Gwede fights his cor­ner

The de­part­ing sec­re­tary-gen­eral says the ANC is a vic­tim of its own suc­cesses and that its re­cent set­backs do not mean that it will cer­tainly lose power

Sunday Times - - NEWS - By S’THEMBISO MSOMI

You can­not miss Gwede Man­tashe com­ing down the hall­way of the sixth floor at Luthuli House even when he is out of sight.

The tell­tale sign that he is about to ap­pear around the cor­ner of the long pas­sage is his un­mis­take­able voice hum­ming a tune. It can be one of the in­ter­na­tional so­cial­ist move­ment’s an­thems, a minework­ers’ strug­gle song, or one of those rhyth­mic tra­di­tional Xhosa songs he was raised on in the ru­ral Eastern Cape.

If he is not singing, it is only be­cause he has stopped by one of a dozen or so of­fices along the hall­way to chat with a mem­ber of his staff. The con­ver­sa­tions are of­ten loud and punc­tu­ated by much laugh­ter.

But to­day the rit­ual is in­ter­rupted by his deputy, Jessie Duarte, who storms out of her own of­fice across the hall­way from Man­tashe’s with a cell­phone in hand shout­ing: “Com­rade SG! Com­rade SG! Where is the SG? Hold on, Com­rade Ace. Where is the SG?”

Duarte has ANC Free State chair­man Ace Ma­gashule on the line and he ur­gently needs ad­vice from the ANC sec­re­tary-gen­eral’s of­fice on whether to ap­peal a high court rul­ing or­der­ing the party in that prov­ince to post­pone an elec­tive con­fer­ence. The con­fer­ence had been sched­uled for this week­end but the court had ruled that un­til about 20 branches have held gen­eral meet­ings in prepa­ra­tion for that con­fer­ence, it can­not go ahead.

Watch­ing Man­tashe, Duarte and party lawyer Kr­ish Naidoo hunched over the deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral’s phone and ad­vis­ing Ma­gashule on how to best han­dle the cri­sis, it is hard to be­lieve the ac­cu­racy of the me­dia re­ports that of­ten paint the ANC sec­re­tary-gen­eral’s of­fice as a floor that is split along fac­tional ANC lines.

The re­al­ity is that, with two weeks to go be­fore the party’s na­tional con­fer­ence, Man­tashe and Duarte fea­ture on two op­pos­ing elec­tion slates.

It is a de­vel­op­ment that has strongly as­so­ci­ated the sec­re­tary-gen­eral with Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa’s bid for the ANC pres­i­dency while at the same time putting the deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral firmly in the camp of an­other pres­i­den­tial hope­ful, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

En­gine of the or­gan­i­sa­tion

It was dur­ing Wal­ter Sisulu’s ten­ure as sec­re­tary-gen­eral that the of­fice earned its nick­name as “the en­gine of the or­gan­i­sa­tion” in recog­ni­tion of the im­por­tant role the of­fice plays in keep­ing party struc­tures singing from the same hymn book.

A party pres­i­dent may be the face of the or­gan­i­sa­tion — the sym­bol of its elec­tion cam­paign — but it is the sec­re­tary-gen­eral who is re­spon­si­ble for the gen­eral health of the or­gan­i­sa­tion, its growth strat­egy, and for en­sur­ing that the elec­tion cam­paign is con­ducted ef­fec­tively.

It is there­fore no sur­prise that when the party is in a state of de­cline, los­ing its share of the vote with every pass­ing elec­tion, the party pres­i­dent is not the only per­son who gets blamed. In the ANC, fin­gers are be­ing pointed at Man­tashe for many of the po­lit­i­cal fail­ings the party has suf­fered since he was first elected sec­re­tary-gen­eral 10 years ago.

Pre­dictably, many of the ac­cu­sa­tions are from the sup­port­ers of Pres­i­dent Ja­cob

Zuma who also hap­pen to be cam­paign­ing for the Dlamini-Zuma slate to emerge vic­to­ri­ous at the up­com­ing con­fer­ence. They ac­cuse Man­tashe, who cut his po­lit­i­cal teeth in or­gan­is­ing minework­ers as a trade union­ist in the 1980s, of be­ing an “out­sider” who “doesn’t un­der­stand the ANC” be­cause he never held any se­nior po­si­tion in the party be­fore his elec­tion as sec­re­tary­gen­eral in Polok­wane in 2007. That through­out his ac­tivism in the trade union move­ment, Man­tashe was an ac­tive mem­ber of the ANC and its al­liance part­ner the SACP does not seem to mat­ter to these crit­ics.

How­ever, even among those who lay the blame for the ANC’s plethora of po­lit­i­cal prob­lems at Zuma’s door, there are some­times mur­mur­ings about Man­tashe’s style of lead­er­ship — which some de­scribe as harsh, alien­at­ing and even brash, and which they say may have ex­ac­er­bated the prob­lems.

It’s been about an hour of wait­ing when Man­tashe fi­nally ush­ers us into his of­fice for this in­ter­view.

It has been a long day of meet­ings with var­i­ous del­e­ga­tions in prepa­ra­tion for the con­fer­ence. Among these has been a sit­down with the newly elected lead­er­ship of the ANC Vet­er­ans’ League, which is chaired by for­mer SABC head of news Snuki Zikalala.

Man­tashe com­plains of fa­tigue be­fore sum­mon­ing his staff for cof­fee.

He read­ily ad­mits that the past five years since the last ANC na­tional con­fer­ence, held in Man­gaung in the Free State, have been among the tough­est for the 105-year-old ANC both in­side and out­side of govern­ment. But there have been suc­cesses too, he has­tens to add.

Like what, I ask.

“We are do­ing well in ed­u­ca­tion,” he says point­ing out that when the ANC be­came govern­ment in 1994 there were only about 150 000 black peo­ple with a univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion. “There are now over 850 000 black stu­dents in uni­ver­si­ties.”

It is be­cause of its suc­cess in giv­ing ac­cess to higher ed­u­ca­tion to large num­bers of the his­tor­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged that the govern­ment is now fac­ing protests from stu­dents de­mand­ing free ed­u­ca­tion, Man­tashe says.

“You see #FeesMustFa­ll is a cri­sis of our suc­cess . . . Now when you have the hash­tags of FeesMustFa­ll, you are hav­ing a cri­sis of your own suc­cess and I think we must deal with it as that, we must not have at­ti­tude and anger over #FeesMustFa­ll. We must ac­cept it as a cri­sis of suc­cess and, ac­tu­ally, as a protest for us to suc­ceed some more.”

Prom­ise on health­care

The stu­dents who took Zuma and his as­so­ci­ates, who in­cluded Man­tashe at the time, at their word in the run-up to Polok­wane a decade ago when the

ANC promised free ed­u­ca­tion up to ju­nior de­gree level would most likely not see things that way.

But what about the Polok­wane con­fer­ence’s other big prom­ise: univer­sal ac­cess to qual­ity health­care?

“I would have loved to be talk­ing of the Na­tional Health In­surance hav­ing been im­ple­mented. In this point in time we have had the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that were used to pi­lot [the scheme]. I think the fact that we have had the suc­cess­ful pi­lot, we should move now to the next phase of im­ple­ment­ing NHI,” Man­tashe says.

He men­tions other “suc­cesses”, in­clud­ing the grow­ing role of the agri­cul­tural sec­tor in the econ­omy, es­pe­cially its con­tri­bu­tion to ex­ports.

What­ever suc­cesses the ANC may have achieved over the past five years, Man­tashe con­cedes that these would have been over­shad­owed by the Nkandla scandal, the party’s han­dling of its dif­fer­ences with for­mer pub­lic pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela, and state cap­ture.

Un­like his party pres­i­dent, who re­fuses to see the link be­tween these con­tro­ver­sies and the ANC’s poor per­for­mance in the past two elec­tions, Man­tashe says there is def­i­nitely a con­nec­tion.

“We reg­is­tered a de­cline in both elec­tions [the gen­eral elec­tion in 2014 and lo­cal govern­ment polls in 2016]. A mas­sive one in the lo­cal govern­ment elec­tion, 8% de­cline. I was look­ing into that cam­paign and I dis­cov­ered that that cam­paign was not fought on lo­cal is­sues; we could not be faulted in terms of ser­vice de­liv­ery. We could be faulted on macro is­sues . . . the op­po­si­tion plugged into the Nkandla issue, plugged into the Con­sti­tu­tional Court judg­ment [find­ing that Zuma and par­lia­ment had failed in their du­ties by not im­ple­ment­ing Madon­sela’s rec­om­men­da­tions on Nkandla], plugged into state cap­ture. And that is what cor­roded our votes in the ma­jor­ity of cases.”

Fur­ther­more, in­tra­party vi­o­lence — which re­sulted in the killing of sev­eral coun­cil­lors and can­di­dates for lo­cal govern­ment po­si­tions — also dis­cour­aged peo­ple from vot­ing ANC, he says.

He is con­vinced, though, that the ANC will win back the three met­ros it lost to a DA-led coali­tion of op­po­si­tion par­ties in 2016.

How, I ask.

“Let me give you a few ex­am­ples. Nel­son Man­dela Bay metro is in chaos, Jo­han­nes­burg is in cri­sis, Tsh­wane to a lesser ex­tent. It is up to the ANC at that level to be sys­tem­atic in deal­ing with those is­sues,” Man­tashe says.

Ex­pe­ri­ence, how­ever, shows that the ANC is poor at play­ing op­po­si­tion. Re­cent his­tory shows that once the party loses its ma­jor­ity, it never re­gains it. In­stead it de­clines with every elec­tion. Cape Town and the Western Cape are ex­am­ples.

Man­tashe strongly dis­agrees and ac­cuses me of mis­tak­ing “in­ci­dents” for trends.

“It will only be a trend if we fail to re­cover any of the met­ros we re­cently lost.”

A day af­ter our in­ter­view, the point about the ANC be­ing poor in the op­po­si­tion benches was driven home when, in

Nel­son Man­dela Bay and Jo­han­nes­burg, the party spec­tac­u­larly failed to un­seat may­ors Athol Trol­lip and Her­man

Mashaba af­ter mis­cal­cu­lat­ing that the EFF would vote with it.

At na­tional level, Man­tashe is also con­vinced that the slide in sup­port can be ar­rested. He points out that the party re­mains the big­gest po­lit­i­cal for­ma­tion in the coun­try, with a paid-up mem­ber­ship of just un­der a mil­lion.

“What we should be re­build­ing, re­ally, is the nar­ra­tive around the ANC as an or­gan­i­sa­tion. If we can get that right, the ANC would ac­tu­ally re­vert to its old and fa­mous glory.”

The ANC, he adds, needs to play a role in so­ci­ety that will re­store peo­ple’s con­fi­dence in it fol­low­ing years of cor­rup­tion scan­dals.

“I think the ex­am­ples of that would be when the SABC was ac­tu­ally go­ing down the drain, it was the lead­er­ship of the ANC in par­lia­ment that took it into a process that was painful but that ul­ti­mately cor­rected it and pulled it out of the drain,” he says, re­fer­ring to the es­tab­lish­ment of a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee whose in­quiry led to a sea change at the pub­lic broad­caster.

But didn’t you de­cide to act against Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng and oth­ers who had cap­tured the SABC for their self­ish gains be­cause you feared the op­po­si­tion was about to take the pub­lic broad­caster to court and win again?

“No. Court ac­tion we have every day. We talk court even on in­ter­nal mat­ters, so it is not a threat to the ANC. The ANC led the in­ter­ven­tion at the SABC. Only when the ANC took that in­ter­ven­tion did any­thing hap­pen be­cause every­body else would shout and shout, but in the ANC we took charge and led it, and the SABC is be­ing turned around now. That is an achieve­ment.”

A di­vi­sive de­bate

He hopes that the cur­rent hear­ings into how Eskom and other paras­tatals were cap­tured by Gupta-linked net­works will yield out­comes sim­i­lar to what hap­pened at the SABC. How­ever, he says this may be harder to achieve be­cause the ANC re­mains di­vided over state cap­ture.

“The de­bate on the state cap­ture, that de­bate is quite di­vi­sive in the ANC be­cause peo­ple have dif­fer­ent views on it, but it is quite an im­por­tant de­bate be­cause if we don’t [tackle it] so­ci­ety is go­ing to over­take us. It di­vides us be­cause oth­ers be­lieve that it does not ex­ist, by the way. It is like when you say ‘Let’s pray’ and other peo­ple be­lieve there is no God, you know. What do you do?”

But surely the sit­u­a­tions would not have de­te­ri­o­rated to cur­rent lev­els had ANC MPs, who are in the ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment, sim­ply done their job of hold­ing the ex­ec­u­tive and state-owned en­ti­ties to ac­count when they ap­peared be­fore par­lia­ment by ask­ing tough ques­tions. Why did it take so long for MPs to turn the leg­is­la­ture into an “ac­tivist par­lia­ment” as had been promised by Luthuli House ahead of the 2014 elec­tions?

“When you de­velop con­cepts, they take time to build be­cause in that process you have to ap­pre­ci­ate that you have to in­stil a new dis­ci­pline among par­lia­men­tar­i­ans: that you are not do­ing your min­is­ter or the ANC any favours by just be­ing soft and bend­ing back­wards in deal­ing with him or her. Once that is ac­cepted and un­der­stood, you are bet­ter off.”

Do you be­lieve that it is un­der­stood now? “There is an un­der­stand­ing, not every­body, you see Afrikaans says ‘Agteros kom ook in die kraal’ . . . even the last ox must come into the kraal. We will only be happy when every par­lia­men­tar­ian ap­pre­ci­ates the over­sight role of par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tees, rather than think­ing that the de­fence of the ANC is fail­ure to ask dif­fi­cult ques­tions.”

Hav­ing been in the po­si­tion for a decade, Man­tashe is not stand­ing for an­other term as sec­re­tary-gen­eral. In­stead he has been nom­i­nated for the post of na­tional chair­man. So what is his as­sess­ment of how he per­formed as sec­re­tary-gen­eral? On his watch, the ANC not only sur­ren­dered its ma­jor­ity in a num­ber of met­ros and lost sup­port na­tion­ally, it ex­pe­ri­enced two break­aways — COPE in 2008 and the EFF in 2013. Does he take any blame for that?

In true Man­tashe fash­ion, he be­gins his an­swer by point­ing to other break­aways that hap­pened dur­ing the tenures of sec­re­taries­gen­eral such as Duma Nokwe, Al­fred Nzo and even Ch­eryl Caro­lus, who was act­ing sec­re­tary-gen­eral af­ter Ramaphosa’s res­ig­na­tion in 1996.

“The break­away of COPE, I will take the blame for it. But if you look into what led to the COPE break­away . . . I have a sense that it was a pre­med­i­tated ac­tion. It was a cul­mi­na­tion of a very dif­fi­cult pe­riod. When peo­ple do anal­y­sis, they start in Polok­wane and leave the chaos and the fall­out that took place in 2005 lead­ing to Polok­wane.

“Af­ter Polok­wane, the ac­tual re­call of the pres­i­dent trig­gered to­tal anger. Eight min­is­ters ac­tu­ally stepped down.

“Now if you want to say that was my ten­ure and there­fore I must take the blame, I will ab­sorb that be­cause lead­er­ship is con­tin­u­ous. It hap­pened to be in my ten­ure and I ac­cept that.”

And the ex­pul­sion of for­mer ANC Youth League pres­i­dent Julius Malema, which re­sulted in the for­ma­tion of the EFF?

“If there is one de­ci­sion I don’t re­gret, it is the de­ci­sion on the youth league and I would imag­ine that if we did not take that de­ci­sion, we would have more chaos in­ter­nally.

“It was not a mis­take to ex­pel a young chap who you dis­ci­plined in 2010 and he comes back to do the same thing and you charge him again in 2012. At one point you must draw a line.”

Al­liance in tat­ters

When Man­tashe was elected as sec­re­tary­gen­eral, it was widely as­sumed that this would lead to im­proved re­la­tions in the ANC-led tri­par­tite al­liance be­cause he was a mem­ber of all three or­gan­i­sa­tions. But as he pre­pares to hand over the reins, the al­liance is in tat­ters, with the SACP fi­nally mak­ing good on its threat to con­test elec­tions on its own. Man­tashe, who is a mem­ber of the SACP’s cen­tral com­mit­tee, in­sists that the al­liance worked quite well dur­ing the first few years of his ten­ure.

“De­ploy­ments were dis­cussed and done. At one point the party [SACP] ac­cepted that it had more peo­ple in the cab­i­net than in any other time in his­tory. That re­flected the health of the al­liance. The al­liance is in trou­ble now, it is an­other cri­sis of suc­cess be­cause we cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment where there is an en­gage­ment. Now when that process be­comes weaker and weaker, peo­ple want to col­lapse the al­liance be­cause they are not con­sulted and now de­mand to be the de­ci­sion-mak­ers and think that if they do not say yes, there must be noth­ing hap­pen­ing in govern­ment.”

In these times of trou­ble in the al­liance, does Man­tashe find it dif­fi­cult to bal­ance his seem­ingly con­tra­dic­tory man­dates? For in­stance, this week­end the ANC na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee and the SACP cen­tral com­mit­tee are for the first time hold­ing sep­a­rate meet­ings on the same days. Which one does he at­tend?

“I al­ways tell peo­ple that I am a com­mu­nist, but I am a Kotaneist. A

Kotaneist who un­der­stands in de­tail that if you are a com­mu­nist hold­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity in an­other struc­ture, you are not a fac­tion of the SACP in the ANC. You are a com­mu­nist who is now sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the ANC. You must ex­e­cute the task of the sec­re­tary­gen­eral to the best of your abil­ity,” he says in ref­er­ence to the late SACP gen­eral sec­re­tary Moses Kotane who also served as ANC trea­surer-gen­eral.

Kotane, how­ever, op­er­ated in a dif­fer­ent era when the SACP and the ANC were not in com­pe­ti­tion. If the up­com­ing ANC con­fer­ence re­sults in the SACP and oth­ers be­ing forced out of the al­liance with the gov­ern­ing party, Man­tashe could find him­self con­fronted with a choice Kotane never even imag­ined ex­isted.

The de­bate on the state cap­ture . . . is quite an im­por­tant de­bate be­cause if we don’t [tackle it] so­ci­ety is go­ing to over­take us. It di­vides us be­cause oth­ers be­lieve that it does not ex­ist

Picture: Moeletsi Mabe

RUN­NING THE SHOW For the past 10 years Gwede Man­tashe has man­aged the ANC from this sixth-floor of­fice at Luthuli House.

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