ANC deputy president David Mabuza. File picture: Ayanda Ndamane/ANA
As Mpumalanga premier, David Mabuza claims to have survived at least one attempt on his life by poisoning. He disappeared from public view for some months around 2015, then re-emerged.

In the run-up to the ANC’s 54th elective conference in December, one of his proteges from Emalahleni escaped with his life. When Sunday Matehbula came out of hiding six weeks later, including some time in hospital, he postulated that the attempt on his life was to settle the score for Mabuza’s odd strategy to get Mpumalanga branches to vote for “unity” instead of either of the remaining candidates for ANC president.  These votes were ultimately counted as abstentions, making one wonder what good it was for Mabuza to have worked so hard to land Mpumalanga in second place of all nine provinces in terms of its number of branches in good standing?

To some people’s way of thinking, this cost Dlamini-Zuma the victory that many were expecting. It also meant that none of the Top Six is from KwaZulu-Natal.  Was this tactical genius or self-interest by Mabuza?  To some, this seems to be a moot point; to others, he is to blame.  Sunday Mathubela almost paid with his life, as he is one of the senior executives of PRET, an NGO that has benefitted handsomely from the DD Mabuza Foundation and was helping with the lobbying for “unity” in the run-up to the ANC conference.

Ramaphosa must think carefully about the backlash that could come from KZN if he appoints Mabuza as Deputy President. It could destabilize the province, the ANC, and cause another unexpected back-lash in the run-up to the 2019 elections.  The prospect of Zulu nationalism is a serious concern.

Then there is the issue of gender. From 2 out of 6 before the 2017 Elective Conference, the gender balance of the Top Six sank to 1 out of 6.  This looks very bad and the ANC Women’s League has stated its disgust.

Ramaphosa will face double-jeopardy if he keeps on Jackson Mthembu as Chief Whip (who the new president owes a lot to, for his loyalty to the CR17 campaign) and appoints yet another man to be Deputy President. If he does that, the ANC will not be walking the talk about gender balance.

Last of all is the issue of “smallanyana skeletons”. Mabuza has a number of these lurking around Mpumalanga.  For example, he may have a Protection Order hanging over his head like a sword of Damocles, depending on what the Magistrate decides on his dispute with the Cradle of Life?

But then again, so does Magashule. Everyone is wondering if he and/or Minister Zwane are among the five remaining arrest warrants that the Hawks say that they still have? Can Ramaphosa run a convincing election campaign on a clean-up platform while two of the Top-Six are still suffering from a hangover from, at best, inability to control their subordinates? The ANC had a toxic organizational culture that it must shake off altogether if it wants to win back the confidence of the Electorate.

Will having Mabuza as his Deputy help or hinder that fight-back strategy? Ramaphosa needs a clean break, and South Africa needs more women at the highest levels of leadership.

Or does "unity" mean that he cannot take a step in any direction without first checking to see if he will be stepping on the toes of Zuma's shadow?

* Chuck Stephens is Executive Director of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership. He writes in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.