Cape Town – After a year of intense navel gazing and
debilitating obsession with succession, the ANC’s elective conference is
finally upon us. And, following a year economic decline and rising corruption,
December couldn’t come soon enough.
But, if you think that leadership change
over the next few weeks heralds a clear path to both sentiment and economic
revival, think again. There are four major obstacles that any new ANC President
will have to immediately face – and all four can derail even the best of
Firstly, the Cyril Ramaphosa/Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma battle
was always going to be a close one. And so it has come to pass. With declared
branches showing a 55%-45% in favour of Ramaphosa, the race is still too close
to call. Last-minute delegate swings can alter the final outcome either way –
even though on paper, at least, the momentum is with the Deputy President.
However, the victorious candidate really
needs a margin that signals a clear mandate. If the final differential between
the two front-runners is only a few percentage points, this will represent a
win – but it may also be seen as a weak victory.
Given the deep levels of internal
factionalism and mistrust at most levels of the ANC, only a clear mandate to an
eventual winner will secure a real and lasting victory. A nail-biting end
result can lead to further legal challenges as well as the real possibility of
ongoing sabotage from the losing faction.
Although there is no real exact science
here, the winning candidate should ideally have as close to a 60% majority as
possible for this to be an election that does settle the succession debate and
allows for the losing side to resist the temptation to contest or destabilise
Secondly, the winning candidate will also
need a supportive National Executive Committee (NEC). The new NEC will also be
elected – but should this body reflect a greater bias against the newly elected
ANC President, it may also create internal paralysis and friction.
It has been clear over the past few years
that President Jacob Zuma has been aided by a supportive NEC – largely beholden
for their many positions and connections to the President himself.
It is therefore critically important, from
an ANC perspective, that the eventual President of the organisation (and SA
President as well) retains the loyalty of the NEC. Should the NEC be divided
and deeply factionalised, this can stymie the actions of the new President and
can also precipitate further leadership crises in future.
The elective conference this week will
therefore have to elect a really clean slate without the baggage of the past.
It is entirely possible that even under a Ramaphosa leadership, a NEC less
supportive of him is elected as factions seek to either balance the ticket or
hedge their bets over future position and access to privilege.
A similar constraint on the new ANC leader
can emanate from a ‘Top 6’ that does not reflect an ideal slate of any of the
top candidates. Again, compromise, a quest for unity and Machiavellian
strategies has the potential to throw up a mixed bag of senior appointees.
Should this occur, the elected President will once again find themselves in a
tough position – eager to execute but held in check by internal forces.
Finally, the 54th Annual
Conference will also consider a number of broad economic policy proposals
already discussed at the ANC’s national policy conference earlier this year.
Highly controversial policies, if adopted, can also be something of a poisoned chalice for a new ANC
The ANC already has little internal clarity
on the vexed issue of land expropriation without compensation, the possible
introduction of a wealth tax, the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank or even
the future of the Mining Charter already facing legal challenges.
Should the conference put forward further
controversial and investor-unfriendly aspects of these policies, a new ANC
leader will largely be forced to take these policy into the legislative terrain
and back them.
It is therefore possible that a Ramaphosa victory
can be combined with one or more of these four elements thus creating a very
mixed bag of results with unpredictable – and less than stable – consequences.
For South Africans who would rest more
easily should Ramaphosa win the headline vote, a much closer inspection of just
which personalities get the nod alongside him will need to be critically
examined. And, can the ANC fudge again most of the more populist aspects of its
recent policy drift to allow someone like Ramaphosa to define a new way forward?
Ramaphosa, if elected, would really only
have secured a pyric victory, if after all of this, he wins the day, but loses
the battle against a variety of forces determined to retain the status quo or
check him at every possible opportunity.
For a victory to be real, credible and
provide a mandate, more than just the top job will need to be secured. Only a
holistic change in the leadership structure – alongside that of the President –
can have a shot at the urgent need to re-boot South Africa. Let’s see if this
can be accomplished.
* Daniel Silke is
director of the Political Futures Consultancy and is a noted keynote
speaker and commentator. Views expressed are his own. Follow him on
Twitter at @DanielSilke or visit his website.
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