What is Mbete up to? O

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Mondli Makhanya voices@ city­press. co. za

rdi­nar­ily, one would think the ut­ter­ances by ANC chair­per­son and Na­tional As­sem­bly Speaker Baleka Mbete were sim­ply part of the usual para­noid noise lead­ers of the gov­ern­ing party are wont to make from time to time.

It is one of those ac­cepted things in South African pol­i­tics that when the go­ing gets tough, ANC lead­ers go into siege mode and sound the siren to get mem­bers be­hind the sand­bags – guns cocked and all. Mbete’s ut­ter­ances are that. And more. Ral­ly­ing the troops, Mbete told sup­port­ers in Ekurhu­leni last week­end the ANC was un­der attack “in­side” and “out­side” the bor­ders of South Africa. She warned th­ese “in­side-out­side” at­tack­ers the party would be up to the fight.

“The ANC is not a drug that you just smoke. It has been around for 103 years, so who­ever thinks they can top­ple it is play­ing games,” she was quoted as say­ing by News24.

In April, Mbete in­fu­ri­ated the ANC in Par­lia­ment when she told a party gath­er­ing in Lim­popo there were mem­bers of the cau­cus who were plot­ting to over­throw Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma.

“There are peo­ple there in Par­lia­ment who have al­lowed them­selves to be part of a huge agenda. Zuma must go … Zuma must go, and they can’t wait for the next congress of the ANC or NGC [na­tional gen­eral coun­cil],” she said.

Again she sum­moned the troops to battle to de­fend the pres­i­dent: “Where is the ANC when that is hap­pen­ing? Be­cause the ANC just elected Zuma a lit­tle over two years ago.”

Two months ear­lier she had to grovel her way out of trou­ble af­ter warn­ing ANC mem­bers in North West that “if we don’t work, we will con­tinue to have cock­roaches like [ Julius] Malema roam­ing all over the place”.

In Par­lia­ment she has been be­hav­ing strangely, mak­ing rul­ings she should have known would never stand the test of the in­sti­tu­tion’s own rules, never mind the courts. There have been times when she has told op­po­si­tion MPs not to ask Pres­i­dent Zuma cer­tain ques­tions, only for him to em­bar­rass her by go­ing on to an­swer the very ques­tions she was try­ing to pro­tect him from.

Her el­e­men­tary mis­read­ing of the rules is puz­zling, see­ing as she served as deputy to Frene Gin­wala in two par­lia­ments and as Speaker from 2004 to 2008.

The com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor with her state­ments and ac­tions is they have all been about a lame at­tempt to de­fend Pres­i­dent Zuma.

What is she up to? Is she just be­ing a cud­dly nanny to the pres­i­dent, a loyal and dis­ci­plined cadre who is con­cerned about her party – or is there some­thing else up her sleeve?

Af­ter her out­bursts about the plot against Pres­i­dent Zuma, there was fury from Sauer Street to Plein Street, as her own com­rades whis­pered that she was sow­ing sus­pi­cion and di­vi­sion in the party. Why, those at na­tional lead­er­ship asked, had she not outed any con­spir­a­tors in the se­nior ANC struc­tures on which she sat be­fore speak­ing at an open fo­rum be­fore or­di­nary mem­bers and in front of the me­dia? Mem­bers of the ANC cau­cus were in­censed that she, as one of the most se­nior lead­ers in the par­lia­men­tary precinct, was cast­ing danger­ous as­per­sions on those she led. The re­sult of her ut­ter­ances, they warned, would be dis­trust and sus­pi­cion in an ANC cau­cus, which was al­ready fac­ing its rough­est ride since 1994. Her words would cause the se­curo­cratic Pres­i­dent Zuma to shine a spot­light on in­di­vid­u­als and en­cour­age di­vi­sive rat­ting by those who wanted to prove they were not plot­ters, they feared.

Mbete’s be­hav­iour is a glimpse into the po­si­tion­ing and jock­ey­ing in the up­per ech­e­lons of the ANC. It might give many the cold shiv­ers, but she does still har­bour am­bi­tions to live at Mahlamba Nd­lopfu. What is not clear is where she will build her pri­vate home with its fire pools, chicken runs and eco­log­i­cal soil-re­ten­tion walls.

Just more than two years be­fore the ANC goes to the con­fer­ence where it will elect Zuma’s suc­ces­sor, the field is as open as it can be – at least in the eyes of those eye­ing the top po­si­tion. For the first time since the ANC was un­banned in 1990, al­most all in the top six be­lieves the top job can be theirs. There is a sense that Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa is not home and dry. Even Zuma is said to be­lieve he can serve an ex­tra two years in the party, un­til the 2019 gen­eral elec­tions.

In this flux, even Gwede Man­tashe, who was not a politi­cian and did not have po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions be­fore he was elected sec­re­tary-gen­eral in 2007, is sud­denly in the mix. As is the smart but un­ex­cit­ing trea­surer-gen­eral, Zweli Mkhize. There are other wannabes, in­clud­ing the vet­eran Jeff Radebe and the one-smile-a-year Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who also sees the cur­rent flux as an op­por­tu­nity to aim for the high prize.

It is no won­der then that an Mbete can be­lieve the juiciest high-hang­ing fruit is within her reach. But the fact is that it is hang­ing very low right now. So low, even she can reach to pluck it.

Maybe it’s the fact that [Mbalula] doesn’t be­lieve what he wants us to be­lieve

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