ANC Western Cape leadership battle 2018

Photo: Phill Magakoe.

Over the past few weeks a new leadership debate is emerging in the ANC in the Western Cape as to who should take over as the provincial chairperson. This vacancy emerged after its former suspended chairperson Marius Fransman was found guilty in a disciplinary hearing and his membership stripped from him for 5 years. The NEC then in September 2017 held that a provincial general council should be called to elect a new Chairperson. However, due to a number of reasons including the national conference campaigning, a decision was taken not to elect the Chairperson. With just over 1 year left to the national and provincial elections 2019 it is important that the ANC urgently elects its chairperson. 

The organization cannot continue without an elected leader with a strong mandate 1 year prior to an election 2019. You only have to recall its dismal performance in 2016 Local Government Elections (LGE) when it contested the LGE without a chairperson to understand the importance of having an elected leader with the mandate, gravitas, vision and strategic capability and qualities to lead an election campaign. However, having an elected Chair is not an end in itself to addressing all the ANC’s electoral problems in the province, rather it is only the means and a good starting point.   Precisely now as the DA is suffering its worst leadership, governance and credibility crisis in more than a decade.  

The DA’s own internal polling, the recent bi election results in Soweto and Beaufort West, the public spats between its national parliamentary caucus and party machinery, the racial factionalism in the City of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay, Mogale City and numerous other municipalities in the Central Karoo and its handling of the water crisis all confirm the DA’s loss of support. Equally, since the outcome of the 54th National conference and the election of President Ramaphosa and a new top 6 the ANC nationally is experiencing a new-found renewal and honeymoon period which also seems to be penetrating the Western Cape.  Given these material conditions the ANC has an opportunity to once again to seize the moment and claw back much of its lost support over the past decade with the right leader, strategy and programme of action. 

So, who is in the running for Chairperson –  “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Unknown, The Unexpected, The Unfortunate, The Unpredictable and The Unwanted!”

Recent media reports indicate that there are approximately 10 ANC leaders whose names have been touted for the chairperson. They include the former Premier/ Ambassador and ANC Chairperson Ebrahiem Rassool and the former provincial secretary, chairperson, NEC member and current Deputy Minister Mcebisi Skwatsha. The former ANC MEC’s and current members of the provincial legislature Cameron Dugmore and Richard Dyanti. The former provincial legislature speaker and current Ambassador to Syria – Sean Byneveld and former ANC Youth League leader and current Deputy Minister of Policing – Bongani Mkongi.  In addition, there is Advocate Hishaam Mohammed, Western Cape Head of the Department of Justice and Andile Lillie a PEC member and former Seskhona Leader made famous through his poo protests. Other possible dark horses that have also been mentioned include Sammy Claasen an ANC West Coast councilor whose only concerns of late is the rights of the Khoisan, as well as the current provincial secretary Faiez Jacobs. 

It seems that the Western Cape is following in the footsteps of the recent national conference culture where initially there were approximately 7 candidates vying for the Presidency.   As we analyse the contenders for the provincial chair they can be best summed as a mix bag of ‘’The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Unknown, The Unexpected, The Unfortunate, The Unpredictable and The Unwanted’’.  Many of the names mentioned each come with their own strengths and weaknesses and provide the ANC in the province with new opportunities and threats. However, at the same time there is the danger that having so many candidates may create further instability as new factions are built and old factions reemerge reopening old and buried wounds, such as the historical animosity between Rasool and Skwatsha. Given the current window of opportunity due to the DA’s own organizational and governance crisis the ANC can ill afford this. 

Before deciding on who should be the chairperson, the ANC needs to determine what is realistically achievable in the 2019 elections.  This will be informed by the current objective and subjective conditions as well as its own current organisational strengths and weaknesses. 

To this end it needs to ask 3 strategic questions.  Firstly, whether it will be in government.  Secondly, whether it will be in a coalition.  Thirdly, whether it will be an increased opposition both qualitatively and quantitatively with a view to winning the majority of municipalities in 2021 both outright and through coalitions and then becoming the government in 2024. Each of these options also require different strategies, tactics and implementation plans. Once it has chosen its option it must develop a clear and coherent political strategy that must guide it to the elections. This strategy must be influenced by a clear political vision which disaggregates the objective realities and gives direction to a political programme of action. 

Once it has answered these questions honestly and objectively only then will the ANC be in a position to determine the type of leader and leadership qualities required for the short and medium term. Whatever decision the ANC takes and whoever it decides to elect, members must ensure that that the overriding principle remains what is in the best interests of the organisation rather than the individuals contesting. It must ensure that whoever is elected is able to ensure the unity, cohesion and renewal of the ANC.  Furthermore, that he /has a strategic vision to lead the ANC, the tactical nuance to exploit and capitalize on the crisis in the DA and the energy to lead an election campaign from the front.    

Zahir Amien is a social and political commentator based in the Western Cape