Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete could very well replace Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the lead presidential candidate for the Zuma faction within the ANC.
According to research analyst at Nomura, Peter Attard Montalto, the events of this week around the motion of no confidence vote have given Mbete’s public image a boost, and brought her into a stronger political position.
Mbete started the week with a surprise move to allow a secret ballot to take place in the motion of no confidence against president Jacob Zuma.
Analysts and commentators were shocked by the decision, which appeared to be ‘anti-Zuma’ – however, Attard Montalto said there is a lingering suspicion that Mbete’s decision to go with a secret vote was at Zuma’s behest, and a calculated political risk which ultimately paid off.
At Zuma’s request or not, the move painted Mbete in a positive light – where she appeared to be putting the interests of democracy ahead of the ANC’s interests – and even received praise from opposition parties in the debate preceding the vote.
If the secret vote was done at Zuma’s request, it would put Mbete in a prime position for a senior leadership role within the ANC, come December, Attard Montalto said.
The chances of Mbete replacing Dlamini-Zuma as the Zuma faction’s preferred candidate has also increased, he said.
“We have stated previously that we believe there is deep disquiet within the Zuma faction at the lack of leadership and PR pulling power of Dlamini-Zuma,” Attard Montalto said.
Murmurings from the ANC’s policy conference earlier in July revealed that there were growing levels of dissatisfaction of Dlamini-Zuma’s candidacy for ANC president.
Among the issues highlighted is her proximity to the president (being his ex-wife), and her rhetoric echoing too closely to Zuma’s, thus making her feel like a puppet, rather than a politician in her own right.
Mbete, who has made her presidential ambitions clear, has at the very least given the appearance that she is not afraid to make “anti-Zuma” decisions by opting for a secret vote.
“A ‘swap out’ (Mbete replacing Dlamini-Zuma), while difficult to gauge and nearly impossible to make a baseline, is a risk scenario to watch,” the analyst said.
Dlamini-Zuma has already been officially backed by the ANC Women’s League and the ANC Youth League to lead the candidacy for the next ANC president, and these factions should be watched for any shifting allegiances to a different candidate.
President Zuma himself has only ever implied his support for Dlamini-Zuma, by calling for a female president to lead the ANC. Mbete can also fit this role, however.