David Mabuza and Cyril Ramaphosa at the 54th ANC national elective conference in Johannesburg. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI
David Mabuza and Cyril Ramaphosa at the 54th ANC national elective conference in Johannesburg. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI

Wild cheers erupted at the Nasrec conference centre in Johannesburg on Monday evening as delegates celebrated the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as the new ANC president.

Ramaphosa shed a tear as he took his seat on the podium after a gruelling and sometimes dirty campaign for the party’s top job.

The emotion was understandable. It was the second time lucky for him, after having been overlooked for the party deputy presidency under president Nelson Mandela, driving him to the business sector.

Stone-faced supporters of his rival, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, looked on in disbelief as he was announced the victor.

President Jacob Zuma took a deep breath and clenched his fists as Ramaphosa was announced as the victor.

This was a marked contrast from the man who, about 10 minutes before the announcement of the result, had taken the podium to perform a rendition of Umshini Wami and Inde Lendlela with the increasingly restless delegates.

Dlamini-Zuma sat expressionless on the stage, flanked by her closest supporters including Bathabile Dlamini, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and Lindiwe Zulu.

Delegates from Mpumalanga, North West, the Free State and half of KwaZulu-Natal sat stoically as cheers erupted from the rest of the hall.

But if Ramaphosa was excited about his election, that happiness was dimmed with the announcement of the winner for deputy president. His preferred candidate, Lindiwe Sisulu, lost to Mpumalanga chairman David Mabuza. Ramaphosa’s key ally, Senzo Mchunu, also lost to Ace Magashule for the position of secretary-general, and Zingiswa Losi lost the deputy secretary-general post to Jessie Duarte.

Dlamini-Zuma hugged Magashule and Duarte fiercely as she took to the stage to congratulate the new leadership, and the delegates cheered when she hugged Ramaphosa.

A visibly shocked ANC Youth League leader Collen Maine expressed disappointment that Dlamini-Zuma had lost, but said unity had prevailed.

Celebrations continued into the night, with well-wishers gathering at Ramaphosa’s house in Chiawelo, Soweto.

As ANC delegates were voting for the party’s top six on Sunday, family members of the man who would eventually win the presidential race remained anxious, prayed fervently — and then popped champagne.

This was revealed by Ramaphosa’s niece, Naledzane Nemukula, on Monday night.

"On December 16, when the conference started, the mood among family members was just normal. Everything started to change and sink in yesterday [Sunday] morning and that is when we decided to come to our mom’s house to cheer her up because she was down and not dealing with the situation well. We decided to buy her a cheese cake. The situation was so tense at home that the family was not able to sleep yesterday.

"However, we knew that we were going to receive positive results because we’ve been praying for our uncle."

Nemukula said her mother had panicked because if her brother did not make it, the possibility of the ANC winning the 2019 elections would be slim.

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