The charismatic politician-turned-businessman-turned-politician is having another go at the ANC presidency. He made a series of fatal blunders the last time around, which resulted in an abrupt climb-down from his soapbox. As the “Anyone But Zuma” campaign takes flight, it would perhaps be wise for him and his backers to avoid making the same mistakes again. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
You have to hand it to human settlements minister Tokyo Sexwale: he really does have staying power. After his unsuccessful attempt in 2007 to contest the ANC presidency, he could easily have slinked back to his formidable business empire and continued his quest to take over the continent through the private sector.
Instead, he accepted one of the least glamorous, and most demanding, Cabinet portfolios and fell in line with the clanging machinery of Jacob Zuma’s administration. Now he’s throwing his hat into the ring again, reportedly as the face of the “ABZ” (Anyone But Zuma) campaign as momentum builds towards the ANC’s 53rd national conference in Mangaung in December.
The slate apparently being circulated by his supporters in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape features ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe as Sexwale’s deputy, sports minister Fikile Mbalula as secretary-general, KwaZulu-Natal education MEC Senzo Mchunu as deputy secretary-general, North West premier Thandi Modise as national chairwoman, and arts and culture minister Paul Mashatile as treasurer-general.
Whoever came up with the slate decided on a mix of names to satisfy all the provincial, ethnic, league and gender interests. But these people have no chemistry and would probably be as dysfunctional as the current group of top six officials.
The priority, it would appear, is to get “anyone but Zuma” elected, and because deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe is reluctant to raise his hand until the right moment, Sexwale has stepped into the temporal breach.
But those running Sexwale’s campaign had better consider why it failed the last time and not repeat those mistakes. Simply reminding ANC members what an awful president Zuma is and that Motlanthe isn’t keen for a showdown does not mean they will necessarily vote for Sexwale.
In 2007, it was partly the manner in which Sexwale went about his campaign that led it to bomb out. In January of that year, the Sunday Times reported that Sexwale would challenge Thabo Mbeki for the ANC presidency and that several of the party’s provincial leaders had met and decided he was “the right man for the job”.
Again in May of that year, the Sunday Times ran a follow-up story under the headline “Sexwale candidacy torpedoes Mbeki”, alleging that his bid for the ANC presidency was gaining support, with Mbeki loyalists defecting to his camp. The story also alleged that there were cracks appearing in Zuma’s camp.
The stories gained traction in the mass media with the help of Sexwale’s formidable spin machinery, but backfired in the ANC’s actual structures. The fact that the stories were carried by the Sunday Times, the flagship of the Avusa stable in which Sexwale’s Mvelaphanda had controlling shares, gave ANC members the impression that he was campaigning through his lapdogs in the media. Considering the bizarre way the party runs elections, where it is considered “unANC” for leaders to campaign for positions, this move rubbed many people up the wrong way.
The second mistake Sexwale made was to also try and project himself as a victim of Mbeki’s reign of terror. He would tell anyone willing to listen to the incredibly complicated story about how he was falsely accused in a bogus drug deal while he was premier of Gauteng in the mid 90’s, and how this made him quit politics. After years of minding his own business, in 2001 he was again falsely implicated – together with Cyril Ramaphosa and Mathews Phosa – in a plot to topple Mbeki.
Sexwale is very bitter about the two incidents and has never forgiven Mbeki for them. He also feels betrayed by Zuma who, on hearing about the plot allegations, immediately issued a public statement denying he had any political ambitions and pledging his unwavering support for Mbeki. Sexwale was angered that Zuma didn’t inform him, Ramaphosa and Phosa about the allegations and, in saving his own skin, made them look like rabbits in the headlights when the story broke.
The problem with this story was that, whereas some people who heard it might have sympathised with Sexwale, it was hardly comparable to the kind of humiliation Zuma had been through after being fired as deputy president and charged with corruption – which was all blamed on Mbeki. Sexwale seemed not to appreciate that, unlike Zuma, he landed in the Aston Martin and could hardly expect ordinary ANC members to feel sorry for him and therefore vote for him.
His other campaign tactic was to generously sponsor strategic structures and leaders of the ANC doing his bidding. While Sexwale and his company had always been charitable towards the ANC, the fact that money was being dispensed specifically for his campaign purposes was seen as an attempt to buy votes.
When Sexwale realised that the Zuma tsunami heading for Polokwane was really unstoppable – as Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi had predicted – he decided to throw his lot in with that camp. But again he offended people by trying to negotiate for the second place on the Zuma ticket in exchange for his support.
When the Zuma camp simply ignored all his overtures, Sexwale eventually capitulated and supported Zuma without any assurances of where he would feature on the slate. As things turned out at Polokwane, he did not get any position in the top six and was voted in 10th place for a position on the ANC national executive committee.
To his credit, Sexwale has worked hard since then to build grassroots support. Through his government portfolio, he has a better public and people-centred profile than he did in 2007. He has also taken seriously his deployment by the NEC to KwaZulu-Natal and has been active in the province – to the extent that over-enthusiastic police spooks assumed he was campaigning there covertly and concocted a discredited intelligence report saying so.
Though Sexwale was patently aware that KwaZulu-Natal was always going to back Zuma for the presidency, he continued his work in the province in order to disarm the Zuma loyalists and show he was not an enemy.
Over the past weekend, he bit the bullet and sat through the ANC KwaZulu-Natal conference as the province went through an elaborate exercise to endorse Zuma’s re-election. It demonstrated his commitment to the ANC and his ability to work with all factions – even those who sing insulting songs about his friend, the expelled ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema.
But Sexwale’s camp has again chosen the media, and the Sunday Times in particular, to announce his campaign – which may have the same effect it did the last time. The simultaneous presence of the “ABZ” campaign story in City Press suggests there was deliberate circulation of information this weekend.
Moreover, the City Press story included information about payments from Mvelaphanda to Malema’s Ratanang Family Trust, which indicates that Sexwale was again throwing money around.
Malema has now been thoroughly discredited and dislodged and is more a liability than a campaign strategist for Sexwale. Sexwale needs to shake him off quickly and find other influential ANC figures who hold sway in ANC branches to do his bidding.
With seven months to go and Zuma’s currency unpredictable, Sexwale could still mount a serious challenge for the ANC’s top job. However, if he is to make any serious headway, he needs to listen to advice we've already given to President Zuma and literally go to ground – and leave Mvelaphanda’s chequebook behind. DM
(Disclosure: Tokyo Sexwale's Mvelaphanda was a majority shareholder in iMaverick/Daily Maverick spiritual predecessor, Maverick magazine)
Photo: Businessman Tokyo Sexwale addresses journalists in Cape Town October 25, 2007. Sexwale said that he had not decided whether to join the race to lead the ruling African National Congress (ANC), a position almost certain to lead to the country's presidency. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings.