GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 690, 25 December 2022

South Africa: Ramaphosa re-elected as party president, amid ANC divisions
Apoorva Sudhakar

What happened?
On 19 December, President Cyril Ramaphosa was re-elected as the party president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). Over 4,000 ANC delegates voted; Ramaphosa secured 2,476 votes against the 1,897 votes won by his only rival and former Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
Al Jazeera quoted one of the contenders for the party’s deputy president: “This win is not only for the ANC perspective or a faction. It is for the country.”

What is the background?
First, a brief history of the ANC. The ANC was founded as South African Native National Congress in 1912 (and renamed as African National Congress in 1923) to fight discrimination against the blacks and secure their rights. Its initial objectives included rebelling against colonial reforms including the Natives Land Act, which allocated 80 per cent of land to the whites. In 1948, the apartheid system, or racial segregation, was legalised, which triggered a defiance movement, led by ANC’s youth wing, and later its military wing, with leaders like Nelson Mandela. Mandela subsequently served 27 years in prison until 1990 and was elected the first president of South Africa in 1994.
Second, the significance of the ANC and party factions. The ANC has remained the ruling party since 1994. After Mandela stepped down at the completion of one term, the party was re-elected in 1999, 2004, 2009, 2014 and 2018. However, in the recent past, the ANC has been factionalised into two groups. One faction is loyal to Ramaphosa, and the other, including Mkhize, is loyal to former President Jacob Zuma who is under investigation for corruption. The divide is fuelled by back-and-forth allegations of corruption, including against Ramaphosa who came to power in 2018 on the promise to fight corruption.
Third, the rising unpopularity of the ANC. In the local elections of November 2021, following the riots, impact of COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment, ANC secured 46 per cent of the votes and lost control of major cities like Johannesburg. This was the party’s worst performance since 1994. The then ANC deputy secretary-general said: “The low voter turnout, especially in traditional ANC strongholds, communicates a clear message — the people are disappointed in the ANC with the slow progress in fixing local government, in ensuring quality and consistent basic services, [and] tackling corruption and greed.”
Fourth, allegations against Ramaphosa. In late November, an independent panel, investigating the theft of USD four million at Ramaphosa’s private game farm in 2020, placed Ramaphosa at the risk of an impeachment. The panel maintained that Ramaphosa had violated the oath of office. However, Ramaphosa acknowledged the theft but denied any role in covering it up, and legally challenged the panel’s findings.
Fifth, the narrow escape from impeachment. Earlier in December, the parliament voted against initiating an impeachment process against Ramaphosa. The impeachment process required a two-thirds majority in the parliament. The MPs opposing Ramaphosa, some from within the ANC, could not secure the majority; only 148 voted in favour of the impeachment process, while 214 voted against it, thereby protecting Ramaphosa’s position.

What does it mean?
First, the ANC’s rising unpopularity and divisions pose a threat to the party’s relevance and legacy. Resolving the divide seems a distant solution, as over the years, the competition between the factions has only grown with little space for negotiations.
Second, Ramaphosa’s re-election as party president paves the way for him to contest the general elections in 2024. However, with the current state of affairs, Ramaphosa would have to address the party divide and the public grievances including unemployment, cost of living crisis, and power crisis.
Third, observing South Africa in 2023 would be interesting as the year would culminate in the general elections. The recent developments hint towards an intense political battle, leaving Ramaphosa with many battles to win, be it at the party front or to win the trust of South Africans.

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