Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has shot down President Jacob Zuma’s proposal that the losing candidate in the ANC presidential race should, by default, become the deputy for the purpose of forging party unity.
The crucial leadership election is scheduled to kick off on Saturday at Nasrec, Johannesburg, and the race to succeed Zuma is too close to call.
Ramaphosa was in pole position after he attained the majority of branch nominations. However, given the varying sizes of ANC branches across the country, this does not necessarily translate into a majority of delegates.
Up until the last minute before the start of the conference, lobbyists have planned a marathon of meetings with delegates across provinces to do headcounts — which those supporting Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Ramaphosa’s chief contender, have described as an “aerial battle”.
But both camps ultimately want a good chunk of the 353 delegates on the so-called Unity vote from Mpumalanga’s 736-strong contingent as it is the biggest bloc from the province.
Zuma told the more than 3 700 ANC delegates attending the party’s national policy conference in Nasrec in July that, in the case where two candidates contested the presidency position, the loser could automatically become a deputy. A second deputy president post could also be created to accommodate the winner from those contesting that post.
However, in an interview on Friday, a confident-sounding Ramaphosa said Zuma had “floated the idea at the policy conference, but it never really gained traction because people did not warm to it”.
“There was a sense that all this should be left to branches because they are the repository of democratic practice in the ANC. And if you agree that branches are the real lifeblood of democracy in the ANC, then you should let them decide.
“It is firmly my view,” he said.
A fortnight ago, Zuma met all seven ANC presidential contenders, but “he did not try to broker a deal”, said Ramaphosa.
“He was clear from the beginning that, as candidates, we should get our supporters to behave in a way that will make the conference successful.”
Ramaphosa said all the candidates had committed to engaging in a fair fight and in conduct that would not bring the ANC into disrepute.
Candidates also undertook to desist from attacking each other, saying there would be no divisive songs and factional apparel at the conference, he said.
ANC insiders said that Zuma had apparently also given the candidates an ultimatum to go and talk among themselves in a bid to have a unity slate.
“He gave them about two weeks or so. He apparently told the presidential hopefuls: ‘We are going to this conference uncontested’ — and that they had to agree.”
However, with just six days to go, both the Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa camps are holding back, further fuelling a possible stampede at the conference.
Ramaphosa said that he did not believe that “there is anybody who is mad and crazy enough to want to collapse conference”.
“This is one moment in five years when the ANC family gets together, and camaraderie and collegiality come to the fore. We should not allow anyone to rob us of this moment.
“So, I do not believe that anybody in their right mind would want to rob almost 1 million members of the ANC and its 10 million supporters of this great moment as the ANC seeks to reunite, renew and revitalise itself.
“It would be a betrayal of history and what the founders of the ANC would have ever wanted to see.”
On the sidelines, ANC provincial chairpersons have met at least twice in the past seven days with a view to avoiding contestation. Early indications were that the talks were failing to make headway as some felt it was too late because the branches had already decided.
They agreed that it was best to bring Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa to the table in an effort to agree and make compromises. It was KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Sihle Zikalala who emphasised the need to be flexible and compromise, but his parting shot was that not everything should be about Ramaphosa.
The argument went along the lines of: “If we were to bring in the issue of seniority, Dlamini-Zuma is more senior than Ramaphosa.”
On the other hand, Ramaphosa’s supporters raised concerns about 2019 and the prospect of losing the general elections.
Northern Cape ANC chairperson Zamani Saul said: “We have always been open-minded when dealing with such issues. Whatever is in the best interest of the movement, we will explore.”
His counterpart in the North West, Supra Mahumapelo, said: “In the ANC we will engage until the last moment — and after the conference — on how we must continue to build unity of purpose.”
Mahumapelo added: “If an uncontested outcome is not achieved, we must agree on how to manage contestation.” — Sapa