Johannesburg - Cyril Ramaphosa might have won the battle to lead the ANC on Monday night, but the composition of the party’s top six will provide the toughest test of his leadership yet.
He received a top six evenly split between his camp and that of his rival, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
Ramaphosa pipped Dlamini Zuma to the party’s top position in an incredibly close and tense election race that delayed the five-day ANC national conference by almost a day and a half.
Ramaphosa won the presidency by 179 votes, while the two other candidates on his slate former secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile - were elected national chair and treasurer-general, respectively.
But the all important secretariat, effectively the chief executive and deputy, based at the party’s headquarters at Luthuli House went to members of the other slate:Ace Magashule and Jessie Duarte, with Mpumalanga kingmaker David Mabuza who was elected the deputy president, with the greatest margin of all the candidates.
The outcome was a big surprise, effectively forging the unity that outgoing party president Jacob Zuma had tried to create before the conference. The outcome left most of the delegates in the hall confused, with many seemingly stunned in disbelief and bewilderment.
While Ramaphosa’s victory theoretically paves the way for him to become South Africa’s next president after the 2019 general elections should the ANC win at the polls, he still has to unite a party fractured by Zuma’s legacy and the election battle, and revive an ailing economy junked by international credit rating downgrades.
Ramaphosa himself was brought to tears as he struggled to compose himself. He was seen wiping his tears, as it sank in that he had won.
The outcome was too much to bear for other senior leaders. Bathabile Dlamini, the ANC Women’s League president who had backed Dlamini Zuma,was later seen openly crying as she and Lindiwe Zulu and others huddled in an office in the media lounge, caucusing and planning their next move.
This composition of the new top six, also appeared to stun senior ANC members, apparently pondering how they were going to unite the two slates that had fought a bitter and bruising internal election.
Apart from the secretariat positions going to the pro-Dlamini Zuma slate, Mabuza took the powerful position of deputy president effectively pitting him against Ramaphosa.
It now remains to be seen how Ramaphosa is going to deal with the thorny issue of state capture and corruption, as he is likely to face fierce resistance from the pro-Zuma bloc in the top six.
The composition of the top six also offset the ANC’s gender-equity plans as only one woman made it to the list. Expectations were that the ANC would have a woman as its president or at least the deputy president.
Sisulu, who was tipped to become Ramphosa’s deputy, had her ambitions thwarted after she was defeated by Mabuza.
After the results for the top six were announced, the conference proceeded to accept nominations from the rest of the floor for the remaining 80 national executive committee members.
Voting for these members was expected to be done on Tuesday.
While Ramaphosa’s victory was widely celebrated, it may prove to be the beginning of a fresh power struggle or the emergence of the so-called two centres of power, as Mabuza is also seen as a proxy for Zuma.
The power struggle could well play out within the party and government for the remainder of Zuma’s term as state president.
The election of the Zuma backers into the top six could also mean that Ramaphosa might find himself hamstrung in his efforts to improve service delivery in the government, as he might have difficulties axing a host of cabinet ministers who are seen as incompetent, and those seen as linked to corrupt activities - such as Mabuza and Magashule themselves.
Throughout his campaign Ramaphosa has repeatedly said that those implicated in acts of corruption and state capture must be prosecuted.
Also, any efforts to reduce Zuma into a lame duck president are likely to be met with resistance from Zuma’s close allies, within the party leadership.
Expectations were that with Ramaphosa - a technocrat who is seen to be close to the business sector - as the president, the economy would improve.
However, he might now be able to dictate government policy around the economy, including influencing the direction that the government must take in business which has been frustrated, once he takes over the government in 2019.
Economists said that Ramaphosa‘s victory would lead to an improvement in the economy.
However, others have warned against seeing a Ramaphosa win as a silver bullet to the sluggish economic growth, fiscal deficit and the widening tax revenue gap South Africa is experiencing.