African National Congress (ANC) secretary general Gwede Mantashe says the party needs to elect leaders with a succession plan in mind.
Mantashe was speaking to journalists on Wednesday at ANC headquarters in Johannesburg, following their 105th birthday celebrations and National Executive Committee’s January 8 statement.
He said that, when the party’s deputy contests the president for the position, it indicated that there was no succession plan during the internal elections.
He detailed the party's election history and gave examples, including when former president Thabo Mbeki's position was contested by his then deputy in the party, Jacob Zuma.
He also cited the 2012 Mangaung conference, where former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe competed with Zuma for the top post and lost.
"When the deputy president contests the president to be president, it means we elect without succession in mind," Mantashe said.
He poured cold water on the argument that it was ANC tradition for the deputy president to succeed the president. He argued that there was no "established tradition" and that, even before the unbanning of the ANC, the party had no deputy president, but had presidents of provinces elected instead.
"I don’t want us to create traditions that don’t exist in reality," Mantashe said. He said an example of this was the late former deputy president Walter Sisulu, who did not rise up the ranks to become party president.
Mantashe, however, said there should be a discussion on succession when the deputy president did not ascend to the presidency.
"Once you have the deputy and elect someone else, you ask yourself difficult questions: Is this deputy president not competent enough to be the successor. That belongs to debate, rather than tradition?"
"I don’t want to express views on this, but that debate must be allowed space. You have the deputy president, is he competent? If not, what are the issues?" Mantashe said.
The ANC is facing a fierce election battle, with some structures already pronouncing on preferred candidates, despite censure from the party.
The ANC Women’s League formally endorsed outgoing African Union Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as its preferred presidential candidate. She is expected to face off with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has the backing of the Congress of South African Trade Union (Cosatu).
Cosatu does not have voting rights in the ANC, but it successfully lobbied for Zuma at the Polokwane and Mangaung conferences.
In 2016, Mantashe announced that six candidates had put up their hands for positions.