Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS
Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

The unprecedented announcement of "running mates" by ANC presidential hopeful Cyril Ramaphosa has sparked lots of debate on whether it was a good or bad thing to do. For many, it was an issue of who he chose.

Some people didn’t like his choice of Naledi Pandor as deputy. They think she twangs too much and doesn’t have a tangible support base within the ANC. While clearly competent and committed, she is perceived as aloof and has never established a strong rapport with the public.

For others, Pandor was an inspired choice, ticking the woman box — which must be ticked in a race against someone who aspires to be the first female president of the ANC and of the country — as well as having exceptional qualities of leadership and service. Along with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Lindiwe Sisulu, she is also among the most senior women in the ANC.

The bigger question though was about the process and whether Ramaphosa violated ANC codes by announcing his slate for the top six publicly. He was reprimanded by ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe for doing so. Several of his campaigners and supporters also expressed disappointment, arguing that he had taken the power out of their hands to decide on who the top six should be.

Ramaphosa explained his action a day later in a short statement in which he said that his choices had been made in consultation with ANC structures. The four people named represent key constituencies within the ANC: Pandor represents the woman ticket; Gwede Mantashe, the Eastern Cape, the South African Communist Party and Cosatu; Paul Mashatile represents Gauteng; and Senzo Mchunu, KwaZulu-Natal.

In his statement, Ramaphosa tried to reassure branches that they still have the power to make the final choice of leadership themselves.

As the December conference is being touted as the conference that will put the branches back in charge of the party, Ramaphosa’s announcement was ill-advised. For tactical reasons, he may find that he shouldn’t have gone that far.

But it was no more factional or undemocratic than are the posters of Dlamini-Zuma’s slate that are circulated on social media to WhatsApp groups. It also had the distinct advantage of demonstrating authenticity: we know that this is the slate because Ramaphosa himself said so.

The next step could be that in the future, presidential hopefuls do announce their running mates, taking transparency a small step further

The rules of campaigning for leadership in the ANC are being rewritten. Until a few months ago, the code was that leaders cannot and should not campaign for themselves. The Eye of the Needle, the ANC’s guiding document on how leadership succession should take place, asserts that "it is in bad revolutionary taste to campaign for oneself".

Thank goodness that farce — which saw leaders vigorously denying their frantic underground campaigns — has ended. The ANC now accepts that nominations can be publicly called for and leaders can speak on platforms, visit branches and openly campaign. The result is that there has been much more transparency and public involvement in the crucial question of who should lead the ANC.

The next step could be that in the future, presidential hopefuls do announce their running mates, taking transparency a small step further.

Ramaphosa’s public announcement has one further significance. It means that "the unity" approach advocated by some in the ANC is pretty much dead and buried. Advocates of unity had suggested various permutations. One was to negotiate an agreement before the conference on an uncontested and unified slate of top leaders.

A second was that the presidential loser will automatically become the deputy president.

These options have been left behind. Ramaphosa is going for broke and he thinks he can clinch it.

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