We all watched the Top Six elections at the African National Congress’ (ANC) National Conference with baited breath. After what felt like endless hours, the highly anticipated announcement was met with joyous celebration and disheartening dismay. This is due to the massive rift within the ANC, as Ronesh Dhawraj, Senior Political Researcher, explains.

“If you look at the Top Six elections, there wasn’t a clear majority. The candidates in those positions won by a very narrow margin. If you look at all the Secretary General’s Organisational Reports from 1991 right through to 2017, we now see issues of factionalism, gate keeping, branch numbers inflated and we saw what happened in the Eastern Cape with the infamous chair throwing.”

The ANC today is a very different party than it was a couple of decades ago and this current day divide is one of the most serious for the party’s history.

“During the liberation years it was all about mobilising against a common enemy which was apartheid, but once the ANC got into power in 1994, it had access to state resources, access to tender processes, access to deployment of comrades and employees to all levels of government. With the state machinery at the behest of the ANC, those elements will creep in, like we are seeing with the problems of the ANC’s facing now.”

On Tuesday, Dhawraj warns that there is a danger of the plenary exploding due to voting irregularity concerning the position of Secretary General at the National Conference. North West ANC Chairperson Supra Mahumapelo has warned backers of Senzo Mchunu, who narrowly lost the vote, not to push for the inclusion of 68 alleged missing votes.

Ace Magashule won the Secretary General post by only 24 votes with just 50.12%.  Electoral officials allegedly told 68 delegates that they did not appear on the voters’ roll.

Once a solution has been agreed and the Top Six are locked down, the crucial process of selecting the 80 National Executive Committee (NEC) comes into play. The NEC is the highest decision making body between conferences and is elected at National Conference every five years.

“Say for example there is an issue of possibly recalling the President of the country, the NEC will be consulted and the NEC together with the Top Six officials of the party will then take that decision. We saw this happen in September 2008 where the NEC together of the top officials of the ANC took that decision to recall former president Thabo Mbeki.”

Dhawraj says that a total of 250 names have been received from the provinces for the inclusion into the 80 member NEC of the ANC – so whoever gets on that 80 member NEC is going to be absolutely significant.

“Another example is that we have a pro-Jacob Zuma loyalist packed in that NEC, it will then be very difficult to recall President Jacob Zuma from the highest office in the country, which is President of South Africa, but should Cyril Ramaphosa’s people say for example get 60% of all NEC positions, then in that instance it will be much easier for the ANC to take a collective decision to recall President Jacob Zuma.”

It’s all about loyalties, access to resources and influence of authority in the so-called patronage networks.

“This is politics and politics is all about influence, it’s about authority, it’s about control, it’s about access to scarce resources and essentially it is about money. People want to get into the ANC because it has a commanding lead in terms of the national psyche, it will win elections, whether it loses a certain amount of the vote during every election cycle is non consequential because everyone knows the ANC will win elections, the opposition will make a little headway but not enough to actually unseat the ANC.”

That doesn’t mean that the ANC should kick back and relax. If the party does not get its act together and unite within this divide, the stark reality of sharing governance will roll into motion come 2019.

“The ANC need to work as a collective, as a political party. This is no more liberation politics, liberation politics ended in 1994. The ANC is now in government nationally and also in government in 8 provinces. It faces the real possibility of that vote share slipping below that 50% psychological mark and this might introduce coalition politics at national politics.

Already with the 2016 Local Government Elections the ANC lost metros Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay where the Democratic Alliance (DA) made more gains against the ANC in the Cape Town Metro.

“If the ANC is really serious about unity, something seriously needs to be done, once this conference is over. We need to watch the space in early January very closely in how the new President alongside the new Top Six and the new NEC actually forges unity and brings the two sides together.”

Click below for a timeline on the highlights of the National Conference throughout the years.