I have written about Polokwane - where Zuma ascended to President of the ANC, and branch meetings, and previous party splits before.

The ANC has no term limits for its president, but South Africa’s constitution has a two term limit for the president of the country, and to avoid two centres of power the ANC has kept their president, the de-facto president of the country, to two terms as well.

So, after two terms, Zuma will be stepping down, and from the 16th to 20th of December, less than a month away as I write, the ANC will be choosing the next, from a field of seven candidates so far.

This is the 54th National ANC National Conference, somewhere in Gauteng.

It will be a gloves-off affair, probably more bloody than Polokwane, and the distinct possibility of a party split. It will nominate the ANC presidential candidate for the South African 2019 elections, and the first elections with a possibility of the ANC not carrying the majority of voters - another watershed moment for the party of the revolution. The stakes could not be higher.

National Ground rules

How does all this work? Let us start by looking at the South African constitution.

Elections allow each voter to nominate their party of choice, and a formula then determines how many seats get allocated to each party, in both Parliament (the lower house) and National Council of Provinces (the upper house).

Parliament has a total of 400 seats, half of which are elected proportionally from 9 provincial lists and the remaining half from national lists so as to restore proportionality.

So - the lists are everything. Get on that list. If the ANC gets 50% of the vote, 100 of the seats are drawn from provincial lists, and another 100 from the national list. If an ANC delegate is #101 on the national list, they will not sit as an MP, draw a national salary, get an MPs pension or attendant perks, like 10 flights a year first class on SAA.

The December meeting function is, among other ANC matters, to determine the people on the list, and their order on that list.

ANC ground rules

The ANC, an organisation over 100 years old, also has internal matters, as to how the organisation is run. There is the matter of the President. There is also the Top Six - the ANC cabinet.

  • President
  • Vice President
  • Chairman of the ANC
  • Secretary General
  • Deputy secretary general
  • Treasurer General

There are an additional 80 positions for the National Executive Committee, the highest organ of the ANC between National Conferences with the authority to lead the organisation. The NEC should have at least 50% women in its 86 members.

(NEC membership is distinct from party list membership)

Who is the electorate ?

The ANC is proud of its grass-rootsi - the rank and file of ANC membership in all the branches. Each branch sends delegates to the National conference - and they constitute 90% of the electorate. The other 10% come from the youth league, the women’s league, PECs, and ANC departments. For instance, this was the split at the 50th National Conference :-

So, all the power is from branch delegates.

Each branch has a minimum of 100 members - for which they get one delegate to the conference. Larger branches get an extra delegate for each 250 members over the initial 100. So, for instance, a branch with 600 members in good standing, meaning paid up for at least 6 months prior to the branch meeting, will get to send 3 delegates.

I have blogged about branch meetings before.

The branch needs a quorum of 50%+1 members for this important vote - which requires a lot of organisation to achieve.

The first two days of the National Conference is devoted to accreditation - making sure that the meetings happened, quorum was achieved, no extra delegates came, etc., etc.

At the branch meeting, votes are taken on the choice for president, the choices for the rest of the top six, and choices for the other 80 NEC delegates.

What could possibly go wrong ?

A great deal. The National conference requires that at least 70% of the branches complete the accreditation and voting successfully. There is a short month left now to settle any challenges to the branch meetings, they should have all taken place by now.

  • Attendance registers or votes can be faked.
  • Branch organisers can deliberately collapse a meeting, if it is not going their way.
  • Members in good standing can stay away, to make the meeting inquorate.
  • ANC paperwork can be ’lost’, causing the meeting to be abandoned.

What needs fixing ?

I think that the Party List system specified in the South African Constitution is wrong. There are a suprising number of proportional representation systems - an indication that it is hard to get right.

A balance is needed between making sure the members of the parliament work for their seats, and making sure that minority opinions in the electorate are properly represented in parliament. The problem with the party list system South Africa has is that we do not get the best representatives - we get the most popular representatives of a particular party. For example, it is unthinkable that Winnie Mandela would not get a seat in parliament, Mother of the nation and all. But she shows up in a new dress at the opening of Parliament, and does precious little all the rest of the year. That is not value for money for taxpayers.

Motlanthe thinks so too.

Another thing that needs fixing is the process the ANC has in place for choosing our president. The non-ANC electorate has no say in this process. ANC members have a two-step process - branches pick a delegate, give them instructions, and the delegate follows this (or not ..) at the National Meeting. Two-step processes are used in the USA to choose the president - states send representatives to the electoral college who then choose the president - a process that resulted in Trump becoming president even though more people voted for Clinton.

The ANC’s systems worked well for the party in the first 70 years - a party pulling together to fight a common enemy of Apartheid. But now they are in power, the system is ill-suited to picking the best members to run the party and the country. Factionalism and Slates abound, and the wishes of the grass-root ANC voter is getting lost on its way to the national meeting.

By all accounts, the ANC is in a lot of trouble this year, and may even lose their majority in the next election. The country deserves better. I have no doubt there are many excellent people in the ANC - we need those people to lead the party, and not the corrupt people that seem to have inserted themselves at every level of government.

National Consultative Conference

This conference, not endorsed by the ANC, was held in Braamfontein 17-19 November, last weekend.

Among other things, veterans advocated for “one member, one vote” to be the approach adopted by the party when it comes to the election of members of the ANC’s executive, and for the president of the party to be voted for directly by the people during elections instead of the party, and that his powers be moderated.

All of which I would heartily endorse.

Full statement here.

The presidential candidates

Last, but not least, the candidates for the highest office. My personal opinions…

  • Cyril Ramaphosa - the best chance. He is one of the front runners, has some business acumen (sorely lacking with the present incumbent) and seems to have escaped the taint of corruption. His problems are two-fold - connections to the Marikana massacre, and the perception that he is too close to the white business class.

  • Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma - the other front runner. Running with the support of the ANC women’s league, and Jacob Zum’s ex-wife, she seems to have little to say about her policies, rarely takes direct questions from the press, and seems consumed by paranoia that the rest of the world is out to ‘get’ South Africa. If she wins, the ANC will have difficulty holding on to its majority next election. Thumbs down.

  • Zweli Mkhize - a ‘unity’ candidate being pushed heavily by some provinces. Well regarded, current Treasurer General of The ANC, and I think would do a good job at the top. He just needs a lot more support than is evident today.

The other four candidates are not, in my opinion, worth considering at this late stage.

For completeness, they are Jeff Radebe, Mathews Phosa, Lindiwe Sisulu and Bakeka Mbete.


A very real possibility exists that if either Cyril or NDZ win, the other camp will seriously consider splitting from the ANC - fracturing the ANC vote and jeopardising their slim national majority of the vote.


This is an extraordinarily important ANC meeting - both for the ANC and for the future of South Africa. Tensions are such that it will take a very firm hand by Gwede Mantashe to ensure all business is wrapped up in the four days allocated. I wish him luck - we all need this to work.