It sounded hollow in the Nasrec conference center in Johannesburg. “Comrades, there are too many empty chairs! “, scolded Gwede Mantashe, the Minister of Energy and number three of the African National Congress (ANC). The approximately two thousand delegates from the nine provinces of the country were not enough to fill the huge room. Apart from a few refrains, the songs, usually so numerous, gave way to silence. For this sixth national programmatic conference, supposed to revise the doctrine of the party, the time was not to celebrate.
The African National Congress, which celebrates its 110th anniversary this year, is in crisis. “The ANC has never been so weak and vulnerable since the advent of democracy” [en 1994], noted the president, Cyril Ramaphosa. For the first time in its history, the party won less than 50% of the vote in the November 2021 local elections. our government,” he added.
Loyalty to Zuma
The presence of a room heater would not have been too much to wake up an apathetic assembly. When Ramaphosa goes up to the pulpit, he is greeted with indifference. A lesser evil for the one who had been booed the previous week during his speech at the ANC regional congress in KwaZulu-Natal. Subservient to former President Jacob Zuma, the members of the region had then passé their time singing “Wenzeni uZuma? (“What did Zuma do?”) The militants indeed consider that their mentor is literally persecuted. Sentenced, in 2021, to fifteen months in prison for contempt of justice, the former head of state awaits the opening of his trial for corruption, in which he is implicated alongside the French industrialist Thalès . In Zulu land, these cases are perceived as settling scores.
The faction loyal to Zuma is nicknamed “the Taliban” because of the combativeness of its members
The province of KwaZulu-Natal – one of those with the most ANC members – is resisting President Ramaphosa. Its voters have ousted the old leadership in favor of a faction loyal to Zuma and nicknamed “the Taliban” because of the combativeness of its members. At 80, the retired politician is not yet in the running to take over the leadership of the party. The province could support Zweli Mkhize, the former Minister of Health, who fell on suspicion of corruption in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis.
South Africa: Can Ramaphosa lose the presidency of the ANC?
L’affaire Phala Phala
Elected on the promise of a new dawn where corruption would (almost) no longer exist, Cyril Ramaphosa annoys by dint of sweeping his ranks. His opponents accuse him of directing his crusade against his only rivals. However, here he is in turn entangled in a dark affair. In February 2020, burglars break into his farm, where he raises and sells livestock, and stumble upon several million dollars in cash. Why was he hiding so much money? Where do these funds come from? Have they been duly declared?
The Phala Phala case – named after the farm – came to light in early June 2022 after a complaint was filed by Arthur Fraser, who was head of intelligence under Jacob Zuma. Fraser accuses Ramaphosa of covering up the affair by bribing the burglars to collect the money and buy their silence. He also criticizes the president for not reporting the offense to the police to keep the origin of his funds secret. The ongoing investigation plunges Ramaphosa into embarrassment. Its opponents challenge the ANC to hold it to account.
Thus worried, will Cyril Ramaphosa not be forced to submit to the ANC’s step-aside rule that he had so ardently defended? This resolution, voted in 2017, stipulates that a member of the party implicated in a criminal case must withdraw from the political formation for the duration of the legal proceedings. It was applied for the first time last year. And it was Ace Magashule, the general secretary of the ANC – and close to Jacob Zuma – who was the first to pay the price.
South Africa: Ace Magashule, the damned soul of Jacob Zuma
KwaZulu-Natal delegates want to repeal this measure, which they see as a political instrument destined get rid of dissenting voices. “The shelving is only a communication campaign! It brings nothing to the daily lives of South Africans, ”contests Bheki Mtolo, provincial secretary of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal.
This measure was discussed over the weekend, but did not result in the trench warfare that was expected. The representatives of KwaZulu-Natal were not in a strong position to go on the offensive. They nevertheless promise to return to the charge during the elective conference in December. The lack of challenge allowed the president to savor his victory. “The conference came out broadly in favor of maintaining the stand-by resolution to strengthen the integrity of the movement and its leadership,” he said. The revival of the ANC is inevitable. »
Cyril Ramaphosa still holds his ranks, he is safe
Put under glass, this congress protected the president from the attacks fomented from the rebel provinces. The under-representation of delegates from the branches (the base of the party) made it possible to dilute the composition of the assembly. Tempted by the prospect of a conflict, the media accredited 450 of their members. In the end, they didn’t have much to eat. Rigorously kept away from the debates, the press was reduced to trying to intercept confidences leaking from closed sessions.
All lights are red
Above all, the ANC did not want to offer the spectacle of division. Mission successful for its management. “Cyril Ramaphosa is still holding his troops, he is safe,” observes Susan Booysen, author of several books on the ANC. However, all the ingredients are there to bring down the president and his government. Record power cuts, unemployment reaching an unprecedented level, decaying infrastructure, rising crime… The lights are red.
The presidential party, in power since 1994, is no better off. Some of its employees demonstrated in front of the conference center to demand payment of unpaid wages. Donors are dwindling. The gala dinner organized to raise funds had to reduce the sails for lack of participants. On the other hand, the ANC can always count on Patrice Motsepe. The billionaire, president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and brother-in-law of Cyril Ramaphosa, was present at the opening of the conference.
“No matter what challenges we face. Despite our shortcomings, the ANC is alive”, rejoiced Ramaphosa during his closing speech. Leaving the conference, a group of about fifty activists, to encourage him, paraded singing a song to his glory. Any show of support is good to take before facing the elective conference in December. Cyril Ramaphosa should then run for a new term. This time, all the chairs in the convention center should be occupied. It could even be that we you can want.