Unresolved leadership battle would be worst scenario for ANC conference
The worst possible scenario for the ANC’s 54th national conference is an unresolved leadership battle.
If there is a disputed result or the election of the new president does not take place‚ it means that President Jacob Zuma would remain the party leader until a new election can be held.
This would hold the ANC and the country at ransom indefinitely and prolong the political and economic turmoil that has defined Zuma’s term as the party leader.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told journalists during a walkabout at Nasrec on Thursday that there would be a new president by Sunday.
This presumably means that the person in charge of the conference operation is confident that the event will not be bogged down by disputes over delegate credentials or procedural matters.
There is apprehension about procedural hiccups or violent clashes disrupting the conference. A statement issued by the South African Police Service said national and Gauteng joint operational and intelligence structures would closely monitor the conference and that government was “operationally ready to secure and safeguard” the event.
“This security plan is designed to focus on venue security‚ route security‚ air security‚ hotel security‚ as well as crowd management capabilities‚” the police said.
The South African National Defence Force is part of the operation and will provide logistical‚ air support and rapid response to prepare for any eventuality.
A big question at the start of the conference is how much the commotion of the past year would impact on the proceedings.
When Zuma addressed the mid-year national policy conference‚ he was still cheered and applauded‚ even after his contribution to the ANC’s loss of support in the local government elections‚ his damaging cabinet reshuffle which resulted in credit ratings downgrades‚ and being implicated in state capture.
ANC leaders have consistently said that it was difficult to hold Zuma to account for his actions while he was still president of the organisation.
At the end of the five-day conference‚ the torch could be passed to his preferred successor Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma or his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.
Zuma will present his last speech as ANC president on Saturday when he opens the conference in front of an estimated 6‚500 people‚ including about 5‚200 voting delegates. He will do so with a big cloud over his head after a tumultuous week in the courts.
Zuma received a walloping from Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo in his judgments on state capture and the appointment of the National Director of Public Prosecutions‚ and was held personally liable for the costs of litigation to delay the appointment of a judicial commission into allegations of corruption against the Gupta network.
Mlambo affirmed former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s remedial action that Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng should appoint the judge to head the commission because the president was “conflicted”.
The ANC and its alliance partners‚ Cosatu and the SACP‚ all welcomed the judgment on state capture‚ and encouraged the speedy appointment of the commission of inquiry.
The ANC did not respond to the judge’s stinging criticism of the president‚ including that he acted “unreasonably” and was “reckless”.
Cosatu welcomed the court’s ruling that Zuma should pay the legal costs from his own pocket saying‚ “The President has become a vexatious litigant with a penchant of using taxpayers’ money without care on these many cases.”
The question is whether the dramatic backdrop to the conference made an impact on the delegates‚ and whether this will influence their voting choices. The delegates must decide whether they trust Zuma’s judgment on his successor when it has repeatedly been called into question.
The election of the new ANC president‚ whoever it may be‚ will allow the country to begin 2018 on a new footing. There might be more political and economic turbulence in store‚ but hopefully this is where Zuma’s final send-off begins.