After a gruelling 11 months of campaigning, it is still not clear who will win the race to succeed Jacob Zuma as ANC president.
Despite recent vote-buying allegations, due attention has to be paid to what the evidence and numbers actually tell us. What they reveal is that deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa has a clear but not yet decisive lead going into the ANC’s five-yearly national elective conference that starts on Friday at Nasrec in Johannesburg.
The fact that there are a number of blind spots that could shift the balance either way is why this race is too tight to call, even on the eve of the conference.
Because the vote will be by secret ballot, a key — perhaps pivotal — question is this: Will branch delegates change the mandate that was given to them, or will the integrity of the mandates hold and prove to be resilient against influence and intimidation?
By giving enhanced visibility to the outcomes of the provincial general councils and tightening the rules for the overall nomination process, the logic behind the active role of the ANC secretary general’s office was obvious — to give power back to the branches and limit the ability of provincial barons to interfere with the nomination process.
This system is not perfect, as Mpumalanga’s 223 “unity” votes or the roughly 60 other abstentions counted around the country recently demonstrated.
But it certainly displays a desire to enhance the legitimacy of the party’s nomination and electoral process, a vital consideration for the future wellbeing of a political party so deeply shaken and riven by factionalism.
In this respect, the branch general meetings (BGMs) phase, considered as being the most important one because the branches are the basic constitutional unit of the ANC, can be considered a success with the number of quorate BGMs well over the 70% threshold required by the ANC constitution.
In spite of all the fears expressed by pundits, journalists and some ANC members, the rather chaotic consolidation process of all BGM nominations at provincial general councils also progressed relatively smoothly to its completion in all provinces, with the exception of the Free State, where the provincial leadership is being legally challenged on two matters — the legality of the newly elected provincial executive committee and also the lawfulness of some of the BGMs. At the ANC’s last elective conference at Mangaung in 2012, the Free State’s 324-strong delegation narrowly avoided being barred from the conference because of breaches of the ANC’s constitution during the run-up to the conference.
Although deciphering an ANC nomination process poses many analytical difficulties, improvements in the process have allowed for a cautious data-gathering exercise in the past months that have enabled us to identify some sustained trends.
Already a month ago, the picture that had emerged based on branch nominations favoured Ramaphosa in the presidential race. In general, he did better in places where he was expected not to do so well, such as in the so-called “premier league” provinces of the Free State, Mpumalanga and North West (where he averaged about 20% of the nominations; our early prediction had him at about 10%). He lived up to expectations in the Western Cape, the Northern Cape, the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Limpopo, with an overall margin of above 80% in his favour.
His opponent, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, on the other hand, has fared better than initially anticipated in her home ground, KwaZulu-Natal, as demonstrated by winning 70% of the branch nominations. The early signs had suggested a more even split between her and Ramaphosa in the province.
But Dlamini-Zuma apparently failed to win the hearts of a majority of ANC members in Mpumalanga. Despite all that has been said recently about the province’s “unity” votes, there is no guarantee that these 350 or so delegates will vote as one for Dlamini-Zuma.
Adding another layer of uncertainty, there are also about 380 BGMs that had not convened at the time of the provincial general councils and which had until this past weekend to reconvene and nominate candidates and delegates. In such a tight race, it is reasonable to expect that these may influence the final outcome.
Hence, the current number of branches for each province that one can use to make projections on the outcome are necessarily based on the provincial general councils nomination outcomes (the number of BGM outcomes that were counted) and not on the official figures of branches in good standing as provided earlier by the ANC.
The total figure should be about 3 900 but it is now down to 3 522. The difference between these two numbers is because of the number of BGMs that did not manage to reach an outcome and are probably the ones that were still trying to convene by the end of last weekend following the extended deadline they received from the secretary general’s office.
At the time of writing (December 11), there is no clear account of how many of these branches succeeded in holding quorate meetings or what the mandate of their branch delegates will be.
On this basis, the provincial figures of allocated delegates that were initially communicated by the ANC are now necessarily being updated. Assuming that many of the BGMs that were still to be convened were convened, the figures should not vary too much.
The incentive to be part of the conference is very high for these branches and certainly so for their provincial leaderships, who are keen to be able to punch with their full weight in the ANC’s complex electoral college, especially given how tight the race is.
The ratio of branch/allocated delegates provided by the Northern Cape demonstrates that this ratio, even in this “small” province, can be important. Indeed, the branches that voted for Dlamini-Zuma were only small ones, whereas those who voted for Ramaphosa have brought many more delegates to him.
On this basis, it could be assumed that, in provinces where one candidate has emerged as a clear leader, the biggest branches are likely to vote more strongly for that person. This is certainly true in KwaZulu-Natal, where Ethekwini is known for having the biggest branches in the province and voted in favour of Dlamini-Zuma, and also in the Eastern Cape and Johannesburg, where Ramaphosa triumphed in the OR Tambo and Johannesburg regions respectively.
Last, although all eyes will initially inevitably be focused on who wins the presidency, we have always said that this election is not just about who wins, but how big they win and with whose support.
In turn, this means the composition and political character of not just the top six (see table at left) but also the 80 “additional members” of the all-important national executive committee (NEC) — the most powerful political structure in the ANC and, therefore, the country — is critical to the future political trajectory of an anxious nation.
Whoever wins, the question will be: Do they have a clear and strong enough mandate to lead, and will they have the necessary backing of a sufficiently united NEC? Or, as the nominations suggest, a real possibility will be that they inherit a mixed result, in which, far from the winner taking all, they inherit a messy compromise slate with representatives from both factions.
Nathan Dufour is senior research associate with the Paternoster Group