Political ambitions cut dead
A lacklustre performance and the error of opposing Jacob Zuma have cost Tokyo Sexwale dearly, writes Janet Smith
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.