Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s unprecedented decision to announce a team he wants to lead the ruling party with has the potential to send his presidential bid into a tailspin.
So unusual was Ramaphosa’s move at the weekend that his ally, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, was forced to condemn him as the party succession battle took yet another interesting turn.
But as President Jacob Zuma’s supporters tore into Ramaphosa yesterday, the former trade union leader remained unfazed and stuck to his guns, with his supporters also jumping to his defence.
Mantashe said Ramaphosa’s announcement undermined the right of branches to select candidates.
“Such pronouncements are unacceptable, whether comrades have a preference or not and seek to usurp the entrenched right of the branches to nominate candidates of their choosing,” Mantashe said.
He said the directive by the party’s national executive to ensure branch nominations are not tampered with was part of doing away with slates.
Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) president Kebby Maphatsoe accused Ramaphosa of dividing the party on the eve of its crucial elective conference by openly revealing his slate.
Maphatsoe said Ramaphosa had effectively told the ANC’s rank and file to go to their factions.
“We are not saying he should not have preferences, but how is he going to unite the organisation if he is the one who comes up with slates - even before the branches have made their choice on who they want?” asked Maphatsoe.
The MKMVA are staunch backers of Zuma and his preferred successor, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the former AU Commission chairperson.
Maphatsoe said while Zuma wanted Dlamini Zuma to take over when he steps down next month, none of the two have presented slates.
“Now we have a deputy president who goes to an ANC meeting and pronounces slates while we have resolved on fighting slate politics,” Maphatsoe said.
ANC Youth League national spokesperson Mlondi Mkhize accused Ramaphosa of being reckless and undermining the party’s decisions on slates.
“At his level, it is reckless for him to prescribe to branches who they must vote for,” Mkhize said.
While the ruling party had resolved to outlaw slate politics at its 2015 national general council (NGC) and further denounced it at its national policy conference (NPC) in June this year, the MKMVA and the ANCYL have also been guilty of peddling slates on behalf of Dlamini Zuma’s faction.
Maphatsoe defended his faction, saying only lobbyists took part in pronouncing preferred names and not Dlamini Zuma.
In a surprise move on Sunday evening at a campaign rally in Sekhukhune, Limpopo, Ramaphosa unveiled national executive committee member and Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor as his deputy and former KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairperson and premier Senzo Mchunu as secretary-general.
He also fielded current secretary- general Gwede Mantashe and Gauteng chairperson Paul Mashatile as national chairperson and treasurer-general respectively on his slate.
While Ramaphosa welcomed the criticism, he refused to back down or withdraw his slate.
“The names I mentioned for leadership positions arose from interactions and nominations emerging from ANC structures and should be understood in that context.
“The views I expressed are by no means prescriptive and do not displace the right of branches to nominate their preferred candidates for any position of the ANC leadership,” Ramaphosa said.
ANC NEC member Joe Phaahla, who forms part of the Ramaphosa campaign and is also on the slate, defended Ramaphosa, saying: “My understanding is that what he said was based on the feedback he got from structures of the party and his belief that we’re making a positive contribution in the current NEC.”
Phaahla said the NGC resolution was not aimed at silencing people but to ensure that branches were given space to make decisions on who should lead. “The rally he was addressing does not vote and is not a formal structure of the ANC, but I understand the concerns expressed and accept them,” he said.
Political analyst Professor Somadoda Fikeni said while Ramaphosa’s move may have been a blunder, it would have little impact on his campaign as the race was already ridden with slates.
“Those who support him will be relieved now that he has come out and as they will know who to organise themselves around, but those belonging to other factions will attack him and accuse him of promoting factionalism,” he said.
Fikeni added that the culture of insincerity in the application of party principles was not confined to Ramaphosa, but was a general challenge plaguing the ruling party.
Ramaphosa’s move could affect his bargaining power as he has left out some key leaders, including ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize.