The much anticipated ANC leadership election of the top six leaders has now come and gone with only the outstanding elections for the remaining positions of the National Executive Committee. Going into this election there were two contending positions, those who campaigned for "continuity and stability" that would give President Jacob Zuma and the current leadership a second term at the helm of the ANC, and those who were calling for "change of current leadership".
Nominated candidates lists conformed to these somewhat mutually exclusive positions or what has come to be known as "slates". There are indications that the incumbent leadership had tried to persuade those calling for change to abandon their position and work towards preserving the status quo.
Both sides were involved in vigorous election campaigns across the provinces, some of this disguised as party work, government work or social events. Much of what happened was covert or subtle while the formal position was that aspirant candidates were abiding by ANC rules and traditions and also being modest in claiming that they would be informed by branches as to what their position was.
Up to the very last minute before the conference it was not clear whether Kgalema Motlanthe would stand against President Jacob Zuma nor Cyril Ramaphosa for the position of the Deputy President. The picture became clear when candidates were announced at the conference. The following candidates were nominated for the following positions:-
1. President: Jacob Zuma vs Kgalema Motlante
2. Deputy President: Cyril Ramaposa vs. Mathew Phosa & Tokyo Sexwale
3. Chairperson: Baleka Mbete vs Thandi Modise
4. Secretary General: Gwede Mantashe vs Fikile Mbalula
5. Deputy Secretary General: Jesse Duarte was elected unopposed after Thandi Modise declined nomination for the same position.
6. Treasurer: Zweli Mkize vs Paul Mashatile
The mood and acclamation during the announcement of candidates clearly indicated that the Zuma-led list was far more popular among the conference delegates. It also became evident that provinces like Limpopo, Northwest and the Western Cape were far more divided and some big regions were prepared to openly defy what had been submitted as a provincial preferred list of candidates. All this seem to favour the Zuma camp.
Worth-noting is the fact that Kgalema Motlanthe declined nomination for deputy presidency thus remaining with the nomination for presidency, paving the way for head-to-head contest with Zuma.
After a delayed process which may also have been compounded by efforts to accommodate and anticipate the Constitutional Court pronouncement of the rationale for its decision to declare the election of the Free State ANC Provincial Executive Council as being invalid. A distinctly coloured ballot for the Free State and North West voters was issued.
The outcome of elections of 4076 voting delegates was as follows:
President: Jacob Zuma (2984) and Kgalema Motlanthe (991)
Deputy President: Cyril Ramaphosa (3018) against Mathews Phosa (470) and Tokyo Sexwale (463)
Chairperson: Baleka Mbete (3010) against Thandi Modise (939)
Secretary General: Gwede Mantashe (3058) and Fikile Mbalula (901)
Deputy Secretary General: Jesse Duarte was elected unopposed.
Treasurer: Zweli Mkize (2988) pitted against Paul Mashatile (961)
By all indications this is an emphatic landslide victory for the Zuma-led list of candidates who almost all achieved about 75% of electoral support against their opponents' 25%. This consistency across candidates suggests that the "slate" system is becoming institutionalized within the ANC thus making efforts towards unity more urgent.
I will advance some of the reasons for this election outcome. Zuma-Mantashe's campaign was effective and had made inroads even the provinces that had been known as pro change this leaving those provinces divided than the PEC leadership preference had shown.
It is almost certain that provinces that voted for continuity came as largely united blocks than those that had campaigned for change. It is plausible that the campaign for continuity had successfully painted their opponents as divisive and opportunistic.
The fact that Motlanthe was always extremely cautious and non-committal to the very last moment also frustrated his potential base that at one point was ready to be energized. There seems to have been a fallout between Mathews Phosa and Tokyo Sexwale which fragmented the group that was agitating for change.
Thandi Modise comes from a troubled and a deeply divided North West Province whose politics and some challenges in government seem to have constrained her chances and this compounded by the fact that, as a premier, she was now largely removed from the Luthuli House base and springboard.
The failure of the "pro change" group to clearly distance themselves from Julius Malema whose ill-discipline had clearly become something of grave concern as demonstrated by the Durban National General Council (NGC) call for stronger disciplinary stance. Both sides at local and provincial levels seem to have used irregular methods to achieve the "right" political algebra for membership, accreditation, selection of delegates to the conference, again showing, in some instances, intensity of what seem to have been a zero sum campaign.
Policy issues especially the economic policies seem to have received greater attention during the June policy conference than in the December conference that paid more attention to elections. It is also notable that candidates vying for top six leadership positions did not have distinct policy positions or ideological differences thus reducing this into a contest of personalities.
In the final analysis it seems a majority of ANC members did not have the appetite for acrimonious leadership change that they witnessed in Polokwane. The impromptu speech by the re-elected President Zuma tried to send a positive overture and appeal for unity and respect for the outcome of the elections. This may or may not have an impact on elections for the NEC.
Many questions remain unanswered: will Motlanthe resign from government or will he be persuaded to continue? Will there be purging or accommodation of the losers? How will the ANC deal with the issue of healing and unity, without which it struggles to deliver on its mandate and get punished by voters in 2014. If Ramaphosa ascend to deputy presidency of the country will he gain the support of the big business and labour unions and will he be given more roles (prime ministerial)? Will the conference endorse the National Plan whose work was led by Trevor Manuel and Ramaphosa? For now the ANC has yet again managed to navigate through its contradictions without degenerating into a crisis and it has a massive task of delivering liberation dividend for the majority of South Africans.