It is not a foregone conclusion that when a presidential candidate wins the election, their preferred choice will become deputy president. The reason for this is that one major change was made in the process of the electoral conference in 2017. Delegates no longer vote for a “slate” of candidates. In the past, a list was compiled containing names for the “top six” officials (the president, the deputy president, the chairman, the secretary-general, the treasurer-general and the deputy secretary-general). In Mangaung, for example, this top six was ​​selected in one vote, with Jacob Zuma as president.

For Nasrec ’17 it has been decided that each position in the top six will be voted for separately. This is an attempt to eliminate the polarisation caused through candidate lists. The consequences of this decision are huge. For example, Cyril Ramaphosa placed Naledi Pandor on his slate as deputy president a few weeks ago. However, she has not been nominated by enough branches, and will have to be nominated from the floor with 25% support to qualify as a candidate. This is unlikely. Even though Ramaphosa might be elected as ANC president, Pandor – his preferred candidate – will not necessarily be elected as deputy president. It is more likely that anyone elected as president will be confronted with the “push for unity”. This means that the new president will be under pressure to preserve the unity of the ANC, and include someone from the “other side” as deputy president. The same is true of the composition of the top six. This pressure will increase if the conference proposal to increase the top six to eight, or even nine, is accepted, with an additional deputy president and another one, or even two, deputy secretaries-general.

Looking past December 2017, this will have a massive impact. There are broadly four scenarios. The first is that Dlamini-Zuma is elected and manages to withstand pressure to compromise because her support base is strong enough. The second is that Ramaphosa is elected and also withstands the pressure to compromise because he has enough support. The third is that Dlamini-Zuma wins, but gets a top six that promotes unity. And the fourth is that this also happens with Ramaphosa.

A Dlamini-Zuma victory without compromise could have Mabuza as deputy, with a whole string of Zuma supporters in the rest of the top six. Mkhize has an outside chance here. According to Dlamini-Zuma’s election manifesto, radical economic transformation (RET) will be the first item on her agenda. This will probably be accompanied by further racial polarisation and racialisation of South African society. Given her power base, she will struggle to act effectively against corruption and state capture. The result will be a further deterioration of the economy, and a final downgrade of the country’s credit rating. There will be an immediate, negative response reflected by the Rand and Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). There is an outside chance that Dlamini-Zuma will forge her own path, away from that of her ex-husband – but it is slim. What might happen, is that she could give him amnesty and redeploy him to Nkandla before May 2019, in order to get as much distance as possible between his face as leader, and the May 2019 general election. This scenario offers the strongest possibility of a split, or at least major breakaway from the ANC.

A Ramaphosa victory without compromise could see Sisulu as deputy, with Mkhize, Mantashe and Mashatile in the top six. The result will be a renewed emphasis on economic growth (“inclusive growth”), and clean and accountable government. The JSE and the Rand would show a moderately positive response, because most traders have already discounted a Ramaphosa victory. In this scenario, Ramaphosa will launch initiatives to fight corruption and state capture and bring the guilty parties to book. This includes lifestyle audits and a stronger ANC integrity commission. Ramaphosa will also emphasise unity and reconciliation within the ANC, but not at the expense of the fight against state capture and corruption. Although the country’s credit rating will not be upgraded immediately, there will be no further downgrades. The chances of a split in the ANC are lower in this scenario, as those on the graft will hope to continue as before under the new regime. Zuma will probably be redeployed as early as mid-2018, with a slim chance of full amnesty, but perhaps a symbolic redeployment to Nkandla.

Scenarios three and four have in common that both regard unity in the ANC as more important than the proposed policies of the two candidates. The areas where compromises will need to be found include economic policy, Zuma’s redeployment and amnesty, racial polarisation, and action against corruption and state capture.

In a Dlamini-Zuma-led ANC (and later government), her views will obviously have a stronger influence on the nature of these compromises, with a few soft concessions made (such as limited action against corruption). However, this will not include action against Zuma and his inner circle. Zuma himself could receive a more limited amnesty than what would otherwise have been the case. As far as economic policy is concerned, not much will change. RET’s rhetoric will remain, with the Treasury bravely attempting to follow market-related policies, but without much success. In brief, even with a compromise scenario, the economy will further deteriorate.

In a Ramaphosa-led ANC and government, the compromises will move closer to his ten-point plan, but fail at critical points. The biggest challenge will be to come out strongly against corruption and state capture, while at the same time promoting unity and reconciliation within the ANC. Economic policy could (like the past few years) get lost between socialism and a market economy, but there should be a gradual improvement in economic growth. Further, lifestyle audits will be a tough sell to the Zuma camp.

In brief, in any of the compromise scenarios, South Africa will be the victim of the ANC’s quest for unity above all else. It will, however, not guarantee the success or even the survival of the ANC. There are ANC stalwarts who feel that the party is too divided and too rotten to recover and survive in the medium-term. Others say the ANC can and is trying to self-correct. Where the truth lies will only became obvious after 20 December. Everything (unfortunately) depends on who is elected president.

By Theuns Eloff: Executive Director, FW de Klerk Foundation
11 December 2017

*First published on Netwerk24