THE ANC leadership succession cycle is upon us. In December 2017, the ANC will elect the successor to President Jacob Zuma at its national conference. Before that moment, there will be two practice runs — the national general council (NGC) and the national policy conference.

The NGC, which will be held in June next year, is the midterm conference of the ANC and its main task is to review progress in the implementation of the policy framework that was adopted at the 2012 national conference and, thereafter, propose measures to address deficits between the policy framework and what has been implemented.

According to rule 10 of the ANC constitution, the NGC has "the right to ratify, alter or rescind any decision taken by any of the constituent bodies, units or officials of the ANC except the national conference, including the evaluation of the performance of members of the (national executive committee)", and has "the power to discuss any issue it deems necessary taking into account policies and directives of the national conference". This means there are opportunities at the NGC for proxy battles.

In other words, arguments that are advanced at the NGC are not completely about the content of policy. Sometimes, what appears to be a policy argument may actually be an indirect way of expressing support for one’s leadership preferences and opposition to the preferences of opponents. This logic may extend even to attempts by some, and the factions to which they belong, to position themselves as the moral other of such opponents.

The challenge for KwaZulu-Natal is to consolidate its dominant position while Gauteng is faced with the difficult task of creating a new majority in the ANC. For Gauteng, this is about the installation of both new values and leadership or, alternatively, the reinstallation of traditional ANC values and leadership content.

Further, an argument against corruption, declining levels of morality in the party, as well as expressions of unhappiness about certain leadership styles may be attacks that are intended to reinforce negative perceptions about particular individuals and the factions that support them.

This brings us to the national policy conference that will take place about six months before the 2017 national conference. The policy conference is the forum that is supposed to have detailed discussions about the policy framework that the national conference should consider. Its decisions are, therefore, not binding until they are endorsed by the national conference — the highest decision-making body of the ANC.

Like the NGC, the policy conference can become a site of proxy battles that will culminate in a final showdown at the national conference. What we must not forget, however, are the provincial conferences of the ANC because they, too, may prefigure the policy and leadership battles that will be fought at the national conference. It is in this context that some of the outcomes of the recent Gauteng provincial conference must be understood.

The battle for 2017 is about two things: for the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s successor must come from there, while the task of the ANC in Gauteng is to prevent that from happening. The challenge for KwaZulu-Natal is to consolidate its dominant position while Gauteng is faced with the difficult task of creating a new majority in the ANC. For Gauteng, this is about the installation of both new values and leadership or, alternatively, the reinstallation of traditional ANC values and leadership content.

For the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, the consolidation of interests will happen if the province remains sufficiently united around a single candidate and a common set of interests. But the problem the ANC in Gauteng must confront is the fact that, unlike in the past, relying on its political and ideological acumen is no longer enough.

Creating a new majority in the ANC is about numbers, and the reality is that Gauteng and its allies do not have numbers on their side. The reality is that Gauteng may be, or may succeed in pretending to be, the moral, political, intellectual and leadership antithesis of Zuma and his supporters, but this will mean nothing in an organisation that seems to rely more on the power of numbers than the moral weight of political and leadership choices.

In the end, however, both Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal must prioritise what is in the interests of the country as a whole.

See more articles