New ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa will need all his skill and charm to get a divided party on the same track — not only to save its dignity at the polls in 2019 but to ensure he becomes president of SA and gets the country working again.

Cyril Ramaphosa is the new ANC president, but his victory has been poisoned. He will be heading a mixed slate of ANC leaders after beating Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma by 179 votes — not a commanding victory over the candidate favoured by outgoing party leader, Jacob Zuma.

After a two-decade wait for the top position in the party, Ramaphosa was elected president with 2,440 votes to his rival’s 2,261.

He is no newcomer to the ANC’s top six. In 1991 he was elected secretary-general (with Zuma his deputy) and was head of the party’s negotiations commission at the Convention for a Democratic SA (Codesa).

If Ramaphosa hopes to win trust in the lead-up to elections and restore investor confidence, he will have to act decisively

Ramaphosa, a former leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, was tipped to become Nelson Mandela’s deputy and successor but the ANC "collective" thought differently and he lost out to Thabo Mbeki.

It was supposedly because of this that he resigned as ANC secretary-general and from parliament in 1996, and became a leading businessman. He has, however, served as a member of the party’s national executive committee (NEC) since then. He returned to the ANC’s top six at the party’s 2012 Mangaung conference, as deputy president on Zuma’s slate.

Now he has succeeded Zuma as president of the ANC and possibly of SA.

ANC top six elected: deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, secretary-general Ace Magashule, national chair Gwede Mantashe, president Cyril Ramaphosa, deputy president David Mabuza and treasurer-general Paul Mashatile celebrate on December 18 2017. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/AFP/MUJAHID SAFODIEN
ANC top six elected: deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, secretary-general Ace Magashule, national chair Gwede Mantashe, president Cyril Ramaphosa, deputy president David Mabuza and treasurer-general Paul Mashatile celebrate on December 18 2017. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/AFP/MUJAHID SAFODIEN

Ramaphosa will have to work closely with a mix of friends and foes elected beside him at the conference.

He is effectively hemmed in by two current Zuma allies and one former supporter of Zuma. But he is tough, personable and has negotiating skills.

His right-hand man and deputy president will be Mpumalanga chairman David "DD" Mabuza, a somewhat sinister and wily operator who — with all his faults — is seen by some to be strong on governance. Mpumalanga under Mabuza was one of only two provinces that registered improvement, according to the auditor-general’s 2015-2016 report on local government.

Mabuza beat "princess" Lindiwe Sisulu for the party’s deputy presidency by a relatively comfortable 2,538 votes to 2,159. No member of the top six received more votes.

Before the results were announced it was clear that Sisulu had lost. She cast a lonely figure on stage, speaking to no-one and looking ever more sour as day turned to night.

It was the Mpumalanga vote which swept Ramaphosa to victory — through a deal apparently not of his making.

Mabuza, a former Zuma ally, had been keeping his cards close to his chest, vacillating over which candidate he would back. The Ramaphosa camp were aware that they would have to turn to at least one Zuma province for their man to stand a chance. Mabuza, who is hostile to the Guptas and worried about the ANC’s sliding electoral fortunes, was identified as an amenable potential ally. As a practical, ambitious politician, Mabuza was open to making a deal.

He had for months been in talks with the provincial party bigwigs of Gauteng, the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Northern Cape and the Western Cape. But on the eve of the conference he told regional leaders in his province that he was going with Dlamini-Zuma and that his attempt at forging a "unity ticket" had failed. This meant the votes of his province would go to Dlamini-Zuma.

Ramaphosa backers were at that stage not too concerned as they had already "quarantined" 397 delegates from the province. But panic set in after Mabuza individually called a large bloc of Ramaphosa delegates to convince them to switch.

The chairmen of the five provinces again stepped in. It is understood that they agreed to give Mabuza Gauteng’s votes for the deputy presidency if he would back Ramaphosa for the top job. And just like that, the conference outcome was sealed.

On Monday, shortly before the announcement of Ramaphosa’s victory, sources in the Dlamini-Zuma camp raged against Mabuza’s "betrayal". Campaigners in her inner circle conceded that Mabuza had "done a deal".

The most contentious vote was the one for secretary-general. Controversial Free State chairman Ace Magashule snatched the position from former KwaZulu Natal secretary Senzo Mchunu, by a mere 24 votes.

A few hours after the announcement it came to light that 63 votes, presumed to have gone to him, had not been counted. It sent the Ramaphosa camp apoplectic and they called for those votes to be tallied. But those who supported Dlamini-Zuma held a gun to their heads — drop the fight for a recount of the secretary-general position or they will demand a re-vote on all positions. The matter was finally closed on the conference’s last day after Mchunu received 17 additional votes, still failing to secure the position.

But who is Magashule?

His election as secretary-general is, at the very least, an interesting choice for the party. No-one disputes that Magashule is popular among ANC delegates: his name "Aaaace, Aaaace" reverberated with a looping cheer whenever he appeared.

Magashule got by far the loudest and most enthusiastic applause when election results were announced, even though Mchunu was expected to land the role.

Despite his charisma, Magashule is a less than savoury character. He has run the Free State in a dictatorial fashion since he took the chairman’s reins in 1992. But in all this time he has not quite worked his magic to the benefit of the voters.

The courts have banned the provincial executive committee (PEC), which he leads, not once but twice from attending a national conference — at Mangaung in 2012, due to alleged vote rigging, and again this year as Free State faced a barrage of court cases leading up to the national conference.

First the high court in Bloemfontein had to order Magashule and his PEC members to hold a provincial conference after their mandate expired in May. Then the court, in a separate case, had to interdict the conference from taking place as 29 branch general meetings had to be re-run. The conference, first postponed, eventually took place. There was no real time for Magashule and the new PEC to celebrate before they were hit with another urgent court application.

The least damaging outcome for the province was handed down in court, as the applicants had asked for all Free State delegates to be barred, but succeeded once again in stopping the 27 PEC members from voting.

Magashule’s track record in handling internal disputes is less than optimal for a man who, as secretary-general, will have to deal with the ANC’s internal disputes.

He is rumoured to be astute at "stealing elective conferences" as the court findings against his leadership suggests.

Internal politics aside, governance in the Free State under Magashule’s leadership is also an issue, as Mangaung is seen as the worst-run of all of the metros. The auditor-general described the Free State, together with North West and the Northern Cape, as "the worst performing provinces" when the 2015-2016 report on SA’s 263 municipalities was released.

For a party looking to hang on to power in 2019, it would have to prove it can clean up its act.

Both those issues are red flags. But the biggest issue, in a climate of voter alienation from the ANC, is the damning allegation of state capture. Magashule has been linked to the Gupta family since R30m of public money for the Vrede dairy farm in his province was used to pay for an extravagant Gupta wedding in 2013.

The Guptas also bankroll Magashule’s sons — the premier has been described as a "mini-Zuma". His re-elected deputy, Jessie Duarte, has also been linked to the family accused of capturing the state and has caused major rifts in the ruling party.

It has been said — only half jokingly — that the Guptas have effectively captured the ANC’s secretariat.

The presence of Magashule and Duarte, if not Mabuza, in the top six could be a major stumbling block for Ramaphosa, who has promised to eradicate state capture and make those involved pay.

Former secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, an old union ally of Ramaphosa, also returns to the top six — this time as national chairman.

Before his election as chairman on Monday, Mantashe — in his final briefing with the media as secretary-general — joked that by the afternoon he would be unemployed and would be available for a job as an editor.

Mantashe is very familiar with the workings of Luthuli House, as he spent a decade running the ANC headquarters. He was also instrumental in elevating Zuma to his position of president and ensuring he got a second term.

But there has apparently been a breakdown in the relationship between the two. Mantashe was coy about this as he left office, telling journalists his relationship with Zuma was professional and not personal, and that he did not keep a diary of their time together.

When the dust settles and the congratulatory notes stop streaming in, Ramaphosa will have to focus on the implementation of ANC-sponsored policies in government to prove the party is not stuck in a rut.

During his campaign, he promised the country and the ANC members who voted him into power a "new deal" and a number of other interventions to revive the economy.

He has had many chances, as a leader of government business and an intermediary between the business community, the ANC and government, to hear the cries of leaders and activists who are concerned about SA’s lack of policy direction on economic growth.

If he hopes to win public trust in the leadup to the national elections in 2019 and restore investor confidence, he will have to act decisively. That includes dealing with allegations against senior members of his party, some of them in the top six.

The adoption of policies in the ANC is usually skewed towards the candidate who wins, with their suggestions supported by the majority of delegates who would have already shown their loyalty to the winner by backing them in the polls.

Ramaphosa will also be pressured by the ANC’s alliance partners, the SA Communist Party (SACP) and Cosatu, to fulfil the elective mandates they gave him as they pushed for his appointment. They strongly backed him in the presidential race. Top of their list of demands is the reconfiguration of the alliance, which has all but broken down.

Should Ramaphosa fail to deal with corruption or not carry through some of the proposals made in relation to job promotion and alliance unity, the ANC could — for the first time — face its old ally, the SACP, at the 2019 polls. The SACP has been threatening to exit the alliance and establish a "mass democratic movement" while Cosatu’s congress next year will decide on a plan of action should the SACP contest state power.

As ANC president, Ramaphosa will want to take strides towards the presidency of the country — but may be hobbled by the makeup of the top six.

Those celebrated negotiation skills, which helped to construct SA’s admired constitution, will be essential in navigating his way over difficult terrain.

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