EDITORIAL: Ramaphosa is ahead — but it’s still open
The fight is far from over
A bookie would be hard-pressed to assign odds to who will emerge as the ANC’s 14th president at its December conference, as the race between Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has become nail-bitingly close.
Saddled with the unlucky 13th president, Jacob Zuma, for a decade longer than seems right, the ANC in less than a month elects his successor.
By all accounts, it seems Ramaphosa is in the lead. This is credited largely to strong lieutenants mobilising support for him in Dlamini-Zuma’s KwaZulu Natal stronghold. Skilled lobbyists Bheki Cele and former KwaZulu Natal premier Senzo Mchunu have been unrelenting in their campaign on the ground in the ANC’s largest and most influential province.
But the fight is far from over.
Mathematics suggests that Dlamini-Zuma should be ahead — if we assume she has 100% support from her KwaZulu Natal base, and she were to win the three "premier league" provinces (Mpumalanga, Free State and the North West), she’d tie-up 2,553 of the total 5,240 votes.
While 90% of the votes will come from the branches, the remaining 590 votes will be split between the youth, women’s and veterans leagues, the national executive committee (NEC) and the provincial executive committees (PECs). Here, the Veterans League will back Ramaphosa, while the Youth League and Women’s League will back Dlamini-Zuma.
The "Ramaphosa provinces" are Gauteng, Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Northern Cape and Western Cape. Again, assuming he has 100% support, Ramaphosa’s tally would sit at 2,178 of the 5,240 total, along with votes from the Veterans League and a handful from the NEC and PECs.
But the reality is that Ramaphosa has gained considerable ground in two Dlamini-Zuma provinces: KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga.
In KwaZulu Natal, as at November 13, number crunching by his backers indicated he is surprisingly close behind Dlamini-Zuma, obtaining nominations from 203 branches while she had been nominated by 230.
However, there are more than 100 disputes in the province — mostly from Ramaphosa backers who claim the Dlamini-Zuma-aligned provincial executive manipulated branch meetings where nominations for their candidates were made.
KwaZulu Natal is a mess, and a court hearing next week will determine which faction will prevail. The outcome will be perhaps the one critical swing factor for either candidate.
There’s also a schism in the premier league provinces. Mpumalanga chairman David Mabuza, for one, has shown little appetite for a Dlamini-Zuma presidency. This is significant, as his province brings the second-largest delegation to the conference after KwaZulu Natal.
Sources in Mpumalanga say Ramaphosa has a slight lead in nominations — but he is not followed by Dlamini-Zuma, but by a "unity" ticket. Branches have literally scribbled "unity" into the box for presidential nominations on the form.
In the end, insiders predict that about 55% of Mpumalanga will go to Ramaphosa.
To counter this, Dlamini-Zuma backers have inserted Mabuza on her ticket as deputy president — a sweetener to swing his province in her favour. But it is unclear whether he will accept — insiders say he failed to arrive at a rally she addressed in the province last week, despite coaxing from Zuma.
Next weekend, Dlamini-Zuma will speak at a rally in Nelspruit. Mabuza’s presence there will reveal where he stands — as will his absence.
Nominations will then be consolidated and a final announcement made at provincial general councils, which are just around the corner.
Even then, horse trading will take place right up to the December vote, which may yield last-minute surprises. Only then will we know for sure who will be SA’s likely next president.