.
If Magashule is an organisational ransacker, Mabuza is an epitome of moral ineptitude in government. Numerous assassinations of whistleblowers in Mpumalanga, where’s he’s been premier in the last few years, remain unresolved. Journalists have accused him of attempting to bribe them in order to kill an unpleasant story or to get a favourable reportage.
Magashule and Mabuza are at odds with Ramaphosa’s promise of an organisational reform and ethical leadership. Together with Duarte, they all constitute the other half of the officials. This makes the executive prone to stalemates. Under Magashule, organisational inertia is likely to persist. Mabuza’s background contradicts Ramaphosa’s repeated messages that he disapproves of corruption.
Ramaphosa faces a conundrum. The current dispute over 68 votes that have not been counted may get rid of the Magashule problem. Those votes came from provinces that predominantly supported Ramaphosa. Because Magashule won by a slim margin of 24, their inclusion may alter the outcome drastically in favour of Senzo Mchunu – Ramaphosa’s ally. Mabuza may not disappear anytime soon. They’ll have to compensate for his possible presence in government with an overzealous pursuit against corruption. This will dilute criticism from the opposition that the ANC is soft on corruption.
Ultimately, though, the stalemate that the officials present will be broken by the composition of the National Executive Committee (NEC). Ramaphosa must command the majority of members in the NEC, which is the superior authority in-between conference. Dominance in the NEC, in turn, guarantees him influence in the National Working Committee (NWC), which helps the officials with day-to-day running of the ANC. This makes Mabuza indispensable, for now, at least. Ramaphosa desperately needs his support to get the majority in the NEC.
How Ramaphosa makes Mabuza disappear after this conference is really the nub of his dilemma. He might have “to make him an offer he can’t refuse”. Ramaphosa might just realise that being nice doesn’t cut it in the highest office in the land.
Mcebisi Ndletyana is an associate professor of politics at the University Johannesburg.