Saturday, 21 April 2007

ANC succession race is on

The first of two blogs on who the next president of the ANC (and, by extension, the next president of South Africa) will be and the related selection process.

One cannot discuss the big ANC succession debate without getting into the more juicy stuff, including wild and completely subjective speculation about what the odds are, who's stabbing who in the back and what the favourites and outsiders look like.

A major bunfight is underway, with various groups within the ANC wanting to make sure their man or women is in the top job. COSATU and the Communist Party are angling to directly influence who sits there (because they want much greater influence in ANC affairs), while a strong lobby groups has built up around Jacob Zuma. For their part, the powerful and politically skilful President Thabo Mbeki and his staunchest supporters have their own designs on the "who" and "how" of the elections for the top post - and are giving clear signs they won't simply let these other pressure groups have their way.

As far as women candidates go, Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Zuma is very much in the runnings. She is a compelling leader, has in the past been called up to be the country's Deputy President (and said no) and is now one of the most capable and likely compromise candidates for the post of ANC president. She is of course part of Mbeki's Cabinet and undoubtedly has his support. At the same time, former hubby Jacob Zuma - when approached - has apparently told her he would not mobilise his forces to squash her chances if she stood. However, her challenge is that she lacks a strong base among rank and file. Her portfolio has also kept her far from the provincial and branch battlegrounds where such support is won or lost.

Another strong women candidate is Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ncgucka. She is astute, has substantial government experience and a deft handle on policy issues. However, the feeling in movement circles is that she "is not ready". Like pre-cooked food marinating in sauces or like a really good wine, she is being reserved for later.

What women have counting against them is their sex (living in a patriarchal society, should we be surprised at all?) When you ask well-placed movement men about the chances of a particular women becoming ANC numero uno, they simply smile or give a muffled laugh and say: the membership is not ready for a women president. In some cases, what this means is: I myself am not ready, given our culture and values, to embrace such a shift.

As male candidates go, Jacob Zuma is in pole position. Many people suggest Zuma is not ANC leadership and presidency "material". But reality is that Zuma is eminently electable, especially if you consider what has counted for donkey's years: He is tried and tested in terms of struggle, and he is currently the ANC Deputy President. Many detractors wonder if he can handle policy debates and the conceptual issues related to transformation, at least at the same level that President Mbeki - or even Phumzile Ngcuka - does. But these are new criteria, and indications are that such new criteria simply do not wash with rank and file. Others point to Zuma's escapades - with the shower, the condomless-sex and the kanga, and his highly deficient management of his financial affairs - and to related indications that he is unable to practice "leadership of self". But such things are major flaws only in the eyes of the greater public and a minority within the ANC; the bigger chunk of ANC members view these as forgivable errors and/or irrelevant issues. Of course, Zuma's challenge - if he is not stopped by a court case and if he indeed sails through the lobbying and voting - would be how to repackage and market himself so that he can be accepted as a (legitimate and respected) leader of progressive forces and South Africans more broadly.

In the background are names like Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni and Minister of Trade and Industry Mandisi Mpahlwa. This is the pinstriped brigade, the ultra sophisticated men of the movement. Put them in front of an audience of international investors and they have the latter munching out of their hands. They are seen as credible leaders. However, these are not forefront contenders when you consider party dynamics and power relations within the ANC. They surface, however, when compromise candidates are discussed. A challenge in terms of these candidates is that, although we know both are capable of such, they have so far not conveyed any strong "stands" in relation to how transformation should proceed and be accelerated.

The name of Finance Minister Trevor Manual cannot be left out of a discussion on succession, even though he ranks as a complete outsider due to the ANC's traditional emphasis on black African leadership of the struggle. But he scores high on NEC election lists at ANC national conferences, and his name has popped up in the debates leading up to the conference later this year as a possible "one-term" compromise candidate. The disadvantage for him is that COSATU hates his guts for forging and driving forward government's GEAR policy.

What about the chances of business tycoons in the ANC. Many of these have great appeal with the wider public, and would be easily marketable as president to broad interest groups in society. The business bigwigs can mobilise well at certain levels - and Saki Macozama is a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker par excellence; but they are generally removed from the grassroot membership. Parts of the ANC constituency, particulary those which share COSATU and Communist Party membership, will vehemently oppose such candidates on the grounds that such persons would use a presidential position to drive business interests and put the brakes on a working class agenda.

Saki Macozoma is seen to be embroiled in some of the factional divisions in the ANC and would be a definite no-no for the Zuma constituency. He might have to be happy with the role of kingmaker that many ascribe to him. Of the businesspersons, Tokyo Sexwale seems to be the only one with a meaningful chance. His social responsibility initiatives are more widely known than others in his league, and he has certain political skills that, if he were appointed the Big Man, may be handy in managing stalemates and deadlocks between the major opposing camps. Cyril Ramaphosa is the darling of many in the business and media world. However, Ramaphosa's Achilles Heel is that while he is tried and tested as a unionist, he is not steeped in ANC traditions. Furthermore, the challenge for almost all in the businessmen category is that both the Mbeki and Zuma support groups view them with deep distrust and suspicion - as opponents to be stopped rather than horses that could receive possible backing. Also with respect to this group and their relationship to current political leadership in government, there is very frequent talk of backstabbing, recrimination and grudges that date back to previous succession contests.

Finally, while Zuma may have peaked too early, someone coming late into the race is the ANC's Kgalema Motlanthe - a horse that looks sleek, seems race fit and has energy to go the distance. With his hands on the ANC machinery and strong day-to-day connections with the membership base, Motlanthe is an extremely strong contender. He has political flair, and a political style that, although ponderous, is positively regarded by most within the ANC: a patient and considered decision-making style, high regard for process and consultation, a commitment to notions of fair play and a deep knowledge of "the ANC way of doing things" coupled with a habit of constantly drawing on ANC historical knowledge and theoretical foundations.
Although there are various rumours about his partisan involvement in the tussling between the Zuma and Mbeki mobilisation groups, his strengths mean that he could survive this controversialness. He balances a strong link to unions and active members in many of the poorest provinces with an attention to old fashoined ANC practices that may still make him acceptable as the leader to the broadest base.

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