This year will test President Cyril Ramaphosa’s grip on the ANC as his backers face off with his detractors in an escalating fight for control of the governing party.
This battle is expected to start as early as Wednesday when the ANC national executive committee (NEC) is scheduled to meet to discuss the party’s January 8 statement.
Even though the meeting has been called specifically to focus on the statement, it is expected that the controversy surrounding the party’s secretary-general, Ace Magashule, could be raised.
Magashule, widely regarded as the face of the fightback against Ramaphosa, recently appeared before the organisation’s integrity commission, which recommended that he step down from his position or be suspended by the NEC until his corruption trial is concluded.
Magashule has refused to step down and his allies are expected to push back against any move to suspend him until top officials present guidelines on how the step-aside rule should be applied.
The fight will then move to the NEC lekgotla, which will outline the party’s programme for the year.
This will be followed by the cabinet lekgotla, which will set the tone for the state of the nation address scheduled for early next month.
However, the major showdown is expected to take place at the party’s national general council, due to take place in May. Both factions are expected to use the meeting to show they control membership. The Magashule matter is expected to dominate discussions, whether or not he is suspended before the gathering. Ramaphosa’s detractors would also seek to weaken him by using proxy debates.
The ANC is also expected to hold provincial and branch general meetings. The party has confirmed that the four provinces that will hold their conferences in 2021 are the Western Cape, North West, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga.
The Greater Johannesburg regional conference has been postponed until after the general elections because of the fear that divisions in the leadership could negatively affect the outcome of the vote.
Its chair, Geoff Makhubo, who is also the mayor of Johannesburg, is under siege after being mentioned at the Zondo commission for allegedly using his position to solicit millions in donations for the ANC from companies doing business with the city during his time as the MMC for finance. He is also accused of personally pocketing R7m.
The Gauteng provincial integrity commission, which previously cleared Makhubo on these accusations, is expected to be asked to amend its decision when the provincial executive committee meets in early January following evidence given at the Zondo commission.
Makhubo is likely to be asked to step aside from his positions as mayor and regional chair, according to insiders.
Although his opponents would welcome this move, his supporters both in the regional and provincial executive committees will not let him go without a fight, which could muddy the waters ahead of the elections.
This, according to the insiders, is primarily why their conference has been postponed.
The provincial executive committee is also expected to decide the fate of its members Khusela Diko and Bandile Masuku, whose disciplinary processes are seen as likely to get under way in January.
The pair have been on suspension for close to two months after being linked to a personal protective equipment corruption scandal in the Gauteng health department.
The Special Investigating Unit found that Masuku had failed to conduct oversight, which led to the corruption, while Diko was linked via her husband, who was awarded two tenders worth R125m.
Apart from the ANC’s internal battles, local government elections are expected to dominate the political calendar in 2021.
Political parties and the Independent Electoral Commission will spend a great part of the year preparing for the elections that are expected to be held in November.
All eyes will be on the big metros — Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay — where the ANC was dislodged by coalitions of opposition parties in the 2016 local government elections.
In Johannesburg, the party regained control after the collapse of the coalition following mayor Herman Mashaba’s resignation.
It remains to be seen whether voters will give the ruling party another chance or hope for functional coalitions in the various metros.