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ANALYSIS: Everybody wants to rule the world: Zweli Mkhize’s ‘the more, the merrier’ belies the future ANC reality

ANALYSIS: Everybody wants to rule the world: Zweli Mkhize’s ‘the more, the merrier’ belies the future ANC reality

While the immediate focus has been on whether either of them could really unseat President Cyril Ramaphosa, these latest developments may in fact reveal a significant departure from the way the ANC worked for decades. It may suggest that the ANC no longer really has “factions”, but now has only “interest groups” which are much more flexible and even more loosely affiliated with stated political beliefs than thought possible. It is not impossible that the party will never have a dominant group again, thus preventing it from forming a plan or an agenda to govern properly in the future.

On Wednesday night, while speaking at a lecture in Durban, Mkhize confirmed that he will contest the ANC’s leadership. On Sunday, the Sunday Times had a long report showing how Mkhize is now challenging the Special Investigating Unit to reveal the information it has about his role in the Digital Vibes scandal.

Key to this is the issue of whether or not Mkhize will even be allowed to contest the leadership in December. If he is criminally charged, he will not be eligible and he is clearly trying to remove this problem.

But that is really the beginning of his problems. Even if Mkhize is, somehow, not formally charged by then, the evidence in the public domain against him is strong. As Daily Maverick Scorpio’s Pieter-Louis Myburgh has detailed many times, Mkhize’s former personal assistant benefitted from the R150-million scandal, as was his family, which ended up receiving some of the money.

Even before Digital Vibes there is strong evidence that Mkhize was involved in other transactions. Again, Daily Maverick Scorpio’s Pieter-Louis Myburgh exposed how money from a PIC deal ended up paying for Mkhize’s townhouse.

Even if Mkhize somehow prevailed in the ANC’s contest, his underhand dealings would surely damage the party’s prospects in the 2024 elections. It is clear that corruption is likely to be a major issue in those polls, perhaps even the dominant issue. And he will be unable to simply claim that Digital Vibes or PIC are not scandals.

South Africans have given the ANC leaders a free pass before – it is unlikely that they will do so ever again.

But much before that, Mkhize would first have to get more support than Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

And this is where the real problems in the ANC may be revealing themselves.

In the past, and certainly five years ago, it was clear that there often were two major groups in the party, and these were referred to as factions. Hence all the talk about the “RET faction” and the “Ramaphosa faction”.

Now it appears that a process once identified by Dr Ralph Mathekga has gained much momentum. As he explained just months after the 2017 Nasrec conference, the ANC was moving from “factions” to a situation where groups of interests coalesced around each other. These were much more temporary than factions.

And thus there is a lot less stability in the party – instead of two main groups, you have a constantly changing set of groups.

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This may be why Mkhize and Dlamini Zuma may now be contesting each other. It is obvious that if there was a concerted effort to remove Ramaphosa, if that was the sole aim on which everyone agrees, then there would be a group of people around just one candidate to contest against him.

The fact there is more than one candidate suggests that that is not the case. Rather it is much more personal – both Mkhize and Dlamini Zuma really really want to be leader of the ANC, and possibly President.

As has been noted previously, this situation may well lead to the end of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal being a dominant political force in our politics.

Last week it emerged that KZN is still the biggest province of the ANC in terms of branch numbers, hence it will have the largest number of delegates at the December conference, and thus the most influence as a single block.

Except that this development shows divisions, and that it is unlikely that the province will come to the conference backing a single candidate.

This may also reveal a much more personal agenda from one particular person. While it is always difficult to assess the power that former President Jacob Zuma still has in the ANC, it may well be that Dlamini Zuma has been emboldened by his support. And that if he was not supporting her, she may well not feel she would have enough support to run.

As things stand, with the provincial leaders of Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West, the Northern Cape, the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Limpopo all backing Ramaphosa, it may be hard for just one other contender to get over the 25% threshold necessary to stand at conference.

With two contenders it looks virtually impossible, vhich means that if they do divide the votes of KZN, Dlamini Zuma and Mkhize could both face the humiliation of not qualifying to contest at all.

But the problems of these shorter-term interest groups are likely to prevail long after this leadership election. While many groups appear to support Ramaphosa for now, it is likely that instead of him coming out of the conference with a strong mandate, these groups’ interests start to diverge quite quickly.

As a result, he could find himself governing over a party with a series of interest groups with ever-changing interests.

This may prevent him, and others, from even attempting to fix the real problems in the ANC and the turmoil would simply continue, just as the ANC faces its biggest electoral test. 

It is difficult to rise above the problems if the ground underneath shifts constantly.

Still, it is possible that other things will happen. For example, during the conference or in the run-up to it, something may shift. Perhaps a dominant bloc will emerge, or perhaps one of the candidates for deputy leader will be universally accepted.

However, for the moment, the indications are that this will not happen. And that the longer-term dynamic of the ANC being dominated by shorter-term interest groups will prevail, with important consequences for the party, and the country. DM


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