Why ANC ‘unity votes’ to decide Ramaphosa vs Dlamini-Zuma duel

South Africa's Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

It’s game on as the African National Congress prepares to go to a crucial elective congress from December 16 and the scramble for “unity votes” begins.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is in pole position in the race to replace President Jacob Zuma as party leader ahead of his main rival, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Ramaphosa got approval from five provinces while his opponent’s candidature was endorsed by four provinces.

During the branch and provincial meetings, Mpumalanga, the second biggest ANC region, had 223 “spoilt ballots.” These belong to branches that abstained from endorsing either of the leading candidates and said they were backing “unity.”

Dr Dlamini-Zuma received 123 nominations while Mr Ramaphosa got 117.

Come under fire

As intense lobbying begins, the two candidates will go all out to win over voting delegates from the branches that voted “unity

Ironically, the chairperson of ANC Mpumalanga, David Mabuza — popularly known as DD — is a leading nominee for the deputy president’s position. According to reports, the vote for “unity” was done on the instruction of Mr Mabuza. In defence of his branches, he said: “I am willing to sacrifice myself for the sake of unity.”

As things stand, it is not clear on whose slate he stands because of the puzzling “unity” votes. He has come under fire for allegedly coercing branches to vote for the non-existent “unity” candidate.

“Mabuza is extremely influential in Mpumalanga; he runs the province with an iron fist and will use that to further his political ambitions. He coerced branches to vote for this unity so he can leverage this swing vote,” said a South African newspaper editor.

Presidential candidate Matthews Phosa claims he has proof that members were told to vote for unity. “We have videos of people saying to delegates that they must vote for unity. That’s influencing them. Who is unity? We don’t know the membership, branch or address of unity. It’s a mythical creation of David Mabuza.”

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ANC national executive committee member Nomvula Mokonyane also demanded that those who voted for unity explain why they did not nominate an actual candidate.

Mr Mabuza, who also serves as Mpumalanga premier, got the highest nominations for the deputy president’s position ahead of two fringe presidential candidates — Lindiwe Sisulu and Zweli Mkhize.

Some say keeping everyone in suspense could be an attempt by Mabuza to secure the best position for himself.

They reckon he is playing coy in order to first see which way the scales are tipping between the two camps in order to then negotiate the deputy president position for himself on the winning slate.

Political administration student Siyanda Ntuli in Pretoria, a follower of ANC politics, is also of the view that Mr Mabuza is playing the long game.

Become president

“He is positioning himself now for deputy president to ensure that he will become president of South Africa six years from now. But what he knows, for sure, is that he can only become president of the country in 2024 if the ANC does not split in the interim.”

Mr Ntuli is convinced that the Mpumalanga boss could turn out kingmaker in the presidential race, as well as use the “unity votes” as leverage for the ANC’s No.2 position.

“With the second biggest province and more than 200 ‘unity’ delegates behind him, he could influence who becomes the next president of the ANC,” he said.

He, however, believes Mr Mabuza far better for his own ambitions by going for Dr Dlamini-Zuma.

“She is a woman and considering the pressure from the gender lobby in the ANC, it will work out pretty well to have a man as her deputy. On the other hand, Ramaphosa has identified a woman as his preferred deputy — so this would make it difficult for Mabuza to get his preferred position on his slate,” said Mr Ntuli.

For two terms

Political analyst Thulani Ndlovu’s take is that Mr Mabuza is likely choose Dr Dlamini-Zuma because that will fast-track his presidential ambitions.

Mr Ndlovu says if Dr Dlamini-Zuma wins the 2019 election, she will be in her 70s and will almost certainly be president for just one term.

“DD will only have to wait in the wings for a maximum of six years. The much younger Ramaphosa is much more likely to go for two terms and Mabuza will know that a lot can happen in 11 years that could scupper his plans,” said Mr Ndlovu.

Now, the onus is on Dr Dlamini-Zuma and Mr Ramaphosa to consolidate their numbers using the “unity votes.” And the man carrying the key to those votes is DD.

So, besides Mr Mabuza being the kingmaker of either Mr Ramaphosa or Dr Dlamini-Zuma, he is also paving his own way to ascension.

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