South Africa’s ruling African National Congress will pick its new leader in December. The political stakes couldn’t be higher, as the winner will likely go on to become the next president. The 105-year-old ANC has won every election since it took power in the first multiracial vote in 1994, and party rules state that its leader should also be its presidential candidate. Both posts are currently held by Jacob Zuma, whose reputation has been scarred by a series of scandals that sparked calls for him to resign. The next national election comes in 2019, when Zuma, now 75, is scheduled to step down. Corruption has divided the ANC, so credible internal elections will be key to holding the party together.
1. Who chooses the ANC leadership?
Delegates to the party’s national conference. They gather every five years and elect a president, deputy president, secretary-general, deputy secretary-general, chairperson and treasurer-general, plus 80 other members of its national executive committee, or NEC. This year’s conference will be held Dec. 16-20 in Johannesburg.
2. How are delegates selected?
All party branches with 100 members or more are entitled to send at least one delegate to the national conference. These branch representatives must account for at least 90 percent of voting delegates, with the balance coming from the NEC, provincial executive committees and the ANC’s women’s, youth and veterans’ leagues. The total number of NEC delegates is determined by the tally of paid-up members. (Dues are 20 rand a year, or $1.56.) There were 4,500 voting delegates at the last elective conference in 2012; this year’s count will be finalized after the party audits its membership.
3. How are candidates nominated?
There’s a new system this year. In January, ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe instructed branches to submit their nominations directly to the party’s electoral commission, which will draw up the paper ballots. Before this, branches submitted their preferred candidates to provincial structures that collated them and released the results. This encouraged delegates to vote for ready-made slates and gave excessive power to party officials, according to Mantashe. Nominations also come from the party’s three leagues, and the process begins in September. Nominations can be made directly from the conference floor if candidates get support from at least a quarter of the delegates via a show of hands.
4. How does the final NEC vote work?
The election takes place by secret ballot. Every delegate casts a single vote on paper ballots for each position. While the provinces can endorse candidates, there’s no guarantee their delegates will vote that way, since they’re supposed to take directives directly from the branches they represent. The process is overseen by the party’s appointed electoral commission.
5. Who are the front-runners for the top job?
Zuma’s ex-wife and former chairwoman of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, 68, and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, 64, according to a Bloomberg survey of 26 analysts. Baleka Mbete, the speaker of Parliament, and Mathews Phosa, the ANC’s former treasurer-general and a scathing critic of Zuma’s leadership, have also declared that they will accept nomination. While the ANC’s top brass and provincial leaders could theoretically agree on a consensus candidate and avoid a divisive contest, reaching a deal on who gets the top job will be a formidable task.
6. Any possible election problems?
The biggest potential for foul play lies in the selection of conference delegates. In years past, there have been complaints of officials paying bribes, signing up fake members and refusing to issue membership cards to rivals to secure or retain control of branches. And big questions over ANC membership numbers arose in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province, where the rolls more than trebled to 331,820 in the five years leading up to the last conference, in December 2012, and then declined to 158,199 during the subsequent three years.