History tells of King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who went to war against the Romans in 281 BC.
He had thousands of warriors and 20 elephants, and he won two battles. But he lost so many men in the process that he ultimately lost the war.
Now that all the ANC’s provinces and leagues have made their nominations, the numbers point to victory for President Jacob Zuma when the ANC elects its new leadership at Mangaung in just over a week’s time.
He has been nominated by six provinces and the ANC Women’s and Veteran’s Leagues, while his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, the as-yet undeclared face of the push for change, has been nominated by three. In addition, Zuma has been endorsed for a second term by the ANC Women’s and Veterans’ Leagues, while the Youth League wants Motlanthe.
That gives Zuma a clear majority of the votes to be cast by secret ballot by the 4 500 voting delegates.
But the battles fought during nominations – the allegations of vote-rigging and manipulation, of money changing hands – and the anger and outrage of those who believe they have been locked out of the process, are unlikely to evaporate now that all the numbers are in.
While the ANC tasked national leaders to defuse problems, and says its electoral commission will be considering the flood of complaints, it’s unlikely they will be dealt with to anyone’s satisfaction before the conference starts on December 16.
The fiercest contestations were in the provinces most divided over who should lead the party. In North West, parallel meetings were held by Zuma and Motlanthe backers and shots were fired at a provincial leader before the conference reconvened and came out in favour of Zuma.
Limpopo’s conference collapsed in the face of vociferous objections from Zuma supporters. When it reconvened and finally concluded, Motlanthe’s endorsement was a resounding 268 votes to Zuma’s 7 – but his supporters had already walked out.
In the Western Cape, after several abortive attempts, delegates finally voted in favour of Motlanthe with 99 votes to Zuma’s 90 – showing how deep the split was.
The divisions and in-fighting involve multiple factions. They have little to do with ideology or the direction the country should take and everything to do with access to power and resources. The conferences were supposed to include discussions on policy, to be tempered further in the Mangaung crucible. Crucial issues are on the table – such as the land question and far-reaching decisions on the economy. These will have massive implications not only for every South African, but for future generations.
Just what delegates will take with them to Mangaung by way of well-thought-out positions on nationalising the mines and other sectors of the economy, on land tenure and gender, is open to question.
But grievances are likely to be well-honed.
Delegates will vote by secret ballot.
While the provincial nomination conferences give an indication, they don’t bind delegates to put their cross against one name over another. That’s one reason for the bitter contestation over who qualified to be a delegate, and members’ anger at their branches’ exclusion.
Looking at whom the branches nominated would give a much truer picture of the way the land lies, but that information is not easy to come by.
Now it’s a question of waiting for the ANC’s electoral commission to approach those nominated and ask them if they are prepared to stand or not.
Will Motlanthe take up the challenge to oppose Zuma? Will Cyril Ramaphosa accept the nomination to stand as Zuma’s deputy? Or will there be a deal, despite Motlanthe’s stated distaste for them?
Numbers, as King Pyrrhus found out, are all very well. But they don’t always win you the war.
Will Mangaung end up a Pyrrhic victory for Zuma?
His backers might have won the battle over nominations, but the divisions set the stage for post-Mangaung fallouts and purges and ensuing government paralysis that could see a bigger war lost.