The succession debate centring on ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is still a “dark-room affair” within the ANC, but the subtle campaign of the former African Union Commission chairperson and her supporters is presenting a conundrum for the ruling party.
With the ANC unlikely to open the campaign until close to its national elective conference in December, neither Ramaphosa nor Dlamini-Zuma have openly declared their candidacies.
But the two candidates are nevertheless in a race being run on their behalf.
Ramaphosa’s slow start could be his Achilles heel as he may find catching up with Dlamini-Zuma to be an uphill battle. He needs to start showing his intentions.
Dlamini-Zuma’s massive welcome at OR Tambo International Airport on her recent return from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was telling. It was in complete contrast to the lacklustre reception she got during her unsuccessful visit to Xhosa King Zwelonke Sigcawu who, instead of endorsing her, told her SA was not ready for a female president and she was “too delicate to lead the country”.
Although one of the ANC’s two leftist allies, the Congress of SA Trade Unions, has publicly endorsed Ramaphosa to succeed incumbent Jacob Zuma as ANC president, he is keeping mum about his intentions.
United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader Bantu Holomisa, who became a close associate of Ramaphosa’s during his term as ANC secretary-general, at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa negotiations in the early ’90s and earlier in the UDM, says the former trade unionist is a party loyalist and would hate to break ANC rules and start campaigning as his opponent is currently doing, albeit subtly.
Holomisa says post-1994 ANC culture holds that Ramaphosa is an “outsider” because he did not go into exile, nor was he imprisoned on Robben Island.
In the post-Mandela period, some within the ANC took the stance that it was exiles and former prisoners who liberated the country, while the role of those who fought the apartheid system inside the country was miniscule.
But history shows that the activists under the United Democratic Front, a body launched in 1983 that incorporated many anti-apartheid organisations, and the trade union movement inside the country, unleashed fiercer resistance in their toe-to-toe battles with the apartheid authorities compared with the hit-and-run tactics that characterised the operations of the exiles.
Hindsight reveals that a back-seat approach, as is being employed by Ramaphosa, always ends in a political miscarriage.
This tactic failed Kgalema Motlanthe when he waited until the last moment to announce that he was challenging Zuma, in Mangaung, in 2012.
He was beaten hands down by the charismatic Zuma, who received 2 983 votes against Motlanthe’s 991 at the 53rd party national conference.
The battle culminated in Motlanthe being relegated to the political wilderness, a situation that Ramaphosa could face if he delays warming up for the big race.