Do the ANC’s current internal dynamics indicate another breakaway faction?

Rebone Tau,
Programme Manager at
Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Southern Africa


The unity of the African National Congress is currently subject to severe stresses due to conflicts between its highest office bearers. It is for the first time that the president and secretary general find themselves in disagreement during their first term of office. Instability and excommunications within the ANC have previously resulted in breakaway factions, which have had notable implications for South African politics.

The ANC Secretary-General, Ace Magashule, has taken the party to court after it suspended him following a special ANC National Executive Committee meeting, held between 8-10 May of this year. On the 11th, it was announced that Magashule was temporarily suspended (in accordance with rule 25.70 of the ANC’s constitution). This decision will be reviewed in six months’ time and affects not only Magashule, but also other ANC leaders who have been charged in court – but who have failed to step aside from their positions voluntarily, as required by the ANC constitution. However, the ANC NEC has not made public all the names of those who have been asked to step aside. Magashule was given his letter of suspension on the 5th of May, and thereafter he immediately suspended the ANC’s president, President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The ANC NEC Special meeting resolved that Magashule had neither authority nor mandate from any structure to suspend Ramaphosa. On 12 May, Magashule was instructed to apologise publicly to ANC structures and members within 48 hours, subject to a disciplinary process upon failure to comply. Indeed, Magashule has failed to comply. He has also been barred from addressing ANC gatherings and ANC structures. On the 14th May, he served the ANC with court papers, with Ramaphosa being the 1st respondent, Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte 2nd respondent and the ANC 3rd respondent.

Magashule’s temporary suspension means that he will not fill the role of Chairperson of the List Process, used to determine which ANC members will stand as electoral candidates, as the ANC prepares for the upcoming local elections, scheduled for 27th October. Technically, Duarte is in charge of the list process, which means ANC members aligned to Magashule are unlikely to return in political positions, such as Mayorships. Such an outcome would affect the strength of the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction within the ANC. If faction members are ousted, it must be asked whether more independents will feature as candidates in the October local elections. This will test if they can consolidate support on the ground, assuming faction members are not deployed.

The aforementioned list process is not relevant only to public elections. The list process is of key importance in respect of consolidating power and influence prior to any ANC conference. Most people who become councillors and mayors become delegates at the ANC, who are influential in their branches during the nomination process of ANC conferences. Currently, various ANC regions and provinces are also preparing for conference, and it will be interesting to see how the ANC national leadership will deal with disputes and whether or not we will see more people taking disputes to court, if they feel their grefviences are not being heard. These regional and provincial conferences will also give us a sense of how many regions the RET (Magashule) and CR (Ramaphosa) factions will control, in the buildup to the December 2022 conference. This process will be a test for the RET faction, and the key question is whether a splinter group will breakaway from the ANC before or after the 2022 Conference.

Looking back on recent years, the Congress of the People (COPE) was formed in 2008 after the ANC Polokwane conference. In 2012, Julius Malema’s expulsion from the ANC Youth League resulted in the formation of the Economic Freedom Fighters. I foresee the RET faction doing the same, using the 2017 ANC conference resolutions – which summarily deal with furthering radical economic transformation – to try and win over some from the ANC. The RET faction has been pushing the notion that Ramaphosa, as the state president, is not supporting ANC Conference resolutions of 2017.

There are discussions that there might be a further ‘3rd way’ outside of the two dominating CR and RET factions. It is still unclear who is leading this 3rd way faction. Through the recently appointed ANCYL task team, it has been indicated that the ANCYL coordinator is linked to the 3rd way. This was apparent in the recent meeting held on 21- 23 May at St. George’s hotel.

The ANC National Working Committee had its meeting on the 24th May, and resolved that the utterances that were made when former Zuma appeared in court on the 17th May, by ANC NEC member Tony Yengeni, Suspended Secretary-General Ace Magashule, and Carl Niehaus, who works in the office of the ANC but also serves as spokesperson of uMkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association, were in violation of ANC constitutional rules. The ANC National Working Committee has instructed the national presenter to look into breaches of discipline and to investigate the charges in line with the ANC constitution and code of conduct. On the 26 May, when Zuma appeared in court, it was notable that Yengeni was not present, and Niehaus and Magashule did not address the supporters of Zuma. Only Zuma, and no one else, addressed his supporters. It is clear the RET faction is now retreating some degree since the NWC meeting.

In the Free State, which is the home province of Magashule, there is no longer a Provincial Executive Committee following the Ramakatsa vs ANC judgment. Former Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was asked to lead a process for a political solution in the Free State. A task team was appointed on the 24th May 2021 and it is led by Mxolosi Dukwana who has been openly opposing Magashule in the Free State. He has also appeared at the Zondo Commission giving evidence against Magashule.

Will continue to update the paper as developments happen.