A campaign for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to retain the leadership of the ruling African National Congress when it holds internal elections in December is gathering momentum, with some key party officials throwing their weight behind him.
“There is an emerging consensus that the president must get a second term,” Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, who sits on the ANC’s national executive committee, said in an interview. “It will be good for stability of the country to have him continue.”
Ramaphosa has been gradually cementing control of a party that’s been wracked by division since he narrowly won the battle to lead it in 2017. Lamola’s endorsement of the incumbent and those of ANC Treasurer-General Paul Mashatile and leaders in the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape provinces, preempts official nominations by party branches, which are only due to open in August, signaling their confidence he will win re-election.
There are also few other strong challengers at this juncture. Possible contenders include Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who failed to win nomination as the ANC’s deputy leader in 2017, and Zweli Mkhize, who quit as health minister last year after being embroiled in a corruption scandal.
Lamola, who at 38 is the youngest member of Ramaphosa’s cabinet, indicated that he will run for the No. 2 party post if nominated. He could face off against incumbent David Mabuza, who is expected to seek re-election.
“I have always responded positively to calls by ANC structures” to serve the party, Lamola said. “It is in the ANC’s interests to have a generational mix in its structures to signal to society and to itself that there is a moment of renewal.”
Ramaphosa will turn 70 in November, while all the other party’s top five officials are over 60. John Steenhuisen, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance is 45, and Julius Malema, who heads the Economic Freedom Fighters, the third-largest party, is 41. More than half of the country’s 60 million people are under the age of 30.
If Ramaphosa does retain his ANC post, he will be its presidential candidate in 2024 elections, but there is no guarantee it will win that contest. Support for the 110-year-old party, which led the fight against White-minority rule, slipped below 50% at last year’s municipal elections. It was the ANC’s worst performance since the party took power in 1994 — a backlash against its slipshod management of municipalities and widespread anger over endemic corruption.
While the ANC is under pressure, it is premature to predict it will relinquish power, according to Lamola.
“We will still win in 2024, it won’t be easy, and it will also depend on what we do between now and then, particularly on service delivery and corruption,” he said. “The reality is that the outcomes of the last elections were a final warning shot to us. We no longer have the luxury of dilly dallying.”
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