ANC all set to hold 55th National Conference, 16 – 20 December 2022

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The African National Congress (ANC) will hold its 55th National Conference at Nasrec, Johannesburg between 16 – 20 December 2022.

Aside from the conference rubber-stamping policies at the five-day event, new national leadership will also be elected.

At the 54th National Conference, Cyril Ramaphosa was elected president of Africa’s oldest liberation movement-cum-political party; and thus became the ANC’s 14th president since the party’s formation in 1912.

The ANC convenes a National Conference every five years—as outlined in Rule 10 of its constitution. The National Conference is the supreme ruling and controlling body of the ANC and shall—among other things—elect the National Executive Committee (NEC) in accordance with Rule 11.4 of the party’s constitution.

Delegates at National Conference comprise 90% of branch rank-and-file members, while the remaining 10% is sourced from the party’s NEC, Provincial Executive Committees (PEC) and three leagues (youth, women and veteran’s).

For National Conference to sit, at least 70% of branches-in-good-standing need to have sat; and convened their branch general meetings in the lead-up to conference.

National Conference versus Policy Conference

The ANC holds a Policy Conference and a National Conference every five years.

National Conference is preceded by a Policy Conference where policy proposals are discussed and debated by attending delegates. Once the Policy Conference is over, these discussion documents are sent for more input to the branches. No decisions are taken at the Policy Conference but at National Conference where they are effectively rubber-stamped for implementation by the ANC.

After National Conference, the party takes stock of progress made since its last conference in the form of a National General Council (NGC).

The NGC is thus considered a mid-term review of National Conference resolutions. Despite numerous postponements and revised dates, no NGC was held following the 54th National Conference due to covid; and various hard lockdowns which restricted large gatherings and the movement of people.

Past National Conferences

Until the ANC was banned in 1960, National Conferences were held annually.

Then, until December 1997, they were held every three years.

At the 50th National Conference in December 1997, it was decided that future National Conferences would be held every five years.

To date, SEVEN National (elective) Conferences have been held since the ANC’s unbanning in 1990. These gatherings were held in:

  • 1991 – Durban, KwaZulu-Natal – Nelson Mandela, President
  • 1994 – Bloemfontein, Free State – Nelson Mandela, President
  • 1997 – Mafikeng, North West – Thabo Mbeki, President
  • 2002 – Stellenbosch – Western Cape – Thabo Mbeki, President
  • 2007 – Polokwane, Limpopo – Jacob Zuma, President
  • 2012 – Mangaung, Free State – Jacob Zuma, President
  • 2017 – Nasrec, Johannesburg – Cyril Ramaphosa, President

The 2022 National Conference in Johannesburg, Gauteng will be the eighth (8th) time the event is being held since 1990.

Why is the 55th National Conference so important?

The importance of the ANC’s 55th National Conference cannot be overstated; and has to be understood within the broader context of the 2024 general elections; and another possible vote-share decline for the party.

Between the 1994 general election and the 2021 local government elections, the ANC has lost just over 15-percentage points in voter support.

In the 2019 general elections, the party dipped below the 60% mark for the first time since democracy, a first for a national and provincial election.

Whatever the outcomes at the 55th National Conference, the ANC will be under tremendous pressure come 2024 when the country observes 30-years of democracy. Along with the national leadership elected at Nasrec, the party needs to give clear policy direction, if it indeed wants another five-year electoral mandate.

Most of the policy resolutions emanating from Nasrec will eventually find its way into the ANC election manifesto for the 2024 general election. Also, there is a high probability that independents will be allowed to contest at a national and provincial levels for the first time. Coupled with the possible gains by opposition parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the ANC’s vote-share seems to be under threat, with most analysts predicting a dip below the psychological 50-percent mark. If this happens, the ANC will be forced to enter into coalition governance arrangements, similar to the ones it currently partakes in in no less than 70 hung councils following the 2021 Local Government Elections.

ANC electoral history 1994 – 2021
Election Vote-share %
1994 62.65
*1995/96 58.00
1999 66.35
*2000 64.8
2004 69.68
*2006 66.34
2009 65.90
*2011 63.65
2014 62.15
*2016 53.91
2019 57.50
*2021 47.52
*Denotes Local Government Elections
ANC vote-share movements 1994 – 2021 (15.3%)

Is Cyril Ramaphosa guaranteed a second term as ANC president?

A second term seems almost guaranteed for incumbent Cyril Ramaphosa, if the provincial nominations are anything to go by. His closest challenger remains a former minister and the former premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Zweli Mkhize. During the nomination season, Ramaphosa won the backing of eight of the nine provinces and two leagues (Women’s League and the Veteran’s League).

KwaZulu-Natal has for a second time evaded Ramaphosa. In 2017, the province supported the nomination of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, with Dr Mkhize faring even than Ramaphosa at the time.

Fast forward five years later and that picture has altered dramatically. Of the 703-branch support declared, Dr Mkhize commands a 91.46% lead against Ramaphosa’s 8.53%. Dr Mkize also managed to secure a nomination from the Youth League.

Importantly, the three leagues are afforded province status at conference.

One must remember, however, that more than 1000 branches had not declared their support for anyone by the Election Committee’s cut-off date. This is a significant number that could change the dynamics at conference.

So is there a formula to winning at National Conference?

Before 2007, most ANC positions were the result of a consensus process. Secretary-General at the time, Kgalema Motlanthe even lamented that the 52nd National Conference at Polokwane, Limpopo was the first time since the ANC’s 1990 unbanning that the presidency was being contested. Both Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki were ‘consensus’ candidates.

If any candidate intends winning at National Conference, three big provinces are needed at most times, namely KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.

In the 2017 conference, Mpumalanga proved a heavyweight, with approximately 16% of all branch delegates. This time around, the province has been reduced to just under 10%. The Eastern Cape and Limpopo, on the other hand, have dramatically increased their branch representation at National Conference. Limpopo, for example, sent just 13.61% of delegates in 2017; this time around, their delegate allocation numbers a whopping 17.85%. Similarly, the Eastern Cape accounted for just 13.72% five years ago. For the 55th National Conference in a week’s time, the coastal province has been assigned 16.39% at the five-year event.

These numbers are important in the bigger scheme of things. If one had to do one’s own rough calculations, one can see that Ramaphosa stands a formidable chance of a second term as ANC president because he has the support of eight provinces and two leagues amounting to roughly 80% support. When one throws in the vote of the national and provincial leadership), his numbers could surge more.

Please see table below for a clearer illustration of the numbers:

PROVINCE 1997 2007 2012 2017 2022
EC 13.10 22 15.02 13.72 16.39
FS 7.71 9 7.2 8.65 7.37
GP 12.47 9 11.11 10.75 11.89
KZN 13.67 15 21.64 18.42 18.94
LIM 14.41 10 12.75 13.61 17.85
MPU 8.41 8 10.37 15.58 9.49
NC 3.51 5 3.91 4.17 4.43
NW 7.84 7 5.2 11.39 8.50
WC 6.63 5 3.95 3.85 5.15
ANCYL 1.77 2 1 1.14 25
ANCWL 1.77 2 1 1.14 25
Veterans 1 1.14 25
NEC + PECs 8.17 6 5.82 6.28 ?
ANC departments 0.46
SOURCE: ANC SG reports/statements 1997, 2007, 2012, 2017, SG statement, September 2022


As we move closer to the ANC’s 55th National Conference, it is important to remember that this event is not only about electing leadership. It is also about policy approval and policy direction. The ANC is the governing party nationally and in eight provinces. Whatever happens at Nasrec between 16 and 20 December 2022 impacts all our lives in one way or the other.