from Africa in Transition

Big South African Union Endorses Cyril Ramaphosa for ANC Party Leader

September 30, 2016

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The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) endorsed Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa for the presidency of the African National Congress (ANC) on September 26. The election of party president will take place in 2017; the next presidential elections will take place in 2019. Under South Africa’s system of proportional representation the ANC party president is likely to be the next president of South Africa.

Cyril Ramaphosa was a founder of the NUM as a black trade union in the late apartheid era. A lawyer, he was a leading ANC negotiator of the peaceful transition from apartheid to South Africa’s “non-racial” democracy that culminated in Nelson Mandela’s election as president in 1994. It is widely said that Mandela favored Ramaphosa as his successor, but he bowed to the will of the party and endorsed Thabo Mbeki. Thereafter, Ramaphosa left politics and accumulated a substantial fortune. He re-entered politics in 2012.

In the aftermath of scandals and court judgments against it and it’s very poor electoral performance in the August 2016 elections, the scandal-prone administration of President Jacob Zuma is in a shambles. Zuma retains significant support within the party machinery, state owned enterprises, and among the heads of the security agencies. He also commands the loyalty of a big patronage network. Those ANC party leaders who want Zuma to go before the end of his term in 2017 so that the party can rid itself of scandal and rebuild following its relative defeat in August, have rallied around the finance minister Pravin Gordhan. They include Ramaphosa. At present the pro-Zuma and anti-Zuma factions appear to be evenly balanced and governance largely at a standstill.

At the same time the NUM endorsed Ramaphosa, its secretary general said that “Zuma must serve his term.” NUM may be seeking a compromise between the pro and anti-Zuma factions: Zuma gets to remain in office until the end of his term as president of the ANC. But, he is blocked from choosing his successor. That would, in effect, further reduce Zuma’s political power for his remaining time in office.

ANC faction fighting is likely to continue. That Ramaphosa will prevail is far from certain. He is much more popular in London and New York and within parts of the South African business community than he is among the ANC rank and file.

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