The deputy pres­i­dent takes his job se­ri­ously, but his low pro­file and his rift from the Dlamini-Zuma camp at Nas­rec last year may cost him dearly

CityPress - - Front Page - SETUMO STONE [email protected]­

Among the big po­lit­i­cal ques­tions to be asked in the new year is whether Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa will re­tain his deputy, David Mabuza, af­ter the gen­eral elec­tions. Although the ANC branches have some lat­i­tude in in­flu­enc­ing Ramaphosa’s de­ci­sion, he is pro­tected by the pres­i­den­tial pre­rog­a­tive to ap­point any­one he prefers.

Ramaphosa would be keenly aware that the last time an ANC pres­i­dent side­lined his deputy, it ended badly.

For­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki lost his grip on the party af­ter he fired his then deputy, for­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, cost­ing him both of­fices – in Luthuli House and at the Union Build­ings.

Mabuza prides him­self on be­ing an or­gan­iser, and an exit from Pre­to­ria would give him am­ple time to con­sol­i­date a strong base ahead of the party’s 2022 con­fer­ence.

He does not do morn­ing jogs like Ramaphosa, so he is rel­a­tively anony­mous in the me­dia space. But those in his cor­ner say he prefers to go house to house, speak to peo­ple, take notes and pro­pose so­lu­tions.

They praise him for his “com­mon touch” — a tricky word that eas­ily re­minds one of “Ubaba lis­tens”, Zuma’s for­mer cam­paign ticket, and how cat­a­stroph­i­cally it ended for all of us.

It may be true that Mabuza, 58, is hum­ble and down to earth, based on his up­bring­ing as “a vil­lage boy”. But strate­gi­cally, he would be do­ing him­self a dis­favour if he re­minded the pub­lic of how Zuma was sweettalked into their ears be­fore he put the coun­try through tu­mul­tuous times.

The for­mer Mpumalanga pre­mier has care­fully man­aged his re­la­tion­ship with Ramaphosa, in­clud­ing re­tain­ing the staff that Ramaphosa had hired in the of­fice when he was still Zuma’s deputy.

He also takes the gov­ern­ment tasks that Ramaphosa gives him very se­ri­ously, which may count in his favour when the mo­ment comes. These in­clude lead­ing pro­grammes on so­cial co­he­sion, HIV/Aids cam­paigns and the land is­sue.

In his di­ary, City Press hears, these items come first – and “that ex­plains why he has not been fea­tur­ing a lot in ANC po­lit­i­cal events”.

In any case, “he would pre­fer that Luthuli House in­flu­ences his po­lit­i­cal di­ary by de­ploy­ing him”, says a source, in­stead of go­ing on a frolic of his own.

But op­po­nents at­tribute his ab­sence in the ANC space to a grow­ing para­noia that he may not be safe af­ter a food-poi­son­ing in­ci­dent — a sub­ject he avoids dis­cussing as it ap­pears to trau­ma­tise him.

They also point to the fact that his of­fice di­ary is metic­u­lously combed to avoid any pos­si­ble threats – like the chaos that erupted in Au­gust at the fu­neral of the late strug­gle icon, Zon­deni Sobukwe, in the Eastern Cape, where he had to be whisked away by se­cu­rity be­cause of a rowdy crowd.

His camp dis­agrees. Us­ing his aborted Eastern Cape ap­pear­ance as an ex­am­ple, they say it had not been sub­jected to the rig­or­ous checks usu­ally con­ducted be­fore his of­fi­cial vis­its be­cause his at­ten­dance was re­quired at the last minute, af­ter Ramaphosa pulled out.

Mabuza avoids pitch­ing at poorly or­gan­ised events, which is why ev­ery in­vi­ta­tion is thor­oughly ver­i­fied be­fore he con­firms his at­ten­dance.

Many South Africans say Mabuza “saved the na­tion” when he united his Mpumalanga vot­ing bloc be­hind Ramaphosa at the Nas­rec con­fer­ence last De­cem­ber.

The al­ter­na­tive would have been a Zuma-spon­sored Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma pres­i­dency.

But Mabuza made pow­er­ful en­e­mies in the process, and it has come back to bite him as ANC branches sub­mit can­di­date nom­i­na­tions for the elec­tion lists.

His re­cep­tion in eThek­wini in KwaZulu-Natal, at the ANC’s up­com­ing Jan­uary 8 rally, will be ea­gerly watched, given the whis­pers that the prov­ince is a “no-go area” for him.

A cam­paign is also un­der way to have him nom­i­nated very low on the ANC elec­tion lists in or­der to por­tray him as un­pop­u­lar.

Oth­ers sug­gest that Mabuza has also be­come jit­tery about the list process, say­ing he has even taken time out of his of­fi­cial di­ary to go and lock down sup­port in his home prov­ince of Mpumalanga to avoid hu­mil­i­a­tion.

Those itch­ing to step into his shoes have also been watch­ing closely and work­ing hard to po­si­tion them­selves favourably in Ramaphosa’s eyes.

Mabuza’s be­lief is that he has been con­sis­tent and com­mit­ted to the unity project, so it is not true that he sold out the Dlamini-Zuma lobby.

A story is told that he once came un­in­vited to a cau­cus meet­ing of the Dlamini-Zuma lobby some­where near Nas­rec while the speaker was busy talk­ing ill about him, cre­at­ing an awk­ward mo­ment.

This story is used as an ex­am­ple that the DlaminiZuma camp also knew that he was not on their side. A Zuma aide says the rift be­tween Mabuza and the Dlamini-Zuma camp started when Dlamini-Zuma re­fused to have him as her deputy can­di­date for Nas­rec.

The then mem­bers of KwaZulu-Natal’s ANC provin­cial ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee and their Mpumalanga coun­ter­parts failed to re­solve the stand­off.

City Press has also learnt that, as part of his unity cam­paign, Mabuza has been qui­etly lob­by­ing for­mer North West pre­mier Supra Mahumapelo to aban­don his fight with Luthuli House over the dis­band­ment of his provin­cial ex­ec­u­tive. He is do­ing this, ac­cord­ing to sources, to once again “save Ramaphosa”, amid fears that the Nas­rec lead­er­ship is be­ing un­der­mined.

The in­ter­ven­tion is cited as an ex­am­ple of how Mabuza silently works the ground in re­build­ing the ANC, with­out court­ing me­dia at­ten­tion.

In a re­cent in­ter­view, ANC sec­re­tary-gen­eral Ace Ma­gashule said that there had been no for­mal de­ploy­ment for Mabuza to meet Mahumapelo.

“But if there was or if there is, I think en­gag­ing with him is the right thing to do. That is how lead­er­ship is done; it is the right thing to be done.”

On the down­side, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Ramaphosa and Mabuza’s of­fice has not been good on some oc­ca­sions.

For ex­am­ple, when a news­pa­per called Ramaphosa’s of­fice to ask about Mabuza’s re­cent “sick leave”, the re­porter was re­ferred to Mabuza’s of­fice, when, in fact, the pres­i­dency should have been com­fort­able about clear­ing is­sues to do with the deputy’s of­fice too.

The ap­par­ent fric­tion has been at­trib­uted to an ob­ser­va­tion that Ramaphosa had staffed his of­fice with am­bi­tious peo­ple who would nat­u­rally be wary of Mabuza’s po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions post the Ramaphosa era.

As deputy pres­i­dent, Mabuza is in a prime po­si­tion to suc­ceed Ramaphosa if the ANC branches pre­ferred him.

Mabuza may have even fan­cied tak­ing over the pres­i­dency sooner, when Ramaphosa mys­te­ri­ously back­tracked on the Bosasa fund­ing scan­dal last month, af­ter hav­ing con­fi­dently as­sured Par­lia­ment that all was above board.

But it is clear that the op­po­si­tion would rather spare Ramaphosa to avoid leav­ing the door wide open for Mabuza.

If any­thing, Mabuza needs to work on the low level of trust that he en­joys in the pub­lic eye. His strat­egy to re­main a closed book ex­ac­er­bates the prob­lem.

In Au­gust, he un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally re­sponded to a New York Times ar­ti­cle that painted him as a shady char­ac­ter who would not hes­i­tate to kill to push through his po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions.

But that train has long left the sta­tion be­cause the nar­ra­tive be­came en­trenched in the pub­lic mind many moons ago.

On its pre­ferred elec­tion list, the Ramaphosa lobby group has placed Mabuza as its num­ber two.

But “DD” would know well that he has never been Ramaphosa’s pre­ferred deputy – and that if he gets snubbed, it should not come as a sur­prise.


THE JURY’S OUT Deputy Pres­i­dent David Mabuza’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture is in­de­ter­mi­nate

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