Natasha Marrian Political editor: Business Day
Zweli Mkhize, Cyril Ramaphosa, Jacob Zuma, Baleka Mbete, Gwede Mantashe and Jessie Duarte greet supporters at the ANC’s January 8 anniversary celebrations. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Zweli Mkhize, Cyril Ramaphosa, Jacob Zuma, Baleka Mbete, Gwede Mantashe and Jessie Duarte greet supporters at the ANC’s January 8 anniversary celebrations. Picture: GALLO IMAGES

The race to succeed President Jacob Zuma as ANC president is in full swing, overshadowing the party’s anniversary statement last Sunday — at a time when Africa’s oldest liberation movement is in desperate need of inspiration and renewal from the annual presidential address which spurred its members on during the fight against apartheid.

The ANC has seen off a bruising 2016, with the loss of key metros and a clear sign that its role as the "leader of society" is in terminal decline.

Flitting through "introspection" and engagement with its structures after the constitutional court judgment on Nkandla and following its drop in electoral support in the local elections, it simply glossed over the malaise it faced for the sake of "unity".

A bid to remove Zuma as president of the country by senior party leaders also fell flat when the ANC national executive committee reaffirmed its support for him.

That meeting, however, was a clear indication of the deep divide in the party and that its rhetoric on unity is just that.

The January 8 statement, then, was an opportunity for the NEC to move to mend the deep rifts, but like the wet Johannesburg weather, it was a damp squib.

On the eve of the delivery of the statement at the Orlando Stadium, the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) endorsed outgoing AU Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

The women’s league — seen as aligned to a powerful lobby group that includes the chairs and premiers of the Free State, Mpumalanga, North West and KwaZulu Natal — has long argued that it is time for a woman to take the reins of Africa’s oldest liberation movement, and even before the ANC’s Mangaung conference in 2012, Dlamini-Zuma was touted as a possible candidate. She emerged with more votes than any other member of the NEC elected at that conference and has since been punted by the ANCWL and the ANC Youth League to succeed her former husband.

The move implies that Dlamini-Zuma may square off against deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa for the party’s top spot. Ramaphosa last week gave the clearest indication yet that he is eyeing the presidency, delivering a scathing indictment of the current state of the party.

The January 8 statement last Sunday itself failed to inspire the extensive renewal which party leaders have long argued the ANC desperately needs. It once again admitted to its problems but presented no new ideas on how to tackle them.

"The people have told us that we are too busy fighting each other and we do not pay sufficient attention to their needs. Our own research and interactions with members of the ANC demonstrate clearly that the people abhor the apparent preoccupation with personal gain," the statement said.

The statement also provided a line of march to the party on the succession issue, saying that before any individual names are punted, there should be agreement about the "principles" which would qualify candidates for leadership.

But with the ANCWL’s endorsement of Dlamini-Zuma, the party found itself, shortly after the statement was delivered, having to move to quell the succession talk. It called on Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa to distance themselves from those publicly backing them.

Labour ally Cosatu recently endorsed Ramaphosa, arguing that the ANC should stick to tradition, according to which the deputy president succeeds the incumbent.

A decision by the North West ANC to align the term of the ANC president to that of the country’s president is gaining traction among sections of the party. Such a decision would imply that Zuma remains party president until 2019 — or the more likely aim is for the party to discard its policy that the president of the party must be the president of the country to avoid two centres of power.

The rest of 2017 is set to continue in similar vein and many more names and policy shifts may be thrown into the ring before the national conference in December, leaving the ANC’s attempts at unity and restoration by the wayside.

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