SONA 2014 - President Jacob Zuma delivering his last State of the Nation Address to a Joint Sitting of the two Houses of Parliament. 13/02/2014, Siyabulela Duda, GCIS

Even as ANC loyalists despair and the party braces itself for an election under “albatross” auspices, the post-Zuma future is starting to unfold, writes Susan Booysen.

Johannesburg - Even as ANC loyalists despair and the party braces itself for an election under “albatross” auspices, the post-Zuma future is starting to unfold. It comes not by big announcement, but by signals and scraps of evidence.

The time is drawing closer for the great revelations of the ANC candidates’ list. The list committee has by now reassessed the cumulative ANC provincial nominations.

The controlled-delayed release has been keeping aspiring candidates in line, got them to work loyally. It has also kept presidential succession plans – manifest in the line-up – under wraps while internal battles play out.

Positioning at the top of the list will bear as much status as the ANC’s top-six Mangaung results.

There could be substantial convergence – but also openings for in-groups to fast-forward or sidetrack (in fact undermine) some of the “inevitables” that have been suggested by the Mangaung results.

This list hierarchy will signal master strategies of the ANC’s current inner circles for life beyond Jacob Zuma.

Yet, simultaneously, things are not all that they appear to be. Discussions with ANC sources record that even if the current ANC deputy president (stop-gap Mangaung entrant in the place of Kgalema Motlanthe, buffalo billionaire Cyril Ramaphosa) makes it to the list’s No 2 slot he should moderate crown prince ambitions.

The Zumaists are doing battle for control beyond Zuma; the Ramaphosaists have a fight on their hands.

It is worth plotting scenarios of how the leadership races – unfolding under our noses yet behind the scenes – may pan out.

My data is the “puzzle pieces” of leaders’ public utterings and disclosures that reach researchers. I connect the pieces.

Knowledge of the in-group’s interests and modus operandi, of the counter-group’s ambitions and key figures involved, help glue the pieces together.

Kingmaking by the in-group is probably the single most important driving force in the future that is unfolding. The in-group of Zumaists is well represented in the ANC’s top-six. Gwede Mantashe, Baleka Mbete and Zweli Mkhize are right there.

The in-groupers extend into the echelon of the likes of Jeff Radebe, Nathi Mthethwa, Malusi Gigaba; quite a few others.

Trusted associates include AU commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

Each one carries the political weight of a few hundred thousand popular votes.

They are kingpins in deciding South Africa’s future, far beyond this year’s elections. ANC deputy president Ramaphosa is often described as a visitor to the in-group. By all indications he remains just that. He, along with several senior ANC women, are props who have to be managed.

Ramaphosa comes with support of his own, albeit with the handicap of approaching from the wings and depending on the goodwill of political adversaries.

Could it be that Ramaphosa’s deployment as international emissary by President Zuma would help take him out of the country and the main flow of ANC politics? This motivation could be stronger than “introducing” him to the world as future South African deputy president, perhaps president-in-waiting.

In addition, should gender politics come into play in this round one of the presidential succession battle, Ramaphosa could find himself upstaged.

Gender quotas, right to the top, are the whispered subject matter of the inner-circle’s trump card to thwart Ramaphosa’s ascendance.

A “gender-balanced presidency of South Africa” is the name in which this game is being played.

Overtly ambitious ANC national chairwoman Baleka Mbete (by top-six status the most senior ANC woman politician) is possibly first in the queue. Dlamini Zuma has indicated willingness to return from the AU to be an ANC MP (just an MP?). Reliable, competent cabinet and NEC member Naledi Pandor’s name is in the hat. She is No 4 on an ANC list leaked to Independent Newspapers late last month.

A media report has suggested that the ANC may be considering constitutional change to get a second deputy president of the country.

This would open the way to still let Ramaphosa ascend into the deputy presidency of the country, but immediately be placed on par with a fellow woman deputy president.

It will dilute the power of incumbency and lessen the likelihood of a seamless ascension for Ramaphosa when Zuma goes.

It is not to say, however, that South Africa is set to get a woman president when Zuma goes.

The question of whether Zuma goes just as South African president, or also as president of the ANC, complicates the brew.

There has been talk in senior circles in the ANC (and before the ANC misinterprets me: this was not on an official NEC agenda, but discussed in high circles it certainly was) to get Zuma to exit the Presidency of South Africa about two years from now. Zuma is detracting from the ANC overall “product”, irrespective of how often the movement appears as generally flawed.

He lacks fresh insights; his public poll ratings are consistently far lower than those of the ANC; he is not a drawcard by any stretch of the imagination.

Post-elections he is a sitting duck for status as lame duck president.

Further expected findings about Marikana, the arms deal (Seriti Commission) and Nkandla makes it phenomenal that he is fronting the ANC’s election campaign.

So far the reports say that Zuma has been resisting-refusing to exit, even with guarantees about indemnity thrown in… Then the media reported that family members are lamenting the strains of office.

The president’s health is said to be suffering. It could just be that this back door to a “gracious” exit is still open.

These developments bring us to the possible round two of the inner circle’s succession strategies.

Zweli Mkhize, ANC treasurer-general and former KwaZulu-Natal premier, may still be leading the pack in the race to the pot of gold of the Presidency. His name keeps on popping up.

He is not always exactly on the right side of No 1, but he remains close, trusted and from KwaZulu-Natal. Dignity and competence complement the package.

He is well-positioned, being in the ANC’s top-six. An induced tussle between two national deputy presidents would be convenient but not essential to letting him slip in should Zuma exit mid-term, and should he not already have entered via round one.

Even if Ramaphosa enters as deputy SA president now, his nemeses could still hypothetically come to make a case for keeping him in international peace-making efforts.

Besides, the NEC will have the final say.

The ANC constitution dictates that it is the NEC’s function in the event of the ANC president stepping down to appoint a caretaker president until the movement’s national elective conference meets again, which would be in 2017.

The NEC, strongly under influence of the in-group, will direct these matters, irrespective of whether it is just the ANC president or both the ANC and SA Presidency that fall vacant.

And, once caretaker president, the position of president of South Africa 2019, more likely than not, will be for the taking if backed by seniority in ANC ranks and the kingmakers inside.

In fact, round one gender politics might help oil the round two succession of further male presidents.

The Motlanthe rebellion of opposing Zuma and declining the offer of a guaranteed deputy ANC presidency has indeed set the cat among the pigeons.

* Booysen is professor at Wits University’s Graduate School of Public and Development Management and author of The ANC and the Regeneration of Political Power.

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

Sunday Independent