As long-term voyeurs of the Gwede Mantashe-vs-Julius Malema relationship, we can’t help but watch with interest when they actually talk directly about each other. Especially when you consider that so often their remarks are behind closed doors. Throw Zwelinzima Vavi into the mix, and you have the recipe for a flavoursome cocktail. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
Officially, Mantashe had called the press conference at Luthuli House to talk about the ANC’s plans to remember Albertina Sisulu. But, of course, that wasn’t why the sixth floor boardroom of Luthuli House was full. No disrespect to Sisulu, but our favourite lion cub has been playing up of late, and where there’s Malema in full flight, there’s a pack of journalists right behind. Mantashe himself seems to know this. So he used the opportunity to point out that too many people were referring to Albertina Sisulu as Walter Sisulu’s wife, when she was an activist in her own right. His point being that there is an ingrained patriarchy within how we all think. It’s not a bad point, and something we should ponder deeply.
But that’s not why you’re reading this.
Once questions started, there were a couple about the Sisulu plans, and then, the floodgates were opened. You may have heard Malema’s recent claim that Thabo Mbeki was one of the best leaders the ANC’s ever had. This from the man who actively campaign against him in 2008. You may also remember Malema faced a disciplinary hearing last year, in part because he’d compared Jacob Zuma’s and Mbeki’s leadership. So what would happen now, Mantashe?
Out came that old faithful. The block. “Factually, that is correct, of all the 12 presidents of this movement, each one is an important leader of this movement….one of them happens to be Thabo Mbeki.” And further interpretation it seems, is up to us. Well yes indeed Gwede, we get it, you’re not going to say much more, okay.
But Mantashe really turned up the heat when talking about next week’s ANC Youth League Conference. Malema has been telling all and sundry that there are “forces” (love that word – Ed) intent on disrupting the event. The last League conference didn’t end with everyone keeping their pants on, so there’s some cause for concern. Mantashe says, and here we go, “when leaders claim there could be a disruption for a conference they are organising, it can be they are looking for a scapegoat early, before the conference even begins… organising a successful conference is the responsibility of the League’s leadership.”
So basically, Mantashe is suggesting Malema may indeed be making these statements simply so he can blame someone else if things do go wrong. Or even, perhaps, heaven forbid, that Malema may stage a disruption or two himself. It is the kind of thing we’ve come to associate with the Youth League.
But this does seem to up the ante. And is possibly, to us cynics, the reason this press conference was held. Mantashe is firstly trying to expose Malema, and secondly, setting him up. If the conference is disrupted, he can hold Malema to account. And yes, the ANC will send officials to go and watch the conference up close. Wouldn’t you?
Moving on from one political friend to another, Mantashe was also asked about Zwelinzima Vavi. On Monday night the Cosatu general secretary said the “time bomb of unemployment” was “creating a ring of fire around Johannesburg” of people who had no jobs, no hope of getting jobs and who were losing hope of ever working. It’s a warning he’s sounded before (in fact, at the Maverick Gathering – Ed), but it’s gaining traction. Does Mantashe agree with Vavi?
Out came the willow. “That is correct... but it is not an original observation”. Apparently, it’s a passage from original Marxist thought. We haven’t heard from old Karl for a while now have we. Mantashe’s point is that, “Cosatu must come with suggestions”. Well, Mantashe, to be fair now, they have. There was their whole big economic plan - remember, more state involvement in the economy, down with private schools, that kind of thing. They have done some serious work on this.
Mantashe couldn’t resist a dig either. Last year President Jacob Zuma and finance minister Pravin Gordhan came up with the idea of subsidising youth employment and helping firms to hire young people. Cosatu slammed it immediately, worried that it would eventually undermine its fight for “decent work”. Mantashe’s dig? “Is a wage subsidy for youth an attack on decent employment, or an effort to get more youth into employment”. Nice one. Point made.
We have said this before, but Vavi is right about the danger of poor and disillusioned people rebelling one day soon. He’s serious and he’s correct. The “service delivery” protests are really a sign of hopelessness. And once hope is lost, there is nothing left to lose. For too many people money in their hand at the end of the day is a pipe-dream. Shoving cars and other assorted VIP bling into the faces of hopeless is a recipe for disaster. But, until there is some kind of real leadership on the economic side of things, nothing is really going to change. It’s to do with the structural problem facing the tripartite alliance. It’s simply too broad and unable to spring into any meaningful action.
The person who straddles it is, of course, Mantashe. And there are times when he does that very well indeed, as he did at the Tuesday's conference. DM
Grootes is an EWN reporter.