ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu (Leon Sadiki, City Press)
While the ANC has told its members not to publicly discuss the race to succeed President Jacob Zuma as party leader, Jackson Mthembu said Ramaphosa’s position as deputy means he must become its next president.
Ramaphosa’s main rival for the job is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former cabinet minister and the president’s ex-wife who just ended her term as chair of the African Union Commission. As chief whip, Mthembu leads the ANC’s 249-member caucus in the 400-seat parliament.
“The ANC created the position of deputy president precisely so that you have a person who is ready to take over should anything happen to the president,’’ Mthembu said in an interview in his parliamentary office in Cape Town.
“As an ANC member, I put such a person to be deputy because I was preparing that person to be president – case closed.”
The debate over the party leadership comes at a time when the ANC risks losing power in general elections in two years, Mthembu said.
It’s worst-ever electoral performance in August municipal polls saw it cede control of the economic hub of Johannesburg and the Tshwane municipality, which includes the capital, Pretoria.
Its share of the national vote fell to 54.5%, a 7.7 percentage point decline from general elections three years ago, and another drop of that magnitude in 2019 could relegate it to the opposition.
“It’s only a fool who will not see that reality,” Mthembu said.
“Never in my wildest dreams, or never in any of my nightmares, did I dream that we can lose Tshwane, we can lose Johannesburg.”
The ANC, which has held power since South Africa’s first multiracial elections in 1994, is riven by factions and is failing to respond to the needs of the poor and deliver sound economic policies, he said.
A number of members of the caucus Mthembu leads hold key positions in ANC bodies that will determine who replaces Zuma.
“The ANC must approach this election as a step for self-correction,” he said. “We must come out ready to confront in a meaningful way the malaise that is facing our organisation.”
Partly because of the ANC’s 62% majority in Parliament, Mthembu said that in the past the caucus has been soft on the Cabinet.
He criticised how party lawmakers and ministers rallied around the president after the nation’s graft ombudsman found that taxpayer money was used to pay for a R215m upgrade of Zuma’s private home.
The Constitutional Court ruled in March that Zuma violated the law by not abiding by her recommendation that he repay some of the money, and ordered him to comply.
The problem is some members of the ANC are focused on retaining power for themselves, Mthembu said.
There are “fiefdoms in various parts of the country, fiefdoms that by the way have nothing to do with what the ANC wants to achieve, fiefdoms that have everything to do with who must ascend to what positions,” he said. They have “nothing to do with how we serve our people better.”