Johannesburg – The 2017 ANC elective conference is shaping up to be the most divisive yet and it could cost the party its position in government in the 2019 elections, analysts have warned.

On Thursday ANC affiliate Cosatu upped the ante by announcing its backing for Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to succeed Jacob Zuma as president of the party and the country in 2019.

This, as the ANC’s youth, women’s and veterans’ leagues, as well as its “Premier League” – made up of premiers from North West, Free State and Mpumalanga, among others – are all believed to be firmly behind Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The youth league has gone as far as to publicly say she will be the next president.

KwaZulu-Natal ANC provincial chairman Sihle Zikalala recently hit out at those who objected to the next president of the ANC coming from KwaZulu-Natal. This was largely interpreted as clearing the path for Dlamini-Zuma to succeed her ex-husband.

eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede has called for the election of the country’s first female president.

But Cosatu on Thursday called for Ramaphosa to succeed Zuma – instructing its members to nominate the former trade unionist, business leader and current deputy president before next year’s elective conference.

“We are asking our members (who are also members of the ANC) to consider in their nomination Deputy President Ramaphosa to succeed the president,” Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said.

Cosatu leaders warned, however, that there would be “no free lunch” for Ramaphosa and they would expect a number of commitments, including a radical transformation of the economy, that the ANC was rooted in the working class movement and that corruption come to an end.

These demands are similar to an agreed minimum programme the federation agreed with Zuma in exchange for its support for his presidential bid in 2007. Few if any of its key demands have been met during Zuma’s time.

Asked if Ramaphosa’s alleged complicity in the Marikana massacre was not a stain on his suitability in the eyes of workers, Cosatu second deputy president Zingiswa Losi dismissed these concerns. He said a commission of inquiry had found Ramaphosa “not guilty”.

Political analyst Zakhele Ndlovu said: “This conference is going to be a very interesting one. Remember that the provincial leadership supports Dlamini-Zuma. This could lead to the most divisive campaigning, not just within the ANC but also in the alliance because Cosatu in the province will also have to follow Cosatu nationally.

“They need to handle this carefully or it could create the divisions that we saw in Polokwane. If that happens, they can forget about the 2019 elections,” he said. “KwaZulu-Natal came through a very divisive conference where those who lost barely campaigned during the local government elections.”

Ndlovu said most black-led parties needed to do introspection as infighting always led to splits. He said in the ANC those who lost during the elections should not be ostracised and should be brought back to heal the rifts.

Political analyst Protas Madlala said he was shocked by Cosatu’s decision. “I would have thought the president of Cosatu, Sdumo Dlamini, would be going with Dlamini-Zuma.”

However, the decision made sense, he said.

“Ramaphosa is the most senior person in the party, so it is correct that they are nominating him. The only position that should be up for grabs now is deputy president.”

He said attempts to ignore Ramaphosa’s candidacy could further divide the party. “That is the same issue that caused a split before, when Thabo Mbeki fired Zuma. They saw that as an attempt to stop the most senior person in the party from being the president. Any such attempts would absolutely cause a split.”

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal was irked by the Cosatu announcement, accusing the union of jumping the gun. Provincial secretary Super Zuma said Cosatu’s conduct was offensive.

“It does not sit well with us that Cosatu at the national level has decided to do something that we recently warned the ANC Youth League against.

“They are talking about subjects that are not yet open for discussion. What they’re doing is to undermine the ANC and the structures of the ANC,” Zuma said.

Discussion of the succession would be open only once the national executive announced it, he said.

The Mercury and The Star