The outcome of the ANC’s Eastern Cape provincial conference has been billed as a big victory for Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign.
There is no doubt that the election of Oscar Mabuyane as the provincial chairman gives impetus to Ramaphosa’s campaign to become ANC president. But the developments in East London over the weekend reveal that the fracturing of the ANC is not a phenomenon restricted to President Jacob Zuma’s leadership.
They show that if Ramaphosa is elected as the new ANC leader in December‚ it will by no means be the magic-fix to the organisation’s internal warfare and commotion.
There were complexities in the Eastern Cape factional battle‚ which manifested in violence and an urgent court application‚ that could have been resolved beforehand.
This was not a straight cut factional divide between people loyal to Ramaphosa and Zuma.
In fact‚ Zuma and his preferred successor Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma do not enjoy as much support in the Eastern Cape as they think they do.
The losing provincial chairman Phumulo Masualle and his supporters were not Dlamini-Zuma supporters. In the heat of the provincial battle‚ they were aligned with Dlamini-Zuma’s chief campaigner in that province Andile Lungisa‚ which resulted in him featuring on Masualle’s slate.
So by the time the conference began on Friday‚ what was really an intra-factional conflict mutated into a national ANC battle.
Ramaphosa and his campaigners should have intervened beforehand to quell the tensions‚ deal with grievances and prevent a split in the province.
As it turned out‚ out of the over 1706 people who registered for the conference‚ 951 delegates voted.
On Sunday afternoon‚ a parallel event was held at the East London City Hall with Masualle’s supporters disputing the outcome of the conference with claims of irregularities. A legal bid to challenge the outcome of the conference was struck off the roll yesterday morning.
So what happens now to the disenchanted group?
The experience of events of KwaZulu-Natal shows how difficult it is to manage a big lobby of disgruntled ANC members who are pushed out of the leadership structures.
Ramaphosa addressed the closing session of the Eastern Cape conference‚ condemning the violence and urged for the newly elected leaders to work for unity.
“We should not feel so victorious that we become arrogant‚ that we say hambani (go) to those who are not here or lost‚” Ramaphosa said‚ calling on the new leadership to embrace their opponents.
This is easier said than done and is an unrealistic expectation‚ considering the levels of anger and disenchantment from the losing faction.
There is also uncertainty about Masualle’s tenure as premier and questions about the impact of the outcome of the conference on government deployment.
In KwaZulu-Natal‚ the victors executed a purge in the provincial government‚ including removing Senzo Mchunu as premier.
If Ramaphosa is styling himself as a leader who can unite warring factions and heal the wounds caused by Zuma‚ there would have been no better opportunity to demonstrate this than an active intervention to prevent this weekend’s upheaval.
He cannot wait until after he is elected in December to begin the mop-up operation.
With disputes raging in so many provinces‚ there is a growing danger of disruptions to the December elective conference.
Those contending for the presidency need to ensure by all means possible that the conference goes ahead and try to limit the disputes and commotion that could occur.
Ramaphosa certainly looked like the man to beat on Sunday afternoon with a second province after the Northern Cape now firmly in his corner.
But he is in danger of becoming president of a faction in the ANC that will still be in combat after the conference.
Zuma’s victory in Polokwane occurred under similar circumstances.
Ramaphosa therefore cannot continue to coast along on the factional divides‚ hoping they play in his favour.