JUSTICE MALALA: Is Mabuza's silence undermining NDZ's chances at the prize?

Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza.
Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza.

Who do you think will win? This is the question that every political analyst is being asked as the ANC’s elective conference looms ever closer. We ahm‚ hum‚ er‚ ahm again and give long answers to this short and direct question.

Most of us can see Cyril Ramaphosa making very decent progress across the country‚ even where he is not winning. Some‚ such as the Institute for Race Relations‚ have compiled unofficial figures showing the deputy president dominating the race so far.

But we all wait for one man. We all have a question for him‚ too: Has the cat got Mpumalanga Premier David “DD” Mabuza’s tongue? Why is he playing cat and mouse with the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma presidential campaign – and‚ for that matter‚ Cyril Ramaphosa’s?

Mabuza has steadfastly refused to name a preferred candidate despite extraordinary overtures from the Dlamini-Zuma grouping. He appears as the deputy presidential candidate on virtually every list that the Dlamini-Zuma slate produces‚ yet he is nowhere to be seen as the grouping criss-crosses the country drumming up support for their candidate – and him. Last weekend Dlamini-Zuma and her chief campaigner Bathabile Dlamini were in Mpumalanga for two days. Mabuza snubbed them.

Every other ANC provincial chairperson has openly endorsed a candidate. Why does Mabuza’s vote matter so much?

Two weeks ago Dlamini-Zuma’s supporters were ecstatic. They whispered in various ears (including this columnist’s) that Mabuza would finally endorse Dlamini-Zuma’s candidature fully and unequivocally.

Such an announcement would mark a significant‚ even decisive‚ development in the race to succeed Jacob Zuma. Mabuza had for about two years been identified with the “Premier League”‚ the NDZ marching band of provincial premiers of the North West‚ Free State and KwaZulu-Natal’s Sihle Zikalala. Then‚ around May this year‚ Mabuza had done a shocking about-turn and started backing a “unity candidate” instead of the two frontrunners Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa. Zweli Mkhize‚ the ANC treasurer-general‚ was widely expected to be that unity candidate.

Where once one would have confidently called the race in Dlamini-Zuma’s favour‚ things had changed. With the removal of the solid Mpumalanga voting bloc‚ the race was now wide open and could not be called for Dlamini-Zuma.

The Mpumalanga premier’s kingmaker status emanates from the fact that the province’s share of voting delegates has leapt a phenomenal 57‚6% since the ANC’s 2012 conference‚ from 467 delegates to 736 delegates. It is now the second biggest voting bloc in the ANC after KwaZulu-Natal.

If Mabuza had made the decision to throw the province’s weight behind NDZ early on in the race it would have meant that the initial strength of the “premier league”‚ together commanding 35% of the vote‚ would have been somewhat restored bar some branches going for Ramaphosa. Throw in the KwaZulu-Natal province (assuming a united bloc vote) and Dlamini-Zuma’s slate would have boasted about 53% of the total branch vote.

Dlamini-Zuma would also have brought the firepower of the ANC Youth League and ANC Women’s League‚ which together have 172 delegates to conference. She would also have slight majority support among the provincial leaders (180) and current national executive committee members (86).

But Mabuza is just not playing ball. His no-show at Dlamini-Zuma’s events this past weekend has deflated that campaign. Even more worrying for them is the fact that the Ramaphosa camp keeps on reporting higher than expected branch support in Mpumalanga. Last weekend it was reported by Ramaphosa’s team that 352 branches had nominated their man as presidential candidate. That’s nearly 50% of delegates from Mpumalanga. With no direction from Mabuza‚ branches which would ordinarily follow their leaders’ advice are seemingly making up their own minds and going for Ramaphosa.

The next week is crucial for the NDZ campaign. On Saturday Dlamini-Zuma will hold a major rally at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit. It is the last chance for Mabuza to come out – even though it may be too late to influence branch nominations. If he does come out in support of Dlamini-Zuma he will merely try to influence branch delegates to change their minds at the conference proper‚ defy their branch mandates and vote (it’s a secret ballot) for the candidates he entreats them to vote for. Such an outcome is not guaranteed.

The Ramaphosa campaign has steered clear of the scandal-wracked Mpumalanga premier. It has made no overtures to him. It has offered him no high office. Yet it has‚ thanks to the SA Communist Party and Cosatu in that province‚ made some headway.

Has he stayed silent too long? Has he blown it for Dlamini-Zuma and for himself?

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