A conference of winners, where the ANC won!


As night fell on the last day of the ANC’s 54th conference, newly elected president Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his very reconciliatory maiden address as president, prior to the finalisation of the names of the incoming 80 National Executive Committee members. The conference doomed by some to collapse in untimely death long before it got underway, also will be remembered for its many delays particularly in regard to the accepting of credentials and the finalisation of voting for the office bearers. It in addition delivered crammed policy engagements with devilish twist of a historic 63 votes dispute for the Secretary General position has finally come to an end. 


With the office bearers and NEC now duly elected and ANC policy direction clearly outlined, it is perhaps time we reflect on what really happened. I thought of this in the frame of who were the winners of the conference, did the ANC win?

Firstly, the ANC won since the 54th Conference, was successful despite being declared dead by soothsayers and doomsayers before its start. You will recall in the up-run to the conference many in and outside the ANC were brave to tell us that the conference was a farce and will not take place, that it will collapse at the credentials stage. Among those who declared the conference dead were former ANC leaders Kgalema Motlanthe, Trevor Manuel, and later Tokyo Sexwale. Notwithstanding the challenges that preceded the conference, the ANC conference was successful.


Secondly, the ANC delegates won when they categorically rejected slates as the future of the ANC. While the African National Congress in its 2015 National General Council resolved to outlaw slates, the practice of slates measurable in an undeniable reality of winner-takes-it-all came to define ANC elections at all levels. In a remarkable and decisive sense this conference elected its office bearers in defiance of that slate winner-takes-it-all frame. It categorically rejected Ramaphosa’s unprecedented announced slate that he dubbed his  ‘winning team’. It equally rejected the touted though never publicly announced slate attributed to Dlamini Zuma.


Thirdly, this conference also broke with the demon of the personality cult defined in Mbeki and Zuma support a un-ANC phenomenon that gripped the ANC from before its 52nd Conference. It marks a time in which the personality cult is shown the door and asserted members as belonging to the ANC and not individuals. It is now the responsibility of all those who love the ANC and believe in its vision and values to bind themselves to this one organisation where personalities no longer should matter. We also expect that this break will translate to the provincial settings.


In the fourth instance, unity the one with a missing surname, the same one propelled as flagship of the Mpumalanga leadership under David Mabuza now the Deputy President, won the day. In an intricate tactical chess game of political manoeuvring Mabuza inserted himself into the presidential contest with unity his mantra. Unity earned a kingmaker status in which Mabuza also emerged as deputy president of the ANC. At one level Mabuza’s actions were considered a betrayal of the Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma campaign, yet at another level his insistence to force a unity ticket delivered an outcome that few many accept as an attempt at unity. We now know Unity with the surname Mabuza (Unity Mabuza) won and became the deciding factor of the office bearer elections contest.


Conferences are known for two core things, it is the place where the national policy proposals are adopted as ANC policy and where new leadership is elected. While much emphasis is placed on the names of preferred candidates as central, the finalisation of policy direction to direct governance is supposed to be much more significant. Ultimately whoever is elected must implement ANC policy.



In the fifth instance, Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa won the actual contest for presidential office or leadership. He is the ANC president for the next 5 years in what is considered a delayed personal dream for which he had to wait for more than 20 years. Ramaphosa and his leadership is embraced in this his new position as the president of the ANC. It would have been a serious blow if he had to loose this one after he served as deputy since Mangaung. In a sense the Mantashe definition of managed succession, not as policy but as a practice where deputies succeeds the president is made possible with his election. Ramaphosa therefore won the leadership and deserves congratulations.  


In the sixth instance, it is an indisputable fact that Dlamini Zuma won the policy contest. Dlamini Zuma’s people’s campaign led from the start anchored on the core policies of radical economic transformation, land, youth development, and education. This conference wholly adopted the policy proposals as engaged at the National Policy Conference held in June and emboldened the 2012 adopted radical socio economic transformation (RET) as the non-negotiable focus of the ANC in this epoch. This conference did not recognise the Ramaphosa ‘new deal’, which was nowhere canvassed among structures of the ANC. Ramaphosa therefore won the leadership but he will be implementing ANC policies that the Dlamini Zuma people’s campaign was premised on. 


An adumbrated look at some of these policies as confirmed by conference is necessary: 

Radical Economic Transformation 

President Zuma, in his opening address of the 54th Conference reminded the conference that the ANC NEC lekgotla in January produced a definition of radical economic transformation. RET is defined to mean, “the fundamental change in the structure, systems, institutions, and patterns of ownership, management and control of the economy in favour of all South Africans, especially the poor, the majority of whom are African and female, as defined by the governing party which makes policy for the democratic government.” Conference did not alter this definition and therefore continues to have this as its guiding light definition for a policy that must now be given effect under the Ramaphosa leadership.



This conference unequivocally confirmed and adopted the following stance on land,  “The final conclusion that we agreed the national executive committee will initiate some amendment in the constitution’s Section 25 to achieve expropriation without compensation.” 

Its adopted position on land includes the acknowledgement that as to be pursued without destabilising the agricultural sector, without endangering food security … and without undermining economic growth and job creation.” 

The return of land is therefore a winner for the ANC, since it now unequivocally intends giving effect to this adopted resolution. There is much technical work to be done to engage the constitution, which already allows for land expropriation; the new add on is without compensation for public good. This by itself will be an egg dance, yet it must be implemented.


Free Tertiary Education

On the opening day of the conference President Zuma surprised many when he announced that government will implement free tertiary education for families with a household income of R350000.00. He explaind this was attained with the amended definition of poor and working class, students which now refer to those “currently enrolled TVET Colleges or university students from South African households with a combined annual income of up to R350 000” by the 2018 academic year. The Higher Education Minister would revise this amount periodically in consultation with the Finance Minister.

The president said, “Having amended the definition of poor and working class students, government will now introduce fully subsidised free higher education and training for poor and working class South African undergraduate students, starting in 2018 with students in the first year of study at our public universities”.  This announcement considered a surprise given the Heher Commission findings, in some circles condemned as a reckless political ploy on the  part of the president was accepted by this conference as the commission on education confirmed.


Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor tasked to give the commission’s report shared the summation of the conference resolutions on education in the following manner, ” that free tertiary education for certain groups should be implemented from next year. Added to this, attention will be given to historically disadvantaged institutions. She continued “Given the existing agreement; the funding formula for higher education should be adjusted upwards, there will be benefits for the historically disadvantaged institutions.”

The full details of the funding is still to be discussed.  However free tertiary education for the designated group of students with 2018 as academic year is now a reality. The students of Fees Must Fall Campaign therefore won though this is a staged approach.


Organisational Renewal

The first none trade unionist secretary general of an ANC in democracy, Ace Magashule who quickly became serenaded with his name being shouted every time he steps up to speak, during the declaration of conference, said, “Delegates confirmed their commitment to work tirelessly for the fundamental renewal of the ANC. We emerged from the 54th National Conference more united and determined to lead the struggle for a united, non racial, non sexist, democratic and prosperous society.” 


The elected NEC 

The finalisation of the names of the newly elected NEC confirms an interesting scenario where it is claimed by some that Ramaphosa’s slate also lost, and the Dlamini Zuma backed group appeared to have taken it with a possible margin of 60/40 split. It remains difficult to categorically draw such a conclusion but politics a living and changing reality lends some to conclude in this fashion.


Claimed Zuma Recall


Conference in the spirit of unity did not entertain discussions on the much expected recall and future of its deployed president Jacob Zuma. It is perhaps sensible to conclude that such a discussion would not only have obliterated the ANC’s fragile unity but it also would have been lost by those who eager to see him recalled. It is perhaps opportune and wise that this issue is left in abeyance since the ANC will do better for not repeating the costly mistake of 2008 therefore entrenching the recalling of its deployed presidents. Granted the new NEC may engage this matter and come to a different decision since it has the power to do so as derived from its mandate. 


It is more than fair to conclude the 54th Conference of the ANC was unique for many reasons. It produced a leadership in defiance of slates, the ANC elected its deputy president to occupy the presidential seat in a very close contest with its first ever woman candidate in almost 106 years of the organisation’s existence. This conference also saw four women on ballots for contesting the positions of president, deputy president, deputy secretary general, and treasurer general respectively. The ANC policies of RET, land and free education among others were re-affirmed. The election of its NEC again confirmed this break with slates. It was a conference of winners in which the ANC is the overarching winner.


Clyde N. Ramalaine  

Political Commentator