Who Are the Powerful 'Top Six' in the New South African Government?

This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations site.

With the drama of the horse race between Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the presidency of the governing African National Congress (ANC), it is easy to overlook the other senior party offices that were also contested.

They are called the "Top Six," a bow toward the ideal of collective party leadership.

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The African National Congress (ANC) 'Top Six,' from left, Deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte, secretary Ace Magashule, National Chair Gwede Mantashe, President Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy President David Mabuza and treasurer general Paul Mashatile on December 18, 2017 at NASREC Expo Centre in Johannesburg during the 54th ANC National Conference. South African deputy president was elected head of the ruling ANC party on December 18, 2017 winning a bruising race that exposed deep rifts within the organisation that led the struggle against apartheid. MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty

In addition to the president, they are the deputy president, the treasurer, the secretary general, the deputy secretary general, and the national chairperson.

Three of those elected on December 18 are allies of Dlamini-Zuma, while two are close to Ramaphosa.

In effect, the composition of the "Top Six" reflects power-sharing between the two principal factions of a badly divided party.

The newly-elected deputy president is David Mabuza. He is the premier of Mpumalanga (formerly part of the Transvaal and the location of Krueger National Park). He has long been a supporter of Jacob Zuma as a member of the so-called "premier league."

The new secretary general is Ace Magashule, premier of the Free State, also a supporter of Zuma and a member of the "premier league." Jessie Duarte remains deputy secretary general. She was a founder of the ANC Women's League, an assistant to Nelson Mandela, and remained a strong supporter of Zuma when others in the then-"Top Six" were falling away. She is the only woman in the Top Six.

All three were also advocates of "party unity," which was often a code word for support of Zuma and Dlamini-Zuma, but it is also a widely held aspiration within the party.

All three have been linked to the Gupta brothers and their "state capture," face accusations of corruption, and were part of Zuma's clientage network.

National Chairperson Gwede Mantashe and Treasurer Paul Mashatile supported Ramaphosa. Mashatile is the Gauteng (Johannesburg/Pretoria) provincial ANC chairperson; the ANC in Gauteng opposed Jacob Zuma and Dlamini-Zuma and supported Ramaphosa.

Mantashe, a member of the South African Communist Party, was highly critical of Jacob Zuma's efforts to consolidate personal power.

The two factions appear broadly satisfied with what amounts to a power-sharing arrangement among the Top Six. The presence of Mabuza, Magashule, and Duarte increases the likelihood that Zuma will be eased out of the presidency with his dignity and pension intact, if not his reputation.

Ramaphosa's victory increases the likelihood that the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, by the end hostile to Zuma and Dlamini-Zuma, will remain in an electoral alliance with the ANC.

The markets also approved the outcome as the Rand has soared against the U.S. dollar.

The final stage of the ANC electoral convention is the election of eighty members of the National Executive Committee, the highest organ of the party. How those votes break will be a further indication of the relative strength of the two factions within the party.

John Campbell is the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. his books Morning in South Africa and Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink were published by Rowman & Littlefield.

Who Are the Powerful 'Top Six' in the New South African Government? | Opinion