The ANC has a particular way of electing its top leaders. It’s a time-honoured tradition of establishing and keeping a hierarchy, a “turn” system. Then you’ve got the “generational mix” debate, which is almost as old as the party itself. This is a tension that will intensify after Mangaung as a younger generation of leaders, like Paul Mashatile, manoeuvre. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
The African National Congress loves the “turn” system – you become a top-six official when your turn has come. It is a system that recognised Thabo Mbeki would be the president of the party when Nelson Mandela retired from the position, and Jacob Zuma after him. It works the same through provincial and youth league structures. It’s an informal system, one which was severely tested by the race to Polokwane.
But it isn’t just a tightly contested race between individuals and factions that can disrupt the ANC’s turn system. There’s also the fact that, thanks to apartheid, many current leaders are old and haven’t been in the steering seat all that long. ANC president Zuma is pushing 70 with a very short stick. Motlanthe isn’t far behind. ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa is 59. This wouldn’t be such a problem if it wasn’t for the growing number of people in their forties and fifties who clearly have top-six ambitions – or are on a career trajectory where a shot at the highest positions in the party is very possible. Think of people like Fikile Mbalula, Malusi Gigaba and Paul Mashatile. They’re relatively young, have built up a profile through work in the ANC and you’ve got to figure that at some point, the question of when their turn will come is going to be pertinent.
The chances of the Zuma generation staying on after the ANC’s elective conference in 2017 are slim. Someone like current Gauteng chairman Mashatile must look at people like Tokyo Sexwale and Cyril Ramaphosa (under different circumstances, both could have been the president of the ANC), who are not young anymore, and wonder if he will have to wait for 2022 before having a shot at leading the party. At some point, the generational-mix debate must speak of organisational renewal and the need for young blood and fresh ideas right at the top.
Mashatile is one of the more interesting “young” leaders in the ANC (he’s 50 years old). He’s got struggle credentials but, crucially for him, he still has age on his side. He’s very ambitious and has a very good reason not to wish the current crop of top leaders well. They took away his prize, his own province. As the Gauteng leader he wanted to continue being the premier but, instead, he’s the current minister of arts and culture. When Mbhazima Shilowa retired as premier of Gauteng in 2008, Mashatile took over as the new premier. Then he was sent to Cabinet by the national executive committee (NEC). He got the last laugh, however, when he trounced Nomvula Mokonyane to become provincial chairman. She was the NEC’s choice for the post, not Mashatile.
Prior to this, he was the finance MEC in Gauteng, and Shilowa’s right-hand man. He served the ANC and Communist Party very well after 1990, helping build branches around the country. It was the best strategy to solidify Gauteng as his home base, and he’s used it well. During the apartheid era, Mashatile was a prominent leader of the United Democratic Front and was detained without trial from 1985 till 1989. Prior to that, he was a Congress of South African Students leader.
Mashatile did make one crucial error – he backed Mbeki in the run-up to Polokwane. That basically ensured that he wouldn’t enjoy the confidence and patronage of Zuma for as long as the latter is the leader of the party.
Should Mashatile decide to make a run at a top-six position after Mangaung he’ll need to get one thing very right – he can’t make the wrong alliances anymore. He’s already sorted that out, though. He is buddies with Sexwale and Motlanthe, and will not be shy to use that to his advantage. Oh, and Malema, the one guy he has bad history with, is on his way out of the party. In fact, the beef with Malema provides Mashatile with a very important ace card, but more on that later.
Another thing that is crucial to understand about Mashatile is that he is very much like Motlanthe, in that his main weapons are patience and a ludicrous ability to be officially untainted by scandals. Mashatile’s buddies, dubbed the “Alex mafia”, have been repeatedly linked to stories of possible corruption and gross incompetence in the Gauteng Shared Services Centre (GSSC), the province’s administrative agency that answers directly to the premier. The Alex mafia are reportedly a group of old anti-apartheid fighters who now occupy several positions of influence and power in the province. The group includes Mashatile, Mike Maile, Nkenke Kekana and Bridgman Sithole. Maile is the former CEO of the GCCS, and was embroiled in a spat between Gauteng Premier Mokonyane and the party’s provincial executive committee (PEC). Apparently the PEC instructed Mokonyane to reinstate Maile at the top of the GCCS, and she’s having none of it.
According to a Mail & Guardian report, Business Connexion won three tenders with GCCS. The listed company employed Mashatile’s daughter at the time. Kekana and Sithole were also shareholders in the company at the time, and Mashatile was thought to be financially linked to the company, but disowned the shares.
Despite this, Mashatile has never been charged with anything. This is quite remarkable, given that he has sometimes become the face of the dodgy ANC character with connections to companies that win tenders. Mashatile’s survival instinct is unmatched and he does it in much the same way that Motlanthe does – he uses a combination of party influence and patience to sit out the storms, knowing they’ll go away if you haven’t given someone in the ANC with a serious amount of power a reason to come after you.
According to Aubrey Matshiqi, a research fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation and the former head of the strategy unit in Shilowa’s Gauteng administration, the issue of a generational mix should be one of injecting new ideas. “My sense is that this type of argument only applies at the very top of the ANC,” he said. “The Youth League likes to point out that Walter Sisulu was just 36 when he became the secretary-general of the ANC in 1949. I need to be persuaded that the Zuma generation has what it takes to change the course of the country. I think that they actually lack ideas,” he said.
“I think the ANC needs a younger generation with fresh ideas. One of the things that has to change is how the ANC elects its leaders. The party needs leaders whose thinking transcends the party, so that if another party were to ever take over, they would continue implementing the same strategies.”
So far, Motlanthe has been the great survivor in the ANC. That might change now that Mashatile has started making moves to repair his troubled relationship with Zuma. At the party’s national general council in Durban last year, the ANC Youth League tried to storm the stage to force the ANC to adopt the nationalisation of mines as policy. It caused quite a stink at the time, and how Malema and the other league leaders weren’t charged at the time is still a mystery.
But the people who went up to the stage to stop Malema were led by Mashatile. The Gauteng ANC can say to Zuma: “Look, we were a Mbeki stronghold under Shilowa, but we have put that behind us. Remember, we helped you crush Malema at the NGC.” It would be the ultimate story of swapping sides and still coming out on top – a feat that would rival Motlanthe’s at Polokwane.
If Mashatile can make Zuma accept his alliance and get rewarded with a stronger Cabinet position, it would set him up nicely for 2017. And Zuma won’t need to worry about what will happen then: he’ll be retiring. DM
- Paul Mashatile, the incredible vanishing man in Daily Maverick.
Photo: Former wife of Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, and the head of South Africa's ruling ANC, Jacob Zuma, toast as Paul Mashatile looks on. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko.