ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and secretary-general Ace Magashule Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and secretary-general Ace Magashule Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Will KZN support Magashule to take on Ramaphosa for ANC presidency?

By Molifi Tshabalala Time of article published Apr 11, 2021

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A few weeks ago, an insightful quote attributed to renowned Kenyan scholar Patrick Lumumba, who is a former director of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, went viral. “In Japan a corrupt person kills himself. In China, they kill him. In Europe they jail him. In Africa he presents himself for election,” read the quote, at about the time ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule has been touted to vie for an ANC presidency at the governing party’s national conference in December 2022.

Magashule has been charged with several counts of corruption, fraud, and money-laundering that relate to a R255-million asbestos-roofing government contract in the Free State, where he served as premier between 2009 and 2018. As a result, he has been given a 30-day period to step aside in line with a party position on members - and leaders - who have been implicated in and/or charged with wrongdoings.

Thus far, the longest-serving ANC provincial chairperson, who must be presumed ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ has not indicated that he would take on ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa for the ANC presidency, not even by the slightest hint.

Less than two years before a much-expected 55th National Conference, where Ramaphosa is expected to vie for a second term, only former ANC president Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane, has raised his hand. His is, however, a far-fetched dream.

To become a president of Africa's oldest liberation movement since its unbanning in the early 1990s, history has shown that one must first serve within its upper echelons for at least a five-year term. For example, his father had served as deputy secretary-general, national chairperson, and deputy president before he could become the president in 2007.

In addition to Magashule, Ramaphosa’s contender must come from among the top four national office-bearers (NOBs): deputy president David Mabuza, chairperson Gwede Mantashe, treasurer-general Paul Mashatile, and deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte.

Mantashe and Mashatile comprise the dominant faction, led by the president (Ramaphosa faction), and Magashule and Duarte constitute a dissident faction, led by Duduzane’s father (Zuma faction), while Mabuza serves as a strategic centre of power, albeit he mostly, if not always, identifies himself with the former.

It is, therefore, unlikely that Mantashe and Mashatile will take on Ramaphosa, who had been portrayed as a messiah for both the governing party and the country towards a 54th National Conference, for the ANC presidential seat.

Instead, they may battle it out for an ANC deputy presidency, with the winner on course to replace him in 2027 because, as Mantashe explained in Ramaphosa’s apparent endorsement against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the governing party elects a deputy president with a succession plan in mind.

The ANC is not yet ready for a female president, according to ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) president Bathabile Dlamini, of course, speaking from factional and patriarchal perspectives. Duarte, who is the only female NOB, must thus be ruled out of the presidential race, as it boils down to either Mabuza or Magashule to take on Ramaphosa for the ANC presidency.

The question, therefore, arises: “Will KwaZulu-Natal support Magashule to take on Ramaphosa for the ANC presidency?”

Let us assume that, in addition to his presumption as ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ when the ANC opens its nomination process Magashule would have been absolved of the foregoing charges, probably with a dark cloud, including the probability of further court appearances in another trial on other counts of charges from allegations of state capture, hanging over his head. Incidentally, it would not be for the first time that an ANC presidential contender has looming criminal charges. It happened with former ANC president Zuma in 2007.

But, unlike Zuma, who was charged with eighteen counts of corruption, fraud, money-laundering, and racketeering a few days after he had defeated Thabo Mbeki by 824 votes, Magashule is an unpopular political actor in the ANC. Following a disputed vote recount at the 54th National Conference, for instance, he defeated Senzo Mchunu by 24 votes, thus emerging as a winner by the smallest margin.

To stand a good chance to defeat Ramaphosa, Magashule must first command overwhelming support in the Free State. However, the secretary-general is also unpopular in his province, where he left the party more factionalised due to a zero-sum competition over access to the spoils of state patronage, such as office pay-offs and government contracts, for self-enrichment.

In fact, the factional fight over party dominance, which affords a dominant faction access to state patronage, continues post his chairpersonship. An appellate court has recently nullified a provincial conference, where his prominent supporters – such as chairperson Sam Mashinini, deputy chairperson William Bulwane, and treasurer-general Sisi Ntombela – were elected to key party positions, and its outcomes. Under a new provincial executive committee (PEC), the Free State may not support Magashule’s candidacy.

In addition to the Free State, Magashule must command overwhelming support, at least in either KwaZulu-Natal or Mpumalanga. If endorsed by Zuma, who commands an overwhelming Zulu ethno-nationalist support-base, then KwaZulu-Natal is likely to follow suit.

Zuma built his Zulu ethno-nationalist support-base, which borders on putrefactive tribalism, during the liberation struggle. Along with Moses Mabhida, a former South African Communist Party (SACP) secretary-general who served on the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), for example, he had allegedly opposed Thami Zulu’s appointment to command a KwaZulu-Natal-based uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) camp in Swaziland because he was from Soweto, south of Johannesburg, Gauteng.

Mabhida’s death in August 1981 left Zuma as the only senior Zulu ANC leader in KwaZulu-Natal, where voter behaviour is linked to an ethnic identity. While mediating political violence between supporters of the ANC and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Zuma consolidated his Zulu ethno-nationalist support-base. From his mediatory role, as British historian Stephen Ellis explains in External Mission, he “was later to reap his political award with an influx of new Zulu members into the ANC, as it absorbed many former Inkatha supporters”. Hence, he has been credited for waning the Zulu-nationalist IFP’s support in KwaZulu-Natal to benefit his party.

Zuma, who claimed that he had commanded a hundred per cent support in KwaZulu-Natal in the early 1990s in his testimony before a commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture, also used the Zulu ethno-nationalism to mobilise for the ANC presidency against Mbeki, who is a Xhosa from the Eastern Cape. His campaign centred on tribal narratives, such as the ANC and, by extension, the public administration was Xhosa-dominated.

To his advantage, the ANC had had a 40-year-long chain of Xhosa presidents, which had begun with Oliver Tambo in 1967 following Chief Albert Luthuli’s tragic death. For Zuma and some among his supporters, a sizable proportion of whom proudly wore ANC T-shirts that bore the ‘100% Zulu-boy’ message, the time had come for a Zulu ANC president.

Along the same line of thought, it remains to be seen whether ANC members in KwaZulu-Natal, which had brought a highest number of delegates at the 54th National Conference, would sing: Phakama Magashule ixesha lifikile (‘stand up Magashule the time has come’). The last time the liberation movement had a Sotho president was 69 years ago with James Moroka from Thaba Nchu, outside Bloemfontein, Free State.

In an interview with one of the leading online South African news outlet three days before the 54th ANC national conference, NEC member Bheki Cele revealed that many among his fellow Zulus in the KZN had asked him why he supported a non-Zulu, referring to Ramaphosa, who is a Venda, from Soweto, instead of Dlamini-Zuma. This could be one of the reasons, if not the main reason, the ANC’s electoral support, for the first time since the democratic order, has declined by a whopping 10.3 per cent in the province under the Ramaphosa presidency.

Some ANC members in the KZN may identify themselves more with Mabuza, who is an Ndebele from Mpumalanga, which had brought a second highest number of delegates at the 54th National Conference, than they do with Magashule. Along with Swatis, Zulus, and Xhosas, Ndebeles fall under the Nguni ethnic group.

Similarly, as is the case with Magashule, Mabuza, the former premier of the Mpumalanga province and ANC provincial chairperson, would require Zuma’s endorsement in the KZN.

Towards the 54th National Conference, Mabuza defected from the Premier League (PL) –a phrase that had been coined to describe him, Magashule, and former ANC North West chairperson and North West premier Supra Mahumapelo as a provincial triumvirate – and called on his comrades in Mpumalanga to vote for ‘unity,’ namely the kind of leadership that would forge party unity. This tilted a factional scale towards the Ramaphosa faction, with its leader defeating Dlamini-Zuma by 179 votes, Mantashe defeating Nkosinathi ‘Nathi’ Mthethwa by 149 votes, and Mashatile defeating Maite Nkoana-Mashabane by 339 votes, to produce the aforementioned leadership ratio within the party’s upper echelons.

Despite his betrayal, the Zuma faction needs Mabuza, who defeated Lindiwe Sisulu by 379 votes and thus emerged as the biggest winner, than Magashule to stand a good chance to regain party dominance.

To its advantage, apart from what Mantashe explained about the deputy president’s election, Ramaphosa has been keeping him at bay, acting at the behest of his handlers, of course, out of a fear that he may develop favourable media currency.

Yet, as author and political analyst Ralph Mathekga points out, “If there is any powerful person whom Ramaphosa’s presidency actually relies on, it is Mabuza.”

* Molifi Tshabalala is a political writer and independent political analyst.

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

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