‘Holy Trinity’ a frontrunner for ANC deputy
• Popularity of treasurer-general, who is acting secretary-general, may be a headache for the Ramaphosa faction
Portraits of Chief Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela occupy pride of place in Paul Mashatile’s office at ANC headquarters. The photos, by design or default, tell a story about Mashatile’s own ambitions or prospects as one of the party’s prominent leaders. He effectively holds three leadership positions in the ANC: “They gave me the Holy Trinity [nickname],” he says with a chuckle.
Portraits of Chief Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela occupy pride of place in Paul Mashatile's office at the ANC headquarters.
The photos, by design or default, tell a story about Mashatile’s own ambitions or prospects as one of the ruling party’s prominent leaders.
Mashatile effectively holds three leadership positions in the ANC — he is the treasurergeneral, he has been acting as its secretary-general, a position that has been vacant since the ANC suspended Ace Magashule, and the deputy secretarygeneral portfolio has fallen on his shoulders since Jessie Duarte passed away in July.
“They gave me the Holy Trinity [nickname],” he says with a chuckle, from the eighth floor of the ANC’s 13-storey building in downtown Johannesburg.
The positions might have benefited him, as they control the two arms critical to the ANC’s operations: finances and overseeing secretarial processes leading to the elections.
As the party prepares for its elective conference, which runs from December 16 to 20, Mashatile now finds himself at the centre of not only the party’s operations but of the leadership question as well.
Mashatile has emerged as the most popular candidate to be the ANC’s No 2. He enjoys the backing of key segments of the ANC’s branches in KwaZulu-Natal, North West and his home province of Gauteng as a candidate for the party’s deputy presidency. Other prominent challengers are Human Settlements’ Mmamoloko Kubayi, justice minister Ronald Lamola, and possibly Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane.
Mashatile says that his popularity cannot be linked to his position as acting secretarygeneral. “This system does not have room for manipulation.”
With David Mabuza, then ANC strongman in Mpumalanga, Mashatile conjured an alliance that blocked the Zuma faction five years ago and helped Cyril Ramaphosa over the line to become party leader. A different approach has been adopted for December. “So this time, we have decided, let’s see what the branches want,” he says.
Mashatile’s popularity may be a source of headache for the Ramaphosa faction. He straddles all the factions at grassroots level, but is distant from the Ramaphosa inner cabinet, which may want to block his rise. In public, the Ramaphosa camp maintains the president has no preferred running mate. This stance may be influenced by Ramaphosa having announced Naledi Pandor and later Lindiwe Sisulu as his running mates, only for Mashatile and Mabuza and their supporters to thrash out a deal that cut out both women.
Mabuza became a deputy-president and Mashatile treasurer-general. Also, the no-running mate stance may be triggered by the reality on the ground, where Mashatile, more than other candidates, appears to be the unstoppable contender for deputy.
The number two position is a powerful one in the ANC. OR Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma, and Cyril Ramaphosa were all deputies before becoming president. Occupying leadership roles in the wake of such names is already a big step.
“It’s an honour of a lifetime [...]. To follow the footsteps of these giants is a humbling experience, and I think it must be treated with that respect. When members of the ANC say we want to nominate you as deputy president, it means they are testing you against those previous giants,” he says.
Mashatile’s dominance in the ANC is not without critics. Former president Jacob Zuma has questioned why he occupies three leadership positions. Insiders say the question has also popped up in meetings of the national executive committee.
Mashatile’s position might represent a classic prisoner’s dilemma: not just for himself but for the two main factions. If the Ramaphosa faction is hostile to him, he may become a centre for a campaign that may challenge Ramaphosa.
But Mashatile gives no credence to such a scenario saying: “I have decided for now that I stay where the branches have approached me to be. They have never called me to be president. So that question doesn’t arise at the moment.”
However, Mashatile may find his chances at No 2 a bit more uncertain if he rejects advances from the Zweli Mkhize camp.