NEWS ANALYSIS: How Mpumalanga made a new king for the ANC
Chairman David Mabuza’s precise role in Cyril Ramaphosa’s ascension is unclear — but the province was indisputably the key player in the outcome
The Mpumalanga ANC played a key role in Cyril Ramaphosa's victory over Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, announced on Monday.
It took months and months of wrangling and lobbying, scenario planning and number crunching by the provincial chairman to get to this point.
It started with identifying a chink in the armour of the numerically superior faction aligned to President Jacob Zuma.
Zuma and his backers control the largest ANC provinces - mainly KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. It emerged that Mpumalanga would bring the second-largest delegation to the conference.
Ramaphosa's backers had to turn over large chunks of these two provinces. They had Senzo Mchunu and Bheki Cele working KwaZulu-Natal but needed an entry into Mpumalanga.
Enter David Mabuza, the Mpumalanga chairman with an iron-clad grip on his province, who was solidly part of the so-called "premier league" but recognised after the 2016 election that the ANC was in trouble.
He was also massively uncomfortable with the rising brazenness of the Gupa family, with whom his faction under Zuma had becoming increasingly entangled. His powerful business benefactors too were hostile to the controversial family, who were increasingly begining to control the state and state contracts.
Gauteng chairman Paul Mashatile began talks with Mabuza, despite being on the opposite side of the factional spectrum. Mashatile is decidedly anti-Zuma but he has first-hand experience of the ANCs electoral slide, losing two metros in his own province in 2016.
Mabuza then retreated back from the premier league and its support for Dlamini-Zuma, instead pushing a "unity" ticket.
He had his own ambitions to be the deputy president but only late in the game agreed to feature on her slate in this post, after it became clear that Ramaphosa would not accomodate him on his own slate. This was clear after the name of Naledi Pandor emerged from Ramaphosa himself and then later Lindiwe Sisulu.
On the eve of the elective conference Mabuza told regional leaders in his province that he was going with Dlamini-Zuma and his attempt at unity had failed.
This meant that the numbers from his province would go to Dlamini-Zuma.
Ramaphosa backers panicked, saying Mabuza had individually called a large block of Ramaphosa delegates to woo them to the other side.
Then on Monday, shortly before the announcement of Ramaphosa's victory, sources in the Dlamini-Zuma camp raged against Mabuza's "betrayal".
Hard-core campaigners in her inner circle conceded that Mabuza had "done a deal".
It is unclear at this early stage whether he has made a deal with Ramaphosa or whether delegates in his province simply defied him and went with Ramaphosa instead.
What is clear is that Mpumalanga was the kingmaker in the ANCs 54th national. conference and central to Ramaphosa's rise.
And its chairman has been rewarded for it.