United front masks tensions ahead of 2022 leadership race
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OPINION: The lines drawn before Ramaphosa’s election in 2017 will not fade after November 1. Instead, factions will be looking after their own interests when the ANC decides which comrades will be assigned lucrative municipal posts after the election, writes Cyril Madlala.
Among the reasons the ANC has not disintegrated despite many potentially debilitating internal conflicts for many decades, has been an ability to put aside differences and rise to the occasion to overcome hurdles of particular epochs.
At some point it was the Africanists versus white and communist influence; at another, disgruntled uMkhonto we Sizwe soldiers revolted because they wanted to be sent home to fight the oppressors, while their leaders cautioned otherwise.
Even on the eve of the dismantling of apartheid, disagreements persisted between those who put their faith in the delicate secret negotiations with National Party emissaries and those who were meanwhile infiltrating massive piles of weapons into South Africa because they believed that the enemy could not be trusted.
In the end, the ANC presented a united front against the apartheid government and triumphed.
When the mission was accomplished, the groupings reverted to their factional ways as old battles for the soul of the organisation continued. Some have since the dawn of freedom in 1994 broken away to form other political parties such as the Cope and the EFF.
The ANC goes into the local government elections next month divided between the “CR-17” faction that supported President Cyril Ramaphosa and the “Radical Economic Transformation” grouping that wanted Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to become leader after the 2017 national elective conference in Joburg.
Across the country, the process to select candidates has been characterised by complaints of factional favouritism along pre-conference lines. This is despite the involvement of communities to identify the most suitable names to represent the ANC.
For now, the senior leadership has urged supporters to put aside their differences on November 1 and ensure a decisive victory for the ANC. Only thereafter will grievances be addressed, including the selection of mayors.
That will happen amid great pressure to finalise regional conferences to elect new leadership which have had to be postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions and the state of disarray and conflict within structures aligned to the main factions.
These regional and provincial elections and their outcomes are critical as the ANC heads for the overdue national policy conference, while branches mobilise for the next national elective conference due before the end of next year.
That is when delegates will decide if Ramaphosa will get a second term that will allow him to consolidate the work he has undertaken to do to renew the ANC and restore its image as a revolutionary force free of allegations of corruption and incompetence.
Even as the country counts down to the local government elections in a matter of weeks, it is evident that anti-Ramaphosa forces are not lying down and still insist that he “bought” the last conference. This week a group of eight members called a media briefing to call for him to be disciplined for this.
The timing cannot be a coincidence. When all political parties and candidates are scrambling for every inch of positive media space to sell themselves to the electorate, the last thing Ramaphosa and his supporters would have wanted is a distraction such as this from his own comrades.
Clearly, not all hands are on deck towards a decisive victory on November 1.
How the ANC performs in the polls becomes a litmus test for Ramaphosa’s prospects for re-election on the strength of his renewal promise.
His message to the voters is unequivocal: “We acknowledge that we have not lived up to your expectations. We admit that we have made mistakes, but we have learnt from them. Pardon us, and give us another chance to make amends.”
A stellar performance by the ANC despite the failures of the previous years will indicate to Ramaphosa that he is on the right path and that the people of South Africa are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.
While endorsement by the public is important for him, he will understand better than most, that does not automatically translate into universal approval within his own party.
Even as former president Jacob Zuma serves his jail sentence on parole for defying the Constitutional Court, senior leaders of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal have indicated that they would have wanted him to go out on election campaigns. He only managed to send out a video message calling for ANC support.
It would be unfair to lay the blame for disenchantment with the ANC on Ramaphosa’s door. The unfulfilled promises that people tell him about as he traverses the country to drum up support are not of his own making.
They are a result of years of failures even preceding his tenure as leader of government and the ANC. But as is the nature of these things, he inherits the great legacy of the organisation together with the burdens of sins of incumbency that now weigh heavily on it.
A dismal performance by the ANC next month will embolden his detractors who refuse to abide by the decades-old tradition of respecting the outcome of the election and working diligently to support the winner.
The lines drawn before Ramaphosa’s election in 2017 will not fade after November 1. Instead, factions will be looking after their own interests when the ANC decides which comrades will be assigned lucrative municipal posts after the election.
Unlike in the past years of struggle, the jockeying for the positions will not be about what is in the best interests of the people of South Africa, nor will it be about reinvigorating the party.
It will be about balancing factional forces in order for the ANC to survive to contest the critical national and provincial elections in 2024 – with or without Ramaphosa at the helm.
* Cyril Madlala is an independent political commentator and former editor of the Independent on Saturday.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.