Po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions cut dead

A lack­lus­tre per­for­mance and the er­ror of op­pos­ing Ja­cob Zuma have cost Tokyo Sexwale dearly, writes Janet Smith

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

THERE was no emo­tion when Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma told us he was fir­ing Tokyo Sexwale. He couldn’t have been more cold. He stood up at a spe­cial me­dia brief­ing at the Union Build­ings on Tues­day af­ter­noon and cut dead any im­me­di­ate po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions in the ANC of a man who wanted to be king – twice.

His mar­riage over, his rep­u­ta­tion sav­aged and now ef­fec­tively un­em­ployed, Sexwale is hav­ing an an­nus hor­ri­bilis. Cer­tainly, he re­mains in­or­di­nately wealthy. The wran­gle over the end of his mar­riage to Judy has made that clear. But his en­e­mies, who might in­clude the pres­i­dent, must be rev­el­ling qui­etly.

To an ex­tent, Zuma’s an­nounce­ment that Con­nie Septem­ber would take over from Sexwale as hu­man set­tle­ments min­is­ter brings to a close the present nar­ra­tive of a for­mer Robben Is­lander-turned-bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man- turned- pub­lic ser­vant.

There were so many ex­pec­ta­tions, par­tic­u­larly af­ter he stepped into the spot­light af­ter Chris Hani’s as­sas­si­na­tion in 1993. Sexwale was the king of say­ing the right thing. And, pos­si­bly un­til the dirty linen started tum­bling from the rub­ble of his mar­riage, he was a dar­ling of white South Africa.

But if he had nearly 25 years to reach the dizzi­est of po­lit­i­cal heights, he failed – at least in the ANC of the mo­ment.

Some say it was ego. But mostly, it seems that Sexwale’s sur­pris­ingly poor po­lit­i­cal judge­ment, which his sup­port­ers may pre­fer to de­scribe as hon­esty, led to his down­fall.

Thanks to him al­legedly not pay­ing his work­ers par­tic­u­larly well on his Dur­banville wine es­tate, Bloe­men­dal, we now even know his re­ported wealth: R16.7 bil­lion. Cosatu dubbed the R80-a-day min­i­mum, the same as for most other farm­ers, “slave wages”.

Yet that was a mere blip on the hori­zon of dis­con­tent.

Rather, it was Sexwale’s de­ci­sion to side with the Forces of Change fac­tion and stand for a se­nior post­ing be­fore the ANC’s elec­tive con­fer­ence at Man­gaung in De­cem­ber last year, that tilted the scales.

Sexwale made some pub­lic dec­la­ra­tions es­pe­cially around his pres­i­den­tial am­bi­tions, and this was anath­ema to many in­sid­ers, who be­lieve it was anti-ANC.

“Tokyo wants to be­come the pres­i­dent by hook or by crook. We don’t need those types of lead­ers,” one source said, de­rid­ing Sexwale’s “un­con­trol­lable am­bi­tion”.

Zuma’s clos­ing ad­dress at Man­gaung was all-em­brac­ing. He said it was im­por­tant that del­e­gates move be­yond the elec­tion and unite the party. He warned against sidelin­ing those who had lost. But in­stant anal­y­sis sug­gested that the pres­i­dent would reshuf­fle his cabi­net af­ter the cru­cial Jan­uary Cabi­net lek­gotla and his Fe­bru­ary State of the Na­tion ad­dress, and that Sexwale would be a ca­su­alty.

As pre­dicted by many, this would be a care­ful process on Zuma’s part. He wouldn’t want to look as if he was tak­ing re­venge. But there was no brain­work in­volved in imag­in­ing Zuma would want to get rid of Sexwale, even if it took him six months. Sexwale had, af­ter all, been bold enough to go up against him twice – the first time at the ANC’s elec­tive con­fer­ence in Polok­wane in 2007.

Re­ported to have been ap­proached by ANC stal­warts Pallo Jor­dan and Zola Sk­weyiya to put him­self for­ward at Polok­wane to of­fer an al­ter­na­tive to Zuma and the doomed Thabo Mbeki, Sexwale later with­drew. It was clear to all he could not win.

He was later quoted as say­ing: “Zuma ap­proached me as well, be­cause he felt he was be­ing per­se­cuted by Mbeki, who wanted to put him in jail. He didn’t want the pres­i­dency. That wasn’t his am­bi­tion then. And that is why I ran.”

But if Sexwale was among those cheer­ing on the new pres­i­dent of the ANC af­ter Polok­wane, Man­gaung was al­ways go­ing to be an even big­ger gam­ble. Zuma was vir­tu­ally as­sured of a land­slide. Any­one who dared to take him on would surely fail. Yet Sexwale dared.

In the end, re­porters wrote about how the Forces of Change group were mostly ab­sent from the clos­ing ses­sion of the con­fer­ence. The in­evitabil­ity of a Zuma win had wiped out even their bravado. All who had hoped for a top six po­si­tion or, at best, a spot on the 80-strong national ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee ( NEC), left the Free State with noth­ing.

KwaZulu- Na­tal Pre­mier Zweli Mkhize had even trumped Sexwale to the po­si­tion of trea­surer-gen­eral.

But los­ing his place on the NEC must have been es­pe­cially painful for Sexwale, who had shone at No 10 at Polok­wane. The NEC later re­placed Sexwale with Joe Phaahla as con­vener for KZN.

Sexwale earned a pal­try 463 votes in his ill-fated bid to be deputy pres­i­dent at Man­gaung, while the win­ner, Cyril Ramaphosa, got just over 3 000. Some ob­servers noted how the mighty had fallen: 12 years ago, the late Steve Tsh­wete caused a stir when he shared the ru­mour that Ramaphosa, Sexwale and Phosa had been plot­ting against Mbeki. There was no ev­i­dence to sup­port this.

But there was cer­tainly ev­i­dence to sup­port the con­tention that Sexwale was not the great­est min­is­ter of hu­man set­tle­ments. Per­haps he did have a real plan to deal with a dev­as­tat­ing hous­ing back­log that is ex­pected to help erode the ANC’s ma­jor­ity at next year’s elec­tion. He had, of course, been given a lemon of a depart­ment by Zuma.

Per­haps his at­tempts to clean up cor­rup­tion in his depart­ment were solid. Per­haps he was in­deed go­ing af­ter dirty in­di­vid­u­als in the ANC it­self who were ben­e­fit­ing from con­struc­tion con­tracts.

In­deed, there was no hint that Sexwale him­self had been in­volved in cor­rup­tion.

But there wasn’t a great deal of hap­pi­ness with his per­for­mance. De­trac­tors said he had a pen­chant for set­ting up task teams and com­mis­sions which, in the end, seemed to achieve lit­tle.

He was par­tic­u­larly lam­basted dur­ing his time as min­is­ter for fail­ing to made head­way on the fraught san­i­ta­tion is­sue. Al­though Sexwale made quite a show of pre­sent­ing ANC MP Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela to the me­dia as his san­i­ta­tion task team head, not much changed.

Then, in Fe­bru­ary, he was blasted by one of his own when ANC MP Nomhle Dam­buza – chair­woman of the National Assem­bly’s hu­man set­tle­ments com­mit­tee – ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment at his depart­ment spend­ing R91 mil­lion on con­sul­tants. “You can­not ap­point con­sul­tants for the sake of ap­point­ment,” she ranted.

In April, Sexwale tried to ex­plain away the govern­ment’s “gap mar­ket” hous­ing sub­sidy scheme, which had reached a mere 274 house­holds in two years.

Zuma had given it a spe­cial men­tion in his two State of the Na­tion ad­dresses.

But it was in May, when the Le­na­sia hous­ing cri­sis took hold, that Sexwale re­ally seemed to be bat­tling with his port­fo­lio.

About 120 il­le­gally built houses were de­mol­ished. Vi­o­lent protests fol­lowed. Res­i­dents claimed they had pur­chased the houses believ­ing it was a le­gal sale. So Sexwale promised to sort it all out quickly and formed an­other task team. But, months down the line, ne­go­ti­a­tions had dead­locked and his task team had ap­par­ently not met for al­most as long.

The DA was also af­ter his blood in Par­lia­ment over the de­tested bucket toi­let sys­tem. Mbeki had promised six years ear­lier that the sys­tem would be erad­i­cated “within months”. But this year, Sexwale had to ad­mit that, due to “in­suf­fi­cient fi­nan­cial re­sources and a lack of tech­ni­cal and fi­nan­cial man­age­ment skills at mu­nic­i­pal level”, govern­ment could no longer set a tar­get date. Its last one was De­cem­ber 2012. Some 2.3 mil­lion house­holds do not have proper san­i­ta­tion.

So he’s out. He’s gone, yet maybe not dead and buried.

Ousted ANC Youth League pres­i­dent Julius Malema may see an op­por­tu­nity in Sexwale for his Eco­nomic Freedom Fight­ers. Agang may even have a go.


THAT WAS THEN: Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma shakes Tokyo Sexwale’s hand soon af­ter he was sworn in as min­is­ter of hu­man set­tle­ments in 2009.

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