The 2019 elections are done and dusted, but the contestation within political parties is not. The ANC special National Executive Committee (NEC) meets on Monday in what could become the start of a factional face-off over Cabinet positions and chairs of parliamentary committees. For the DA, Monday’s federal executive committee will dissect why the party dropped one-and-a-half percentage points to 20.77% of the vote.
The ANC fault lines emerged repeatedly on the campaign trail in incidents that had several senior party leaders sharply raising their eyebrows. At least two well-placed ANC insiders told Daily Maverick of being taken aback by secretary-general Ace Magashule’s comments and conduct.
And on Friday, Magashule continued to sharply raise eyebrows across the governing party’s factional landscape with his comments on the floor of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) national results centre.
“Comrade Cyril Ramaphosa is not a candidate premier… It’s about the ANC. It’s not about any individual. Completely not,” said Magashule, adding the ANC victory was because of branches, volunteers, communities and voters. “There’s no way you can talk about any individual…”
This stood in stark contrast, not only to comments by ANC head of elections Fikile Mbalula, and others, but also the party’s tactical unrelenting deployment of Ramaphosa across the country. When asked about that, Magashule responded bluntly: “The people have voted the ANC. The people are not voting any person.”
Magashule’s commentary is a public signifier of what is expected to unfold at the meeting of the top six ANC officials, set to be followed by an ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting on the Cabinet and other related appointments – if tradition is followed.
Given that the ANC obtained 57.5% of the vote, it has done better under Ramaphosa than the decline under his predecessor Jacob Zuma that saw the ANC score just 54% in the 2016 local government elections. And that may well strengthen Ramaphosa’s hand.
While the Constitution in Section 91 gives the president the unfettered right to appoint whomever he wishes into Cabinet, the reality is that political support for such appointments is needed, particularly in a factionalised governing ANC.
Simply put, Ramaphosa’s hands would be factionally tied if his post-election Cabinet includes Bathabile Dlamini, the ANC women’s league president found to have misled the Constitutional Court, Malusi Gigaba, also found to have lied to court, and Nomvula Mokonyane, now fingered before the Zondo State Capture commission of inquiry, or any of the others under a cloud.
If not – and one with inside knowledge on Friday indicated Dlamini and Mokonyane are out – then it could well be that Ramaphosa’s side in the factional contestation has come out tops.
However, there are other key appointments to watch, least of which is the finance ministry. While incumbent finance minister Tito Mboweni is high up on the ANC national election list at spot 22, already a trade union campaign is underway to keep him out. In recent weeks, the Cosatu-aligned National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) has called on Mboweni to fulfil his own wish – and retire. Mboweni’s hard-hitting comments on the strain the high public wage bill is putting on the national purse, the high cost of keeping SAA in the air and the need to retrench to cut one’s suit according to one’s cloth have upset the trade unions.
Pravin Gordhan is at 73rd spot on the ANC election list uncommonly low down to make it back into the Cabinet. If Gordhan, whose clean-up at Eskom as public enterprises minister has earned him much push-back, returns to the Cabinet that may well come with a political cost to Ramaphosa. It remains to be seen whether that is a political cost to incur, given the need for a firm hand on state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that have been central to state capture. Eskom remains the biggest threat to South Africa’s economy and the public purse.
There are other considerations, particularly as this Cabinet could well be the streamlined version after the reorganisation Ramaphosa announced 14 months ago in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in February 2018 when, after a tough internal battle on Valentine’s Day, Jacob Zuma departed from the presidency rather than being ousted by the ANC joining the opposition motion of no confidence that was pending in Parliament at the time.
For more than a year now, Public Service and Administration Minister Ayanda Dlodlo has carried this review and reorganisation in, what seems from the few public statements issued on this matter, could be a wholesale rejig of the national government to increasingly centralise the presidency. That, of course, would be in line with the ANC’s 2017 Nasrec resolution for what’s dubbed a “super presidency”, or as the conference resolution puts it: “The presidency is the strategic centre of governance. The strategic centre must be the central driver of the developmental state and the following core resource-based administrative functions must form part of the centre of government to support the strategic centre: state macro-policy and planning; budget and resource allocation and prioritisation; co-operative governance; public services; and performance management.”
In some circles much is made that this was Ramaphosa’s first “proper” opportunity to appoint his Cabinet – if it is a smaller one, then a transition period will follow the presidential proclamation of these changes – as he led the ANC to election victory, rather than finishing Zuma’s term. However, persistent word of trade-offs to allow him to do so include a deal that would give Ramaphosa a free hand in Cabinet, while Magashule has the say with regards to parliamentary committee chairpersons.
After Saturday, 25 May inauguration at Loftus Versfeld Stadium, rather than the Union Buildings, the Cabinet announcement is expected on Sunday, or the latest on 27 May. Meanwhile, Parliament is preparing for the new MPs – a team of senior officials were at the IEC national results centre to facilitate and ease this process – with the first sitting of the National Assembly expected to be 22 May when, given the ANC’s numerical dominance, Ramaphosa’s election as president is a formality. His post-election SONA is pencilled in for 20 June.
At Parliament also, the filling of key posts will indicate the political lay of the land. The ANC chief whip is a central position in the governing party’s factional politicking given that it directs the parliamentary caucus of now 230. It is understood the incumbent Jackson Mthembu, who is widely respected across the floor of the House, is headed to the executive. Who takes over will have a key hand in running the parliamentary caucus that, if it so decides, may make life difficult for Ramaphosa’s administration. And amid the speculation over who would be the new Speaker, House chairperson Thoko Didiza’s name has been touted in recent weeks as a possibility.
Chairpersons of committees are other key appointments to watch. However, the ANC faces some potentially tricky decisions: much of its parliamentary institutional knowledge and experience has been ditched from the 2019 national election list to make way, for example, for outgoing premiers, MECs and others.
The DA returns to Parliament as the largest opposition party, but with five fewer seats. It will also have to determine who will be its chief whip and other posts that are key if the party wants to make a good showing in Parliament. DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s leadership may well come under scrutiny given the internal divisions – a senior DA official told Daily Maverick already on Thursday that some would not be satisfied regardless what Maimane achieved – but the reputational massaging is already underway. National election manager Jonathan Moakes on Thursday wrote to all DA structures, in a letter seen by Daily Maverick, that while unable to talk of “enormous growth”, the DA was now in a position best described as “solid and stable – and able to execute strong national opposition in Parliament, govern the Western Cape with an outright majority…”
The EFF also must take important decisions. Questions remain whether the party, now with 44 MPs, or 19 more than previously, has the capacity to manage this numerical explosion. EFF national chairperson Advocate Dali Mpofu may just decide to trade his court robes for red dress on the parliamentary benches.
But as one of the election winners, the Freedom Front Plus is all smiles, thanking its supporters.
“The FF+ invites all South Africans who share the party’s views and values to walk alongside us on the road to recovery and reconciliation. South Africa is a wonderful country with a lot of possibilities,” FF+ leader Pieter Groenewald said in a statement on Sunday. He now leads the FF+ to Parliament one seat stronger than at its previous best in 1994 under founding leader General Constand Viljoen. DM