Can the ANC avoid a winner takes all slate at it’s 54th national conference

File photo: Sizwe Ndingane

In his closing address to the ANC Policy conference on 5 July 2017 the President surprised many of the ANC delegates when he called for them to consider amending the ANC’ s constitution to the extent that that there be 2 Deputy Presidents and that the 1st Deputy President position not be contested. He suggested that where we have a situation of 2 or more members competing for the President that the runner up automatically becomes the Deputy President.

The purported intention behind this proposal is to begin to address the unintended consequences of a winner takes all slate scenario by including the losing slate in the leadership as the Deputy President. It is suggested that by including the losing slate in the leadership, the ANC will be able to avoid some of the negative unintended consequences of a winner takes all slate which it experienced after its previous national conferences in 2007 and 2012. These consequences include amongst others the continued divisions, factionalism, purging and triumphalism by the winning slates, mourning and continued resistance to the incoming leadership by the losing slate/s, a split from the ruling party and a perpetual state of instability and division. 

Since the announcement some leaders including the Deputy President himself, the Gauteng and Northern Cape ANC Chairpersons, amongst others, initially questioned the objective of the proposal outright. The reasons given amongst others, includes: suspicion that it could be nothing more than a cunning ploy by the President to secure a position for his ex-wife even if she loses the ANC presidential race in December 2017. Equally some of the leaders raised their reservations that the Nkososana Dlamini- Zuma (NDZ) faction are also banking on the possibility that if the NDZ slate wins the Presidential race and Cyril Ramaphosa were to lose / be the runner up he would in all likelihood decline the offer of serving a second term as the Deputy President. Some have argued that the latter would be in the same way that he declined to serve in the Mandela government after not being appointed as Mandela’s deputy in 1994. Thus, they argue that it’s a win-win scenario for the NDZ slate only.

The more hard-line supporters of the Cyril Ramaphosa Siyavuma (CR17) slate became more triumphalist since this proposal was made and they too rubbished the proposal, instead perceiving it as a sign that the NDZ slate is losing based on the so-called balance of forces at the policy conference. However, fortunately since then it seems that sanity is slowly beginning to prevail with many leaders beginning to realize that the policy conference was not a reliable indicator of which slate (CR17/ NDZ) is leading. They recognize that the only rational deduction that can be drawn from the policy conference is that both slates NDZ and CR17 command extensive support and that if an elective conference is to be held tomorrow the slate that wins will at best garner 60% support and at worse 52%. This means that no matter what the outcome the ANC will be deeply divided after the conference if it goes a winner takes all slate route.  Many provinces are also realizing that with this divided outcome the ANC risks potentially undergoing another split. They realize that with this outcome it’s electoral support in 2019 will further decline and that there is a real likelihood that it may then go closer to the 50% mark and lose at least 1 other province apart from the Western Cape. Particularly given its performance in the 2016Local Government Elections where it got 54% support nationally. It is this realization that even amongst the leaders and provinces that have rejected the president’s proposal that there also seems to be a growing consensus that if the ANC does not reach an inclusive compromise of all factions and in particular the dominant factions (CR17 & NDZ) it will be the beginning of the end of the ANC. Both the Chairs of Gauteng and the Northern Cape have already publicly said that they are open to a consensus compromise which must be reached prior to the conference. The Provincial Working Committees (PWC) of the ANC NorthWest & Mpumulanga have also agreed that the ANC needs to ensure a compromise on the position of the President prior to the conference and that it needs to ensure that the position is not contested. The ANC in Kwazulu Natal ( KZN), Free State and North West also agree on the principle of an inclusive outcome but by supporting the President’s proposal that the position be contested and that the runner up automatically becomes the Deputy President.  Whether the ANC is able to buck its current trend of a winner takes all slate that has become prevalent over the past decade and revert to its historical culture of a consensus and inclusive compromise of the 1990’s and early 2000 period on the position of the President and its other office bearers without amending its constitution remains to be seen.

Yet, the signals are beginning to indicate an appetite for an inclusive compromise are quite promising for the future ANC. Whilst provinces and leaders differ on how the ANC should ensure an inclusive outcome at least there is a growing consensus from the rank and file that the ANC cannot go a winner takes all slate route at its national elective conference in December 2017. It seems that the ANC is slowly beginning to agree on its end goal of a consensus outcome rather than a winner takes all slate and that the only disagreement now is the means to the end and what form it should take. As the ANC begins its leadership nomination process next month branches must begin to robustly debate, discuss and demand an inclusive leadership outcome of all slates and caucuses for the Elective Conference if the ANC wants to remain the leading motive force for transformation of the SA society in 2019 and beyond.

Zahir Amien is a social and political commentator. He writes in his personal capacity.