from Africa in Transition

How South Africa’s ANC Will Choose its Next Leader

President Jacob Zuma (2nd R) after his reelection as party leader with party deputy leader Cyril Ramaphosa (2nd L) at the 2012 ANC National Conference. The two would go on to become president and vice-president in 2014, South Africa, December 18, 2012. Mike Hutchings/Reuters

November 9, 2017

President Jacob Zuma (2nd R) after his reelection as party leader with party deputy leader Cyril Ramaphosa (2nd L) at the 2012 ANC National Conference. The two would go on to become president and vice-president in 2014, South Africa, December 18, 2012. Mike Hutchings/Reuters
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South Africa

Elections and Voting

Sub-Saharan Africa

The African National Congress’s (ANC) party convention will take place from December 16 to December 20 in Johannesburg. It meets every five years to elect a party leader and members of the party’s National Executive Committee. The new party leader is likely to become the president of South Africa following the 2019 national elections if the ANC wins the most votes. (In South African national elections, voting is for a party, not an individual candidate.) For a discussion of the two front-runners, see my recent blog post.

Each one of the 3,830 local ANC branches submits its nomination for party leader in advance of the December party convention. As of this Tuesday, 773 braches out of 3,830 had nominated Cyril Ramaphosa, while 410 nominated Nkosanza Dlamini-Zuma. With those numbers in mind, parts of the South African media are concluding that Cyril Ramaphosa is the leading candidate. While he may be now, there are still roughly 2,600 branches that have yet to nominate a candidate, 63 percent of which are in parts of the country that are likely to go for Dlamini-Zuma. Hence, it is too early to call.

Dlamini-Zuma at one time or another served as minister of health, minister of foreign affairs, and as chairperson of the Africa Union Commission. Ramaphosa is currently the deputy president, a millionaire businessman, and was a chief negotiator of South Africa’s transition to non-racial democracy in 1994. Dlamini-Zuma is favored by the current party leader and president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, who is also her ex-husband. 

At the convention, about 90 percent of the voting delegates will come from the 4,000-odd branches mentioned above. The other 10 percent will come from the ANC’s Women’s, Youth, and Veterans leagues, whose leadership largely favors Dlamini-Zuma. The number of branch delegates to the convention will be 4,723, bringing the total number all delegates to about 5,248. The distribution of delegates among provinces is determined by party membership, so each party branch with at least 100 members is entitled to send at least one delegate.

On October 6, ANC party secretary general Gwede Mantashe announced the number of delegates for each province, the distribution of which strongly favors rural provinces. This reflects a gradual shift in the ANC’s base of support since the end of apartheid from urban to rural areas. Gauteng, made up of Johannesburg, Pretoria, and the Rand, is highly urban, educated, and the center of the South African economy. It includes about a quarter of South Africa’s population and has a delegate allocation of 508, and has seen a decline in ANC membership. The Western Cape, also urban, educated, and no fan of the ANC, has an allocation of only 197. Rural Mpumalanga, on the other hand, has an allocation of 736, rural Limpopo of 643, and the rural Northwest of 538. The largest allocation, of 870, goes to KwaZulu/Natal, a Zuma stronghold in the past but whose support for him is now uncertain. Conventional wisdom is that the rural areas are likely to support Dlamini-Zuma (the KwaZulu ANC leadership openly supports her) and the more urban and educated areas will support Ramaphosa (Gauteng’s party leadership openly supports him).

It is important to note that each delegate casts a single, secret ballot in the vote for party leader at the convention, allowing them to break with their provincial party leaders. Therefore, a the professed support of regional leadership will likely not translate into corresponding votes from all of its branch members. Further, the names on the ballot are still fluid and there is a discussion of a possible compromise candidate that could bridge the Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma wings of the party.

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