Decoding the enigma of Pandor in Ramaphosa’s ‘dream team’

06 November 2017 - 10:52
Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor poses for a portrait during an interview on March 23, 2017 in Pretoria.
Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor poses for a portrait during an interview on March 23, 2017 in Pretoria.
Image: Alon Skuy/ Sunday Times

How does Naledi Pandor help Cyril Ramaphosa win the ANC presidency?

This question begs answering after Ramaphosa’s announcement on Sunday that the science and technology minister would be his running mate for the ANC’s elective conference in December.

In order to attain such an influential and sought-after position on Ramaphosa’s ticket‚ Pandor must offer something that no other ANC leader has.

Perhaps it is that she is scandal-free and is a respected and experienced member of the NEC and cabinet.

The fact that she is a woman ticks the gender-parity box.

At the ANC’s 53rd national conference in Manguang in 2012‚ Pandor was the woman with the highest number of votes after Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Lindiwe Sisulu‚ both of whom are now presidential contenders.

So it is possible that that informed the Ramaphosa camp’s choice of deputy president‚ even though she has no known constituency.

At this crucial point in the leadership race‚ the announcement of key positions on the slate has to be strategic – to seal the deal and blow the other campaigns out the water.

It was hitherto unheard of that ANC presidential candidates announce their slates ahead of the national conference. To compete as a slate confirms factional divides‚ something that was officially frowned upon by the ANC.

But 2017 is turning out to be the year of surprises in the organisation’s most hotly contested leadership battle.

Speaking at a rally in Limpopo on Sunday‚ Ramaphosa announced three of the candidates who would partner with him for the ANC’s top six positions.

Other than Pandor for deputy president‚ Ramaphosa said former ANC KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Senzo Mchunu would be the candidate for secretary general and Gauteng provincial chairperson Paul Mashatile was his choice for treasurer general.

ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and Naledi Pandor during his walkabout in Jeppe's Reef on January 8, 2014 in Nelspruit.
ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and Naledi Pandor during his walkabout in Jeppe's Reef on January 8, 2014 in Nelspruit.
Image: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Felix Dlangamandla

Both Mchunu and Mashatile carry constituencie‚s so their selection makes sense. Ramaphosa’s announcement shuts down speculation that he would partner with one of the other presidential candidates‚ Sisulu or Zweli Mkhize‚ as his running mate.

But it narrows the space for a deal with Mpumalanga’s David Mabuza‚ who will lead the second-biggest delegation to the conference. Mabuza is in search of a top-six post in exchange for the support of his province‚ and has been offered the post of deputy president by Ramaphosa’s chief contender‚ Dlamini-Zuma.

The only viable deal that could now be negotiated with Mabuza is for the position of national chairperson‚ but it is believed that Gwede Mantashe has his sights set on that post.

So what is Ramaphosa’s logic in choosing Pandor as his number two?

While she has no defined constituency‚ she has universal support as an “elder” in the ANC. Pandor would probably have bigger appeal outside the ANC as a morally upright and scholarly leader‚ too.

So perhaps Ramaphosa is playing the long game by choosing someone who would command respect during the 2019 national elections campaign and bolster his efforts to overhaul the ANC and rid the leadership of the multitude of reprobates.

In order for Ramaphosa to select Pandor‚ he must be quite confident of his own support base and believe that he does not need someone with his or her own constituency to prop up his campaign.

He might have decided that because he is topping the charts in the branch nominations‚ he can formalise his slate.

Sisulu’s campaign appears to be running out of steam‚ as she flounders to explain what exactly she stands for and seems to be lagging in the branch nominations.

She seems offended that Ramaphosa’s camp dropped her as a possible running mate‚ as that appeared to be her Plan B.

Mkhize’s campaign is also not catching fire with the branches‚ but he is powering on independently‚ not giving any indication of wanting to piggyback on anyone else’s ticket.

But Dlamini-Zuma‚ despite the latest exposure of her association with shady figures in the tobacco industry‚ is still formidable and has a strong showing in the branch nominations.

The majority of KwaZulu-Natal branches remains behind her‚ and if she is able to secure support from Mpumalanga‚ the race will be close.

Ramaphosa could have chosen Pandor simply because he did not want a troublemaker who might want to outshine him down the line. But if they do win in December‚ this will keep the ANC’s top leadership dominated by people over 60 years old.

The ANC’s succession planning will therefore be stymied for another term.