South Africa: ANC challenges ahead of the elective conference

15 December 2022


The ANC is preparing to hold its much-anticipated elective conference against a backdrop of factional warfare and successive cases that have tarnished the party's image and the credibility of its leader, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. The latter was saved at the last minute from resigning by his advisers following a parliamentary report incriminating him in the "farmsgate" affair. In mid-December, Ramaphosa will face the candidate of the Zuma clan and former health minister, Zweli Mkhize. The stakes are high for the future of the ANC as the opposition continues to gain ground and call for early elections.

The 'farmsgate' episode

In February 2020, a large sum of money estimated at between USD 580,000 and USD 4 million was stolen from President Ramaphosa's Phala Phala farm, without him reporting the theft to the police, leaving unclear both the legality of the money and the actions he might have undertaken afterwards. In June 2022, former spy chief Arthur Fraser, who is close to former president Zuma, lodged a complaint with the police, accusing Ramaphosa of bribery, kidnapping and hiding from the tax authorities. Fraser's complaint led to several judicial initiatives, including a parliamentary report resulting from a 14 June request for a Section 89 investigation by the Africa Transformation Movement (ATM), which is close to Zuma. On 13 December, the South African parliament voted against the adoption of the report accusing the president of violating the Constitution, by a majority of 214 votes (against 148 votes for). Only four ANC MPs voted for the adoption of the report. However, if Ramaphosa escapes impeachment proceedings, his continued leadership of the party is not yet assured. The public nature of the parliamentary vote and its importance for maintaining the party's credibility masks deep divisions within the Ramaphosa camp, which may, however, be reflected in the outcome of the vote at the party's elective conference, scheduled for 16-20 December.  

Dynamics within the ANC

The “farmsgate” case only reinforces the factional warfare that the ANC has faced for almost a decade. The rift between the Zuma and Ramaphosa camps will intensify the fragmentation of the presidential party and undermine President Ramaphosa's mandate. Since the start of the scandal, and even more so with the publication of the report, members of the ANC have called on the president to resign. Among them are members of the government, including Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of Tourism, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. Calls for resignation have been joined by people close to Zuma, such as former health minister Zweli Mkhize. As the ANC prepares to hold its elective conference, the political landscape remains very foggy, with misalignments taking place and opportunistic political ambitions of some party members. Among them, ANC secretary-general Paul Mashatile who is reportedly preparing to replace Ramaphosa behind the scenes. He has significant support in this branch of the ANC. It was Mashatile who announced the unanimous support of the ANC's National Executive Committee (NEC) for the president after a meeting on 5 December. This support could only be superficial, to enable the party to maintain a united front in the face of opposition attacks.  

What is next?

Ahead of the elective conference, the infighting within the ANC will become more virulent. The Zuma clan is expected to be strongly mobilised in the coming days to ensure the victory of its candidate Zweli Mkhize. Despite the farmsgate, observers believe that a Ramaphosa victory is still possible. His faction will push him to the top of the party, but will prepare his replacement for 2024. Taking advantage of the general chaos, the main opposition party, Democratic Alliance, is calling for early elections. Other, albeit smaller, opposition parties could also use the scandal to win back disillusioned ANC supporters. These include the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which have grown steadily in recent years and performed well in the 2021 municipal elections. In these elections, the ANC found itself in coalition or in a minority position in almost a third of the cities. As a result of these elections, the most feared scenario for the ANC is that of a coalition government in 2024.  

About the author

Carine Gazier is a project consultant at Concerto, she focuses on political-economic issues and the energy sector in Africa. For further insights and analysis, or to better understand how Concerto can support your business,  please email