Johannesburg – President Jacob Zuma’s loyalists are hedging their bets by launching a campaign for his third ANC term as growing uncertainty creeps in over which candidate he will appoint as his successor in the ANC in 2017.
The consensus among ANC insiders serving in different levels across a number of provinces is that Zuma will ultimately anoint his successor and that those raising the third-term issue were merely testing the waters to see if it was safe to continue lobbying for an alternative candidate.
Zuma has been silent on a preferred successor, leading to all manner of jockeying and attempts to curry favour.
The ANC in North West has emerged as the one province that is taking seriously the discussions over Zuma’s extended stay in office.
The proposal that Zuma retain his ANC office beyond 2017 was first mooted by the North West ANC at its provincial general conference last year and the provincial conference early this year. The aim was to push the ANC to postpone its leadership elections until 2019.
A senior party leader close to North West ANC chairperson and Premier Supra Mahumapelo said the province was in the process of lobbying its counterparts in the ANC and would table the proposal at the national general council next month.
Secretary of the ANC Youth League in North West Sipho Dial said the provincial executive committee meeting on Monday will officially discuss the proposal for Zuma to get a third term and remain in office until 2022.
Dial said other views, including that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma or Cyril Ramaphosa should take over, will also be tabled and debated.
“We are just throwing this thing for ANC structures to have a discussion,” said Dial. He said he did not have a problem with Zuma being re-elected for a third term.
The participation of North West ANC members in the third-term debate has strengthened views that provinces like Mpumalanga and Free State are likely to share a similar position, given the close relationship shared by the provincial leaders, who are also known as the Premier League.
“It is about people positioning themselves as kingmakers and not acting in the interests of the party,” said a senior SA Communist Party leader.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe warned this past week that those speaking publicly about their preferred leaders would be disciplined.
However, sources close to Mahumapelo said the third- term campaign and the term extension to 2019 were two different campaigns and the ANC in North West was lobbying for the latter.
The third-term campaign for Zuma was thrown into the spotlight last month when three-finger hand signals were waved at the national congress of the ANC Youth League.
This caused the debate to spread like wildfire among ANC members who believed that the lobby should be taken seriously.
The hand signals by Mpumalanga youth league delegates were a show of support for Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza to get a third term as provincial ANC chairperson. But Zuma’s backers saw this as an opportunity to put the third-term talk back on the table.
However, several ANC insiders told City Press last week that the third-term campaign should not be taken seriously because it was a decoy, or it would be rejected by ANC members.
A senior ANC national executive committee member said in an earlier interview that “changing the constitution of the ANC to please individuals would set a bad precedent”.
City Press also heard last week that the third-term campaign was about securing the financial interests and the survival of Zuma’s inner core, while seeking to eliminate potentially independent contenders from the race, notably ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.
There was also a sense that people who did not want to have their conduct interrogated by a critical president after Zuma’s term would want to retain the status quo for a while.
1. Status quo to be retained. In 2017 Zuma and Ramaphosa will make a comeback as president and deputy, respectively. Ramaphosa takes over government in 2019, but takes instructions from his boss in Luthuli House. All others must wait.
2. Zuma continues to be strong in the ANC. Those uncomfortable with Ramaphosa opt for Dlamini-Zuma. She gets elected as deputy president in 2017. The older generation of Ramaphosa and Mantashe are the big losers.
3. Zuma steps down in 2017 and allows for an open contest, which has about five candidates already. Dlamini-Zuma is the favourite.