President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: JAIRUS MMUTLE/GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: JAIRUS MMUTLE/GCIS

With elective conferences held nationally and in five provinces over the past eight months, Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC has new leadership structures at most levels, which are largely in his corner, rather than in ousted leader Jacob Zuma’s.

Over the weekend, the outcome of the two key conferences — in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal — were significant in that they showed that Zuma’s support has dropped dramatically, even in his home province.

This was not unexpected — once ousted as president, Zuma lost his ability to hold on to support through patronage and use of state resources to buy loyalty and punish opponents.

This was a key motive in his desire to remain in office until the natural conclusion of his term next year.

In KwaZulu-Natal, Sihle Zikalala was elected chair, unopposed.

Zuma loyalists Willies Mchunu and Super Zuma were beaten to two key posts by Ramaphosa backers Mike Mabuyakhulu and Mdumiseni Ntuli. The make-up of the provincial executive committee was a mixed bag.

In Gauteng, premier David Makhura was elected unopposed as chair. He is among Ramaphosa’s closest allies, with the president praising his leadership in an address opening the conference on Friday.

The heavily contested position of deputy chair was won by Panyaza Lesufi, the Gauteng education MEC who was a staunch Ramaphosa supporter in the run-up to the Nasrec conference.

The secretariat in Gauteng was won by those aligned to Lesufi’s opponent, Lebogang Maile. Maile, in the Gauteng race, was aligned to Zuma loyalist Mzwandile Masina, who was beaten to the post of treasurer by former Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau.

Panyaza Lesufi. Picture: VELI NHLAPO/SOWETAN
Panyaza Lesufi. Picture: VELI NHLAPO/SOWETAN

While the newly elected secretary in Gauteng, Jacob Khawe, was aligned to Maile in the provincial election, he had campaigned for Ramaphosa in the run-up to the ANC’s national conference in December. Startling additions to the Gauteng provincial executive committee (PEC) include Brian Hlongwa, against whom there are allegations of corruption linked to his tenure as MEC for health, and Qedani Mahlangu, who was at the centre of the Life Esidimeni scandal.

In Limpopo, the group aligned to Ramaphosa bagged most of the positions in the top leadership, though the conference is being challenged in court.

Now that the party election season has passed, the factional realignment which began shortly after the national conference will intensify.

It is already clear a group of young turks is emerging and getting ready to take control of the ANC in the next elective conference in 2022, arguing that there is a need for "generational mix" at the top.

ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, regarded as a Zuma-ite, took a dig at this group in closing the Gauteng conference. Generational mix is not about age, he thundered, but rather about the generations that participated in the struggle.

While unity remains the mantra of the party’s top brass, it is not being practised. Leaders and factions are positioning themselves for the party election list conferences, where government posts will be decided.

The provincial battles have also lined up leaders for potential premiership posts. Makhura’s opponents in Gauteng, for instance, would prefer it if he were shifted to national government, possibly as a minister, so they could begin running the country’s economic hub and richest province.

In KwaZulu-Natal, Zikalala is aiming to take over from Mchunu as premier. He appears to be shifting further from Zuma, as he positions himself under Ramaphosa’s leadership. He said on SAfm radio this week that ANC members should adhere to the national executive committee decision of not supporting Zuma, when he appears in court, by turning up in ANC regalia.

The North West province is set to pose a challenge for the ANC after next year’s election, should it win the province. Ousted premier Supra Mahumapelo (pro-Zuma) controls the ANC PEC, which plays a key role in the selection of premiership candidates. The PEC selects the three names to be submitted to the national leadership for a final decision. As long as the PEC is controlled by Mahumapelo, his grip on the province will continue.

While Ramaphosa’s grip on the ANC has begun slowly solidifying, he will probably use the list process to cement it through key appointments.

The upcoming list process is yet another process in the ANC that is set to be heavily contested and fraught with difficulty.