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AFRICAN National Congress branch delegates have completed their provincial general council (PGC) meetings to nominate candidates for ANC president and five other leading positions and the forecast is cloudy.
While current ANC deputy president, multimillionaire businessman and former trade union leader Cyril Ramaphosa received 1,861 branch nominations against his leading rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's 1,309, their contest remains on a knife edge.
Ramaphosa was backed by five provinces — Gauteng, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Limpopo — while Dlamini-Zuma has majority support in North West, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, the latter two provinces which will send the largest delegate numbers.
One complicating factor is that, at the Mpumalanga PGC, no fewer than 223 branches wrote in “unity” as their candidate, while 123 supported Dlamini-Zuma and 117 opted for Ramaphosa.
While the trade union confederation Cosatu is backing Ramaphosa, the ANC Youth League and ANC Women’s League, which each have 60 votes at the elective conference that begins on December 16, are fully behind Dlamini-Zuma.
It is no secret that outgoing president Jacob Zuma champions his estranged wife to succeed him, but she is a lifetime political activist in her own right.
Anti-apartheid campaigners of a certain age in Britain may remember her arrival in Britain four decades ago as a political refugee and student activist following the Soweto uprising, subsequent qualification as a doctor and work with the Community Heart charity led by Denis Goldberg.
She was appointed South Africa’s first woman foreign minister by ex-president Thabo Mbeki before taking up the chair of the African Union commission.
Her opponent was never exiled from his homeland, playing a key role in setting up both the National Union of Mineworkers and the Congress of South African Trade Unions as part of the Mass Democratic Movement internal resistance movement to apartheid.
Ramaphosa was elected ANC secretary general in 1991, leading negotiations to secure the peaceful replacement of the apartheid regime by democracy and playing a role in the temporary government of national unity.
After losing out to Mbeki in the competition to succeed Nelson Mandela as president, he resigned his political positions, taking up a business career that has brought great wealth as well as unwelcome publicity linked to his role as a director of Lonmin at the time of the police massacre at the company’s Marikana mine in 2012.
Ramaphosa has been ANC deputy president since 2014 and would, in common with Dlamini-Zuma, if elected, be the first post-apartheid South African president never to have been at some time a Communist Party central committee member.
Last week’s SACP annual augmented central committee — reinforced by wider representation from the party’s provincial and district organisations, as well as from the Young Communist League — confirmed that “contrary to much media reporting, the SACP is not supporting a particular slate or presidential candidate.”
It urged ANC conference delegates “to elect a leadership collective that will move the ANC out of its current leadership paralysis.”
Issues raised specifically by the SACP to arrest the decline in public support for the ANC include “the establishment of an independent judicial commission into state capture,” which it identifies with
Zuma’s notorious collaboration with the Gupta family.
It wants an independent judicial commission set up to investigate state capture, the sacking of serially incompetent ministers and criminal prosecution, “without fear or favour, of all those exposed” as involved in corruption by recent parliamentary hearings.
The party has called repeatedly but unsuccessfully, along with other anti-corruption campaigners, for Zuma’s resignation or removal, believing that the buck stops with the president for the spread of corporate capture and rampant corruption in ANC-led municipalities.
Communists took part in last week’s council by-elections in the Free State municipality of Metsimaholo, winning three seats, all on the proportional representation list.
It was the first time the party had contested elections independently of the ANC since the apartheid regime banned it in 1950 and was in response to local people’s demands that it should stand with them against wrongdoing there.
The decision to contest was taken at short notice, meaning that the SACP ran without formal backing from its trade union allies, although the party has made clear it would not contest national elections without Cosatu member unions standing alongside it.
Cosatu shares SACP concerns, having led nationwide strike action in September against job losses and corruption and holding large protest rallies in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Polokwane.
The Metsimaholo by-election was inconclusive and may be rerun, after the ANC took 16 seats, the Democratic Alliance 11, Economic Freedom Fighters eight and smaller groups winning one each.
The central committee congratulated Free State comrades on their efforts, thanking communities for their support.
“While the SACP had hoped to achieve a marginally better result, winning three council seats after only campaigning for two weeks was a remarkable achievement,” it commented.
“We also achieved this result in the face of considerable destabilisation efforts and threats emanating from Ace Magashule and his corporately captured Free State ANC faction.”
Magashule, the Free State premier, has been put forward on a pro-Dlamini-Zuma slate, as ANC secretary general for this month’s election, nominated by his home province, KwaZulu Natal and North West.
He has boasted of his friendship with the Guptas and of his son’s business links with the family.
Political analyst Karima Brown said yesterday that “an ANC that is represented via Ace Magashule is a manifestation of that kind of capture that has been spoken about.
“What you see here is not just the capture of the state, you actually see the capture of the ANC. There has been a pushback, there has been a fightback from within,” she added, referring to growing resistance to Magashule’s agenda within the Free State ANC.
Opponents of the SACP have derided its foray into the electoral fray, describing its inability to win first-past-the-post seats as a “flop.”
This view is contested by Business Day columnist Stephen Friedman who viewed such assessments as owing “far more to factional wishful thinking than reality.
“If it can repeat this result, achieved with only weeks of campaigning, nationally, it would win more than 30 seats and would do better than the EFF in 2014. It is hard to see how 6 per cent then was a ‘triumph’ but over 8 per cent is a ‘flop’ now.
“More important, if it does win 8 per cent or more, it could deprive the ANC of a majority and ensure that the two would have to govern in coalition. Metsimaholo may therefore mean that the ANC needs the SACP if it wants to govern after the next election.”
However, the SACP is more concerned to achieve a reconfiguration of the revolutionary alliance with the ANC, Cosatu and civics organisation Sanco to take forward its campaign against state corporate capture in a united and principled way rather than the autocratic manner of President Zuma.
Whichever candidate or slate wins, the ANC elective conference will present fresh challenges to revolutionary alliance partners in the run-up to South Africa’s crucial 2019 general election.
John Haylett is the Morning Star’s political editor. He writes a regular column every other Thursday.
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