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Dlamini-Zuma’s Dilemma. Cyril’s Challenge. The ANC’s Catch-22.

‘She was an individual with her own life and politics. Now she has almost become a prisoner.’

Liesl Pretorius
Aug 15, 2017
Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma might become ANC president. She might even be the next president of the country. Once there, however, she is likely to find that elbow room is in short supply.

"It's sad for her," says Professor William Gumede, chairperson of the Democracy Works Foundation.

"A couple of years ago she was an individual with her own life and politics. Now, by default, she has
almost become a prisoner."


Read the second part of this project, on Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, here.In part three, we profile Cyril Ramaphosa.


Gumede says Dlamini-Zuma's success is crucial to the Zuma camp -- to avoid prosecution and to hold on to the wealth acquired through the state.

He believes President Jacob Zuma's "outrageous" suggestion that the loser in the ANC leadership race should become deputy president is an indication that the Zuma camp thinks it may lose. "Zuma is only guaranteed protection [against prosecution] if he has someone in the top two," he says.

However, last week's unsuccessful motion of no confidence has strengthened Zuma's hand, to the benefit of Dlamini-Zuma's campaign.

Gumede says the Ramaphosa camp failed to mobilise, thereby missing an opportunity that might not repeat itself. "Ramaphosa has to do things he has not done before instead of doing things the old ANC way."

He expects the Zuma camp to double down by going after anti-Zuma people, also at branch level.

Independent political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi says Dlamini-Zuma's "real or perceived proximity" to Zuma is both an advantage and a disadvantage. "It is an advantage in that he enjoys the support of the dominant faction. It is a disadvantage in that Zuma is undergoing a very deep image crisis."

The same goes for the support of the dominant faction of the ANC -- the premier league, the ANC Youth League and the ANC Women's League. "It's an advantage because she might be elected ANC president as a result. But the dominant faction is undergoing a very deep image crisis. It is doing collateral damage to the party itself. [Dlamini-Zuma] may be [ANC] president in December [2017] but if the majority of voters reject the ANC in 2019, she may not become head of state."


Dlamini-Zuma's 'elemental political dilemma'

Independent political reporter Carien du Plessis, who is writing a book about Dlamini-Zuma, says public opinion -- measured by media coverage and the views of the middle-class establishment -- was favourable towards the former chairperson of the African Union Commission until fairly recently.

"[Dlamini-Zuma] was on a high in home affairs when the department got a clean audit for the first time in 16 years ... People were saying she's too valuable to lose to the [African Union]."

But when it became clear that she was latching her fortunes on to that of her former husband, sentiment started to turn. "People were saying: 'We don't know her like this. She's disappointing us ...'

"I think she's in a bit of a tough position," says Du Plessis. "I don't think she can win without [Zuma's] support because of the good networks that he has. The premier league, the rural provinces -- they have been building branches for quite a few years now and they've been lobbying people so they've built quite a solid support base, which would ... translate into support for her ... But if his fortunes turn, hers might turn as well."

Dlamini-Zuma faces an "elemental political dilemma," says Richard Calland, associate professor in the department of public law at the University of Cape Town and author of The Zuma Years. "On the one hand, she wants to govern the ANC from the centre in order to ... 'put Humpty Dumpty together again'. She can only do that by reclaiming the centre ground. However, Ramaphosa is dominant in the centre ground."

Calland sees Dlamini-Zuma's grassroots campaign as an effort to broaden her support base beyond the nationalist wing (on the right) and the "gangster wing" of the ANC. "She's going around the country, branch to branch, to try and win support that will cut across that -- so she wants to win with a support base that is as wide and diverse as possible. It remains to be seen if she will achieve that. Aside from that, she has to ensure that her slate has the muscle necessary to win but also that it's not full of folks who will try and extract a pound of flesh from her if she does win. That's a very delicate balance. I think she's working very hard on that."



What will Cyril do?

If the balance of support stays as is, the dominant faction will remain the kingmakers until the ANC's elective conference in December, which would benefit Dlamini-Zuma, says Matshiqi.

The challenge for Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is, therefore, "to create a new majority outside the circle of kingmakers or he must succeed in dividing the circle of kingmakers so that a portion thereof hives off to support him", he says.

It is here where other candidates could influence the race -- by dividing internal constituencies in favour of either candidate. Or by asking their supporters to throw their weight behind a particular candidate.

But it might not be entirely up to the ANC. Matshiqi believes external factors, such as the economy, might force the party's hand. "In the end, the ANC may have to elect a candidate who is better placed to raise levels of confidence [in the interest of economic growth] ... Clearly, anyone who is seen to be a candidate of the dominant faction is unlikely to [do so]."


'A continuous acrimonious co-existence'

Regardless of who wins the leadership race, Matshiqi believes the winner will preside over a divided ANC. "Division might deepen further if the ANC loses power in 2019. But the divisions may come before that if there is perception by a critical mass of ANC members that if the dominant faction wins the battle in December, it may lose the war [election] in 2019."

Professor Susan Booysen of the Wits School of Governance says the ANC might not split "but I think we are past the phase where one faction just accepts the rule of the winning faction. There is going to be a continuous acrimonious and reluctant co-existence of those factions."

Says Stephen Grootes, host of The Midday Report on 702: "The [Zuma/Dlamini-Zuma/premier league] faction has to retain control of the National Prosecuting Authority to keep Zuma [and others] out of jail ... The Cyril side -- on their version -- has to fight incredibly hard because they are fighting to save nothing less than the soul of the ANC.

"How do those two reach a compromise?"

Left, right and centre

"The centre and centre-left of the ANC is one that is very much committed to the traditions of the ANC in terms of consultation, in terms of trying to find consensus within the organisation, building unity and so on," says Professor Richard Calland, author of The Zuma Years.

"Secondly, it's more of a social democrat tradition. It's a tradition that is progressive politically. It's pro-union. It's pro-government in the sense that government is the driver of the developmental state. So there are very big ideological and values differences between the centre/centre-left and what I call the right or the nationalist side of the ANC.

"I think the centre/centre-left is much more committed to the Constitution and the institutions of a constitutional democracy. The nationalists are much more about taking power and using it for a particular purpose ... There is also a respectable side to the nationalist side of the ANC. Someone like [former minister of public service and administration] Ngoako Ramatlhodi is what I call a respectable nationalist -- he's not corrupt, he's not part of the gangster part of the ANC, he hasn't been captured ...

"But he's not a social democrat. He's a capitalist. He believes in the market. He believes that government should get out of the way. Most importantly, he believes in black economic empowerment -- he wants to see economic power in the hands of more black people ... Whereas the centre/centre-left are much more interested in collective rights, in the transformation of class strata and class formations and union rights and so on, rather than the enrichment of a small number of black individuals."

Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and President Jacob Zuma during Women's Day celebrations in 2016.

NDZ, JZ and the dominant faction

The link between Dlamini-Zuma and her former husband is undeniable, says Professor William Gumede, chairperson of the Democracy Works Foundation. "They've had a bond, a life and children together."

"I know people say it is sexist to talk about Dlamini-Zuma as Zuma's ex-wife. For me, she and Zuma are politically the same. The premier league -- and I'm not entirely convinced that the premier league is as united as it used to be -- supports him and therefore supports her."

– Stephen Grootes, host of The Midday Report on 702


"[Dlamini-Zuma is] not getting involved in all these spats and all the controversies around [Zuma] ... She hasn't really said anything about the Guptas, for instance ... She just keeps on pushing her African agenda, her gender agenda ... So I think she does realise that she will have to look like she's close to [Zuma] but at the same time ... separate herself from him ..."

– Carien du Plessis, independent political reporter


"I think she would want to put some clear blue water between herself and her former husband. She needs to win on the basis that ... she is definitely not going to continue the rot of the Zuma years. She is respectful and loyal to her former husband. But that is a kind of respect for the presidency of the ANC. I think she is a traditionalist in that sense. In terms of her campaign and in terms of her political stance going forward, she would want to be distinct from Zuma ... She has been similar to him in reinforcing the radical economic transformation stance."

– Richard Calland, associate professor in the department of public law at the University of Cape Town


"The factions have bolted. [Dlamini-Zuma] will have the task of continuously defending her lobby group. She will depend on them."

– Professor Susan Booysen of the Wits School of Governance


"She has the capability to lead but she is not necessarily in a position to take on the dominant faction [of the ANC], who will hold her to account."

– Dr Sethulego Matebesi, political analyst, University of the Free State


"The rural electorate may take to [Dlamini-Zuma] fairly quickly, partly because of her association with Jacob Zuma ... The urban electorate may not warm to her, precisely because of her association with Zuma."

– Dr Lubna Nadvi, lecturer in political science, University of KwaZulu-Natal


  • Since the ANC's national policy conference, the frontrunners in the ANC leadership race have used public platforms to express their views on a number of contested issues, including radical economic transformation and (white) monopoly capital. Explore the map above by clicking on the pins (green pins are for Dlamini-Zuma; yellow pins are places visited by Ramaphosa). Click through this slideshow to compare Dlamini-Zuma's and Ramaphosa's views on key issues, based on her lecture on the Freedom Charter, delivered in Kimberley, and his address to the South African Communist Party's (SACP) national congress.

If the ANC race was just online, who'd be heading for Mahlamba Ndlopfu?

Campaign season in the ANC has looked decidedly different this year.

First, there was the months-early endorsement of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma by the ANC Women's League.

"The Women's League did this just before the January 8 statement. I mean that was an incredible thing to do [considering ANC rules about the succession debate]... And to almost overshadow the ANC's biggest event of the year," says Stephen Grootes, host of the Midday Report on 702.

"[ANC secretary-general] Gwede Mantashe said something into my microphone that Sunday: 'I used to be a sprinter in my youth and there is something like a false start.'"

Then came the websites, newsletters, videos and social media updates.


How do the frontrunners compare?

  • Nkosazana.com is a curious mix of bullet points and archive material. The first item on the "in the news" section dates back to 2002.
  • The three dots in ANC colours that rotate while a page is loading is the first clue that Ramaphosa.org.za is no rush job. It looks good, is easy to navigate and the content is fresh.
  • On Nkosazana.com, users can subscribe to a newsletter by only entering an email address, which is perhaps a strategy to increase the likelihood of subscription. It could also be a missed opportunity. When subscribing, the Ramaphosa campaign asks for basic details such as your province and whether you are an ANC member, which makes sense if you're building a campaign database. Then again, users might not want to part with their cell numbers, which is a required field.
  • Team Ramaphosa has put out 12 newsletters, which are also available on its website. The newsletters typically feature a Ramaphosa speech from recent years, turned into an infographic. Topics have ranged from increasing "the scale and pace of radical economic transformation" to skills development. Some newsletters include book giveaways and links to posters of icons of the struggle such as lawyer and activist Victoria Mxenge, who was assassinated outside her home in 1985. (The Nkosazana.com newsletter is yet to arrive in my inbox.)
  • Dlamini-Zuma had a reasonable head start on Twitter because she is using the account she has had since 2014 for her campaign (see graphic). Following a steady stream of tweets on her activities and speeches, her account was dead quiet for two weeks. Dlamini-Zuma's campaign tweeted again on August 7 to condemn violence against women. She commended the man who intervened when Deputy Minister Mduduzi Manana allegedly assaulted up to three women at a nightclub but did not mention the deputy minister or any of the women by name. City Press reported that one of the women, Mandisa Duma, was Dlamini-Zuma's niece. Dlamini-Zuma's account has been busy since the hiatus. The Ramaphosa campaign account is updated regularly. Aside from featuring Ramaphosa's activities and speeches, it pushes the newsletter and content on its website. Late on Monday, the account responded to an allegation made by EFF leader Julius Malema that Ramaphosa had abused his first wife.

  • Team NDZ is more active on YouTube. It puts out videos of some of her speeches, broken up into smaller chunks. It also posted the first in a series of "In Conversation With" Dlamini-Zuma videos. (Considering that this was presumably aimed at a young audience -- the topic was youth development -- it was a very long 27 minutes.) Team Ramaphosa's channel until recently contained a mix of news clips and archive videos, featuring former ANC presidents Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela and former South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo. This month, it introduced an animated explainer of the ANC document Through The Eye Of A Needle? Choosing The Best Cadres To Lead Transformation, and a video commemorating the 1987 mine workers' strike.
  • The Ramaphosa campaign is considerably bigger on Facebook, with 112 241 followers versus 10 202 for Dlamini-Zuma. Both campaigns' activities on Facebook are largely information focused, as opposed to a focus on engagement with followers.
  • Team Ramaphosa made its debut -- the first of 145 posts to date -- on Instagram on January 17. On the account, you'll find photos of a beaming Ramaphosa with a diverse mix of South Africans: young, old, able-bodied, people with disabilities, black and white. He is seen opening a clinic and attending religious gatherings. There is a summary of the findings of the Marikana commission and news about endorsements. There are also pictures of Ramaphosa with key players in the ANC leadership race. They include former ANC chairperson in KwaZulu-Natal Senzo Mchunu, ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize, Eastern Cape chairperson Phumulo Masualle and his counterpart from Gauteng, Paul Mashatile -- who first seemed to endorse Ramaphosa but subsequently told City Press he might be a candidate for the top job himself. The account has 1 306 followers. Dlamini-Zuma's account has only posted 16 times. Among the first pictures shared was of her arrival in South Africa after leaving the African Union Commission. There is her visiting Wits and Rhodes universities, covered in a blanket (there is no caption), with Comrades winner Bongumusa Mthembu and celebrating Women's Day in Kimberley. She has 722 followers.

All in all, the Ramaphosa campaign has a better website. Dlamini-Zuma's total following on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is bigger than that of the Ramaphosa campaign. However, if the proportion of Dlamini-Zuma's fake followers on Twitter is taken into account (30% according to TwitterAudit.com versus 2% for Ramaphosa) their total followers across the three social networks are neck and neck.

The race won't be decided online as only 40% of South Africans are internet users and ANC branches have the biggest say, but the battle is certainly no longer analogue.

Does anyone else stand a chance?

The ANC's electoral system encourages a two-horse race, says Anthony Butler, professor of political studies at the University of Cape Town.

"It's partly because the whole ANC electoral system is based on trade-offs. You try to build a faction."

Butler says that while it is late in the game for a withdrawal, the Zuma camp may rethink its choice if Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma "continues to find it difficult to generate enthusiasm or credibility".

An alternative woman candidate might have been a consideration because the camp has invested a lot in the idea of a woman president. However, Butler says, a strong enough candidate doesn't come to mind.

Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe could be an "alternative fort holder" -- someone who serves for a single term. "But he is not a strong candidate for the 2019 elections."

Radebe also emerged as a possible candidate in a mock ballot held in Durban in February by a think-tank, the Xubera Institute for Research and Development. Two hundred participants were asked to choose between seven candidates after participating in a discussion about leadership. Radebe was placed third (24.5%), after Cyril Ramaphosa (44%) and Dlamini-Zuma (28.5%).

Participants included academics, professionals and representatives of non-governmental organisations. While they were all from KwaZulu-Natal -- a key province in the race based on numbers -- the sample was not representative of the ANC members in the province who will choose the party's next leader.

Aubrey Matshiqi, independent political analyst, says it is unlikely that a third way will open up but if that does happen and he makes himself available, ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize would be a strong candidate. Stephen Grootes, host of The Midday Report on 702, also thinks Mkhize might be an option. "I think he's playing a very careful game ... He seems to be trusted by both sides."

Says Butler: "Mkhize for a long time looked like a natural successor ... He's a very effective person. But recent appearances have not suggested widespread support."

Dr Sethulego Matebesi, political analyst from the University of the Free State, thinks Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu would be a good choice but the odds are stacked against her.

"[She's] a very formidable woman. She's been around. She knows the tradition of the ANC. But if you look at the contestation, it's not about principles, it's not about policies, it's not about who can bring what. This whole leadership battle is about who can actually guarantee that the status quo continues ..."

Sisulu had 7% of the support in a June poll of 2 400 people, half of whom were ANC members. Ramaphosa's support was at 42.6% and that of Dlamini-Zuma was at 21.4%, according to market research company Plus 94. The remainder of support* among ANC members polled went to Baleka Mbete (3%), Mathews Phosa (2.4%) and Mkhize (2.2%).

*Close to 15% of respondents did not indicate a preference. Various names made up the remaining 6.6%.
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