ANC in crisis as crucial election to replace Zuma approaches

Party’s deputy head and president’s former wife front-runners in internal election

South Africa’s deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, a front-runner in the race to succeed Jacob Zuma in December as ANC leader. Photograph: Siyabulela Duda/EPA

South Africa’s deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, a front-runner in the race to succeed Jacob Zuma in December as ANC leader. Photograph: Siyabulela Duda/EPA


When the African National Congress’ national policy conference gets under way on Friday, the ruling party’s leadership battle and the factional politics surrounding it will loom large over the proceedings.

Stakeholders tuning in to the seven-day event near Johannesburg will be keeping an eye on the 4,000 ANC branch delegates’ reaction to senior party leaders, as much as to the economic and social policies being reviewed.

With South African president Jacob Zuma due to stand down as party president in December after his second term of office, the race to replace him has started.

ANC deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, and the president’s former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, have emerged as the two front-runners for the party’s top job. So how they are perceived by the delegates who will vote in December’s elective conference provides the first real insight into how it might go.

The ANC finds itself in a deep crisis in the run up to this crucial internal election. The party is beset by allegations of corruption and economic mismanagement at every level of its leadership, and this led to a significant loss of support for the party in last August’s local elections.

To stop the party bleeding more support in the 2019 general election, delegates must chose a leadership in six months that will again inspire confidence in the voting public. If they fail to do this, there is every chance the former liberation movement will lose power in two years’ time.

Speaking ahead of the conference on Thursday, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe maintained the party was aware it was divided and in crisis, but he said members were hopeful the gathering around policies would unite the movement.

“This conference provides an opportunity for the ANC to self-correct. We’ll emerge out of this conference stronger and more united,” he said.

Anti-apartheid veterans

However, unity seems far from some ANC members’ minds. A group of 100 ANC anti-apartheid veterans confirmed early on Thursday they would not attend the conference because they were not allowed to address the real challenges facing the organisation.

The group called on Mr Zuma to step down as the country’s president because of corruption scandals he and his supporters are embroiled in.

Discuss documents released ahead of the policy conference focus on topics such as organisational renewal and design, social and economic transformation, and international relations.

And, the policies that come to the fore will likely be an indication of which faction is dominant in the ANC, as many people believe the discussions are really proxies for the leadership battle.

But those attending the policy conference have no powers to make any decisions. Instead, they will make recommendations that will be only be decided on following December’s elective conference.

Associate professor of sociology at the University of Pretoria, Christi van der Westhuizen, wrote recently that the policies up for discussion reveal a party that is worried about losing power more than anything else.

“The documents point to deepening paranoia and an increasingly authoritarian tendency. In combination, they seem to emanate from a parallel universe where the party’s interests have become elevated above those of the South African society at large,” she said in the Conversation, an independent publication for academics.