Although several pundits watching the ANC Eastern Cape conference have already decided a winner, ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa might still have cause for concern even if the victor in the race for provincial chairperson is his ally, the incumbent Oscar Mabuyane.
National leaders with aspirations for top leadership positions at the ruling party’s December national election conference will be looking for crumbs from the table of the battle in the ANC’s second-largest province after it concludes this weekend.
On Sunday, the second day of the conference again stalled over a tug-of-war between opposing groups over branches in the WB Rubusana region, with disputes about the regional executive committees’ right to vote along with the veterans’ league.
According to party insiders, credentials had to be referred back to the credentials committee to be signed off. Credentials — in which delegates approve the status of those who qualify to vote in the conference — have historically been a sticking point.
Sources who attended closed meetings said national executive committee members Aaron Motsoaledi and Senzo Mchunu had to intervene when tensions flared.
At least 1 532 delegates were expected to attend the conference, but only 1 494 have registered. The number of voting delegates for each region currently stands at: Alfred Nzo (214), Amatole (216); Chris Hani (203); Dr WB Rubusana (114) Joe Gqabi (74); NMB (98); OR Tambo (333); Sarah Baartman (101). The provincial task team will have 51 votes with the youth, women’s and veterans leagues having 30 votes each.
Although some believe the Eastern Cape conference is a high stakes game for the Ramaphosa faction as well as disgraced former health minister Zweli Mkhize, ANC treasurer general Paul Mashatile, who many overlook, is likely to make the most headway in terms of gaining new support. He is the national leader who has fought for Babalo Madikizela and his slate to take over leadership of the province.
Those in Mabuyane’s faction have laid their frustration over delays in the verification of participating delegates from the regions at the feet of Mashatile, who has ambitions to become the ANC deputy president and is said to be in a tussle with Ronald Lamola for favour in the Madikizela faction. Lamola, a long time ally of Madikizela, is believed to also be attempting to ingratiate himself with his supporters.
One powerful regional leader in the Madikizela faction said Mashatile had already proven himself as an ally of the slate, because he is believed to have fought hard for it during deliberations on the standing of branches in the WB Rubusana and Chris Hani regions.
Party insiders who have vested interest in the conference told the Mail & Guardian that whoever emerges victorious on Monday — when the results are expected to be announced — is unlikely to win the conference with a great margin.
For Ramaphosa, the result may mean that whomever he wants to see rising in the party as his deputy and secretary general will have a much tougher battle without the Eastern Cape’s full support in the lead-up to the December conference.
But those behind Mabuyane are aware of the possibility and reflected on what the ANC in the province was able to do in 2017 when — even after a violent conference — those who emerged victorious were able to unite the province behind Ramaphosa in a matter of three months.
One senior leader in the Mabuyane faction said if it was possible to unite the province within that time frame, they were confident the same could easily be done in the six months from now to December.
Sources have told the Mail & Guardian that members of the provincial task team representing the ANC’s alliance partners made a proposal to bring together the Mabuyane and Madikizela factions ahead of the conference, but were snubbed.
They said South African Communist Party Eastern Cape chairperson Xolile Nqatha, SACP leader Mncedisi Nontsele and labour federation Cosatu’s provincial secretary, Xolani Malamlela, led the call for a united slate.
The Madikizela camp has maintained that it was the Mabuyane camp that approached the group proposing a possible consolidation of the factions.
Only Mabuyane gave them an audience during a meeting on Friday and is said to have asked for secretaries in his regions to deliberate on whether a compromise could be reached between the two slates.
But sources said the regional secretaries of Chris Hani, OR Tambo, WD Rubusana and Sarah Baartman and the Joe Gqabi regional chairperson rejected Mabuyane’s request.
“Almost immediately all the chairpersons and secretaries that we are working with, we immediately met and, no, we are not going to entertain any negotiations,” one regional leader said.