Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement is perhaps self-centred, with the aim of him winning rather than the ANC, says the writer. Picture: Kopano Tlape/GCIS
We are literally weeks away from the ANC’s 54th elective conference where its new leadership and also the future South African leadership will be elected. The two main contenders in the race remain Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa in pecking order of your preference.

We have heard of slates, and names bandied around on the respective slates, an uncomfortable culture the ANC seem to struggle with despite its many claims of being against it and the respective resolutions that condemn it.

This past weekend, Ramaphosa in addressing a campaign rally in Tafelkop Sekhukhune Region in Limpopo, announced his slate in an unprecedented move.

He announced a slate comprising himself as ANC president, Naledi Pandor as deputy president, Senzo Mchunu as secretary-general, Paul Mashatile as treasurer-general and Gwede Mantashe as national chairperson.

He has not yet announced his candidate for deputy secretary-general, though he hinted that supporters must consider Mathole Motshekga and Aaron Motsoaledi. Ramaphosa calls this slate a winning team. 

In his own words: “These are leaders that will take the organisation forward and rebuild it. We want to build a team and the team we want to build is called ‘The Winning Team’, a team that will build unity and lead the nation.”

He sounded more like the chairperson of a Shanduka corporate outfit announcing his team, definitely not how you do it in ANC political contestation. On another level with this ambivalent "The Winning Team" claim, Ramaphosa told us he is currently part of a losing team.

Let us then consider the announcement for its place in ANC context and also the ramifications for the claim of unity being touted around.

The reason for us also engaging some of the slate names emanates from it being official, since the candidates have already been named. He thus also affords us a chance to engage those he has on the list.

The first question, therefore, is: Was Ramaphosa correct, and within his right and in congruence with ANC culture when he announced his slate as his winning team? Naturally, supporters of the CR17 campaign would consider it no issue, remonstrating that he was within his rights to announce a team a month before the conference, since it brings clarity to the group.

Usually slates are compiled as a group of names bandied around by those who support a specific slate; a league or province or structure may share their preferences, but never before have we heard a candidate telling the ANC who comprise his winning team. ANC culture dictates an acceptable known false sense of humility never to demand in a form of careerism a position - meaning, if you desire a position, you don't make it known but you have people lead that discussion on your behalf. Slates equally adopted that format; Ramaphosa with his announcement breaks this known humility.

The ANC is on record as rejecting the practice of slates; its 2015 NGC categorically denounced slates, saying they impinged on the right of the branches to democratically decide on leadership. How then is it possible for a senior leader like Ramaphosa to disrespect the decision of the NGC? When Ramaphosa then boldly defies the ANC, what are we to make of it?

Ramaphosa’s actions in this cynical season, in this regard, are not typical ANC culture and are therefore unusual and, we know, also unacceptable. 

Recent ANC history, in particular during our democracy from Mandela to Zuma, certainly never saw a presidential candidate take the liberty of announcing his team. Perhaps we are witnessing the unplanned transitioning of the ANC elections process as more aligned around a person, as we see with the typical American system? We may also ask what this means for the ANC?

Why then would Ramaphosa attempt to go this way? Again, not having access to him, we may only surmise he considered it strategic or tactical, yet it may in the final analysis be read as highly arrogant, self-serving and not sensitive to the ANC as an organisation.

Ramaphosa refers to his team as the winning team. We are not sure if he means this team will ensure he wins, or this team is the winning team to fix the ANC and its unity challenge.

The second, and perhaps the more important, question is: What are the implications of his slate announcement for the ANC, as it remains a factionalised and divided organisation? It can therefore be correctly assumed that Ramaphosa as leader reaffirms the slate doctrine and therefore extends the factionalised reality the ANC exhibits.

How then does Ramaphosa’s bold slate announcement assist the much-needed unity ANC leaders, including Ramaphosa himself, talk about all day?

There is consensus that the ANC is in desperate need of unity and that unity will need conscious commitment and goodwill of all presidential candidates to make possible an environment for unity. His Sekhukhune announcement therefore calls into question his personal sincerity about working to unite the ANC. Ramaphosa may have shown us how self-centred a person he really is that he can give the branches a double finger.

It is important to appreciate that the admitted disunity of the ANC - dating from the 2007 Polokwane Conference, its results and loss and subsequent recall of Mbeki in September 2008 - appears to be concretised. We know those who lost at Polokwane remain angry to this day and never came to respect or support the post-Polokwane ANC leadership.

As time progressed, the differences became more dominant and any semblance of unity haemorrhaged. Later on, the collective of the hurt who gathered in the aftermath of the firing of Zuma by Mbeki in 2005, for their own personal reasons parted ways, and so we have disunity at a number of levels.

The ANC's National Policy Conference attempted to pave the way towards unity and break with the idea of winner takes it all, an injunction to future leadership to show sensitivity and not merely to discard those who were not on the winning slate

The fact is, the 54th Conference has two very strong candidates endorsed by a legitimate variety of voting constituencies that already have pronounced on preferences.

At the same time, Ramaphosa’s slate clearly ostracises a significant chunk of leadership and constituencies whom we can assume he groups together as not being a winning team for unity.

Ramaphosa’s slate announcement holds implications for his personal candidacy. He may have just made it more complicated for himself to summit Mount- ANC come December 2017.

At another level, having made known that the existing secretary-general is on his slate as the anticipated next chairperson, Ramaphosa may have compromised Mantashe. The office of the secretary-general is an important cog in the vetting of branches for conference. While it may be acceptable that the secretary-general’s name is bandied around on slates, this is a far cry from a serious contender claiming the secretary-general is on his slate.

Ramaphosa’s slate does not necessarily or automatically translate to being endorsed by the Polokwane angry group. Ramaphosa’s slate cannot claim to be new and therefore the solution to the problem.

He is part of the existing leadership at both organisation and state level, meaning he is complicit in both the bad and the good.

His choice for deputy president, Naledi Pandor, who obtained the third-highest female votes at the last conference in 2012, serves as NEC member and is also a member of the current cabinet.

She therefore, like all others, can hardly be the magic wand for change because she is present at both NEC and state level.

His choice for national chairperson, Gwede Mantashe as secretary-general of the ANC, has his own role in the state the ANC finds itself in, having served for a decade.

Lastly, Ramaphosa’s choice of Paul Mashatile as treasurer-general is highly questionable and rather nonsensical. He is rewarding Mashatile for having delivered two failed elections.

Gauteng is a political wreck under his leadership. His leadership in August 2016 remains responsible for the loss of really three metros in Gauteng.

How Ramaphosa can assume Mashatile must be rewarded defies logic.

We may then conclude that the announced slate does not inspire any hope of organisational renewal.

Ramaphosa’s announcement in totality is perhaps self-centred, with the aim of him winning rather than the ANC.

The branches of the ANC must pronounce on whether this arrogance on the part of a contender is acceptable when its NGC 2015 is categorical about slates. Branches must ask how a contender can break with tradition and announce his winning team when branches are still considering names.

The ANC released a statement condemning the Ramaphosa slate announcement.

* Ramalaine is a political commentator and writer.

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