“The battle for the soul of the ANC” - this was the statement that headlined the ruling party’s 52nd national conference in Polokwane.
The most recent soul-searching contest took shape after the party’s 54th national conference in Nasrec where Cyril Ramaphosa defeated Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma by only 179 votes.
The party hasn’t stopped limping since, slightly uniting itself towards this year’s national general elections.
The Ramaphosa and Zuma factions have been intensifying their attacks on each other since Nasrec, but the past two weeks proved what a complete farce the ANC’s unity project has been.
At an impromptu press conference at the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) last week, I asked ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule if he agreed with Fikile Mbalula’s assertion that had Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma won in Nasrec the ANC would have scored less than 40% at the polls. Mbalula headed the ANC’s election campaign.
Magashule said: “Nonsense. Absolute nonsense. We don’t know how our people would’ve voted. We know that they did vote for the ANC. This win is not because of any individual person. It is the work of the branches and volunteers of the movement.”
Magashule’s comments clearly angered Mbalula. A short while thereafter he told another news agency that Magashule “shouldn’t be allergic to Ramaphosa” because he was his president too.
The animosity between the two goes back about two years when Mbalula tweeted that Magashule would kill the organisation if he became secretary-general.
Mbalula, who had endorsed Dlamini-Zuma as party president, fell from grace when Ramaphosa axed him from the Cabinet.
But the divisions go beyond these two men. This became clear when Nelson Mandela’s spin doctor, Carl Niehaus, threw his weight behind Magashule, describing Mbalula’s comments as an application for a cabinet post.
Mbalula and ANC national executive committee (NEC) member Derek Hanekom hit back at Niehaus, reminding him he is a fraud. All this in less than a week after the elections.
In the lead up to Nasrec, Magashule was firmly in Dlamini-Zuma’s corner and has maintained close relations to former president Jacob Zuma.
The secretary-general’s office remains the engine of the organisation and Magashule’s leaning to the Zuma camp waters down Ramaphosa’s strength in the top six as well as in the NEC.
If it were up to Ramaphosa, there is little doubt Magashule would be out the door. Magashule, on the other hand, displayed an ability to hold on to power in the 20 years he was the chairperson of the Free State ANC.
The tussle for the position of deputy president of the republic has raised tensions at Luthuli House.
It would seem Ramaphosa would prefer Dlamini-Zuma as his deputy. However, those close to him must have also advised him not to leave Deputy President David Mabuza at Luthuli House “unsupervised”.
After Nasrec, the position of the country’s deputy president took on heightened importance. In 2017, the SACP argued that if Ramaphosa was good enough to be Zuma’s deputy, he was good enough to be president.
If Ramaphosa appoints Mabuza as his deputy in the sixth administration, he will be faced with a similar question.
Also in the week, mayor of eThekwini Zandile Gumede was arrested for fraud and corruption.
The charges were laid with impeccable timing - a week after municipal workers went on strike and a day before the new premier-elect of KZN was announced.
This is something of a test case. The new administration will use Gumede’s situation to probe the proverbial waters.
If Gumede, who is a close ally of Zuma and has openly supported him in his court cases, can get the boot without much of an outcry from ANC branches, Ramaphosa will be assured of his strength and go for the jugular.
Gumede will join the herd of other ANC leaders who have a bone to pick with Ramaphosa.
On Friday, the woman accusing head of the Presidency Zizi Kodwa of rape withdrew her allegations. In a letter to Magashule, the accuser said she realised she “was used to fight political battles”.
Rape is a sensitive issue in this country and one must question whether the rape did indeed occur. If the complainant lied about Kodwa, she must face the brunt of the law.
We should all agree that rape is a serious matter. But it would not be the first time issues of rape and sexual harassment were used to fight factional battles in the ANC.
Last year ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe was accused of sexual harassment by an employee at Luthuli House. Kodwa is an ardent Ramaphosa backer and Mabe is a backer of Magashule.
Now that the elections are over, the ANC returns to the war on itself, a war in which state agencies are the weapons.
Will it be radical economic transformation or will it be the new dawn? The battle for the soul of the ANC is officially on.
* Mahlangu is the group political editor for Independent Media.