Tell no lies – claim no easy victories, come to mind in better understanding what went down at the ANC Elective Conference in Johannesburg in 2017. Immediately after the  policy conference in July 2015 it was clear for all to see that the ANC was deeply divided. 

Subsequently, I published a paper in August – Consequences of a Winner Takes All Slate – There Are No Winners – A case study of the Western Cape & KZN Provincial Conferences from 98- 2015 & our National Conferences from 91 -2012 and its implications for unity and impact on elections.  I predicted then that should the 54th National Conference of  the ANC follow the route of a Winner Takes All Slate it would result in a worst case scenario of 51 -49 % & 55-45 best case scenario Outcome. 

Either way The ANC would be deeply divided with at least 45% of the ANC excluded from the leadership. Then all the unintended consequences, law fare, splits etc would be inevitable. Further that the ANC would then be in danger of going below 50% nationally and in danger of losing at least 1 other province at 2019 elections given its objective and subjective conditions.

I argued then as well as in subsequent op eds that the there would be dire consequences if the ANC went this route using the WC & KZN experiences of both unity and Winner Takes All as well as Nat experiences of compromise & unity in 91,94,97,02 conferences and our Winner Takes All Slate Conferences in 07&12.

Most people who commented on this said that what the paper was calling for was to idealistic , naive and unrealistic. Others ridiculed it. Others saw it as a propaganda campaign for the President and / NDZ 17 . Whilst others rubbished it as paper developed to build the intellectual argument for Cde DDs ambitions to be DP.

Yet a number of key leaders from our then president and many then provincial leaders such as Cde Sihle Zikalala , Cde DD Mabuza , Cde Paul Mashatile et al also understood the dangers and quietly and publicly began working on a unity option.

These Cdes as well as some of us who supported this option may have differed on the process of how to ensure an inclusive & unity outcome of all the dominant slates . But what was nb is that the end goal was the same of a unity and inclusive outcome that included all the dominant conference factions/slates.

The 1st option to develop a unity outcome Emirates from the  KZN Provincial leadership and Supported and championed by the then President Zuma which  suggested the option that the DP position go automatically to the runner up in the presidential race.

Some of us built on that argument calling for two DPs as initially suggested by the Northern Cape and that the one go automatically to the runner up slate candidate and the second be contested. Allowing for both inclusivity and contestation.

Some suggested such as myself built on this option that it be extended to the DSG position as well and that the losers in all the other office bearer positions and presidential candidates who got less than the runner up also automatically be elected onto the NEC provided they received a minimum threshold of support.

All these suggestions required a constitutional amendment and regrettably there was insufficient appetite in this heated environment to muster 2/3 support for this option.

The second option which was being championed by Cde DD, Cde Mashatile & others was that we should attempt to create a consensus outcome through negotiations. This was how we used to ensure consensus and unity prior to Polokwane . But it requires a political maturity from all leaders and delegates alike and sacrifices. There is also the danger that if the talks amongst leaders of caucuses collapses we end up with a Winner Takes All Scenario as what happened at Polokwane and Mangaung.

There was signs of an incremental momentum towards this 2nd option as we neared conference. For example it seemed that we were going to separate the Pres, SG, TG & Chair Vote from the DP and DSG. This would then allow for horse trading to include the losing side after the result of the Pres , SG and TG, Chair came out . But a few days before conference this idea was also scuppered presumably by hardliners in both slates . Also the appetite for a second DP and 1/2 additional DSGS to accommodate the losing slates also seem to disappear by those who were initially supporting it as attitudes hardened .

As we neared the conference and it seemed that even this option was not going to work Cde DD and the MPL unity branches (223) didn’t buckle . Both sides NDZ & CR17 thought that with the 2nd option out of the way MPL unity candidates would be force to choose a side. Hence the rumours each day on the run up to conference from both sides that DD would come out today on their side.

Instead to their credit the MPL unity did not buckle to the position of choosing a side after option 2 failed. Rather, they went for a 3rd option which was far more riskier and used their kingmaker status to force such an outcome of unity at the vote. MPL Unity in fact was open about this and one day prior to voting Cde DD said that he would appeal to the unity delegates to split their votes equally across both slates. They had worked out that by splitting the votes they would ensure a unity top 6. This was done for the additional list members as well.

In other words because we failed to create constitutional mechanisms to prevent a Winner Takes All Slate and to ensure a consensus compromise MPL unity branches forced the outcome at the ballot box. That this 3rd and final option actually worked is quite remarkable & almost miraculous in itself.

Today there are many people from both slates who are very angry with the Unity Branches approach , calling our newly elected DP and the unity branches a sell out to there respective slates . But once the anger has died down and history is written, the 223 unity branches may just be remembered as the group that saved the ANC from an implosion.

Yet, this tactic relied on lots of political skill, commitment, perseverance and clarity of purpose that may not always be there in future conferences where the ANC is so divided. Also because this play has been played there is no longer the element of surprise and in future Winner Takes All proponents would have learnt how to prevent & outmaneuver any future kingmakers in this scenario. 

Therefore once the dust has settled it is high time that the ANC does begin to overhaul its entire electoral system (which is archaic) from campaigning to outcome. It needs to consider the idea of open caucuses and seriously reconsider the option that KZN proposed (option 1),championed by former President Zuma, that it develops a constitutional process that prevents a ‘Winner Takes All Scenario’ in all future National Provincial and regional conferences.

Zahir Amien is a social and political commentator

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