Reporter's Notebook: Gwede Mantashe on Zuma's Spear, Cosatu and other mischief
Post-NEC meeting briefings at Luthuli House are about two things: getting the ANC’s opinion on the affairs of the day, and party secretary-general Gwede Mantashe leading journalists on a merry dance as he avoids questions he doesn’t want to answer and delivers stern sermons on the topics that he feels happy to hold forth upon. You know, just another Monday morning in South Africa.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has a very straightforward job after the party’s national executive committee's regular meeting. He gets into a suit and calls the country’s gaggle of political hacks to Luthuli House to tell them what the NEC has on its mind this time.
On Monday, Mantashe’s task was to report that the NEC was very unhappy with Brett Murray’s depiction of ANC president Jacob Zuma, that it had received a report on the campaign to put Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the African Union chairperson seat, that KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga had conducted what it called “successful” provincial congresses, and so on and so forth.
These sessions would have been incredibly boring were it not for the fact that they are hosted by Mantashe, who loves to turn press conferences into lectures, sermons or debates – depending on his mood, which also depends on the number of unpleasant investigative stories that ran in the papers on the morning before.
The interesting and straightforward factual bits of the post-NEC meeting statement are:
- The Limpopo provincial congress was mired in controversy, so much so that the NEC took a decision to endorse the election result, pending an investigation following up on complaints raised by certain branches. That has now happened and the NEC acknowledged that “there were numerous problems but there were no serious enough transgressions to nullify the outcome”. In other words, Cassel Mathale is safe to run amok some more in Limpopo.
- The ANC seems to be untouched by the youth wage subsidy fight between Cosatu and the Democratic Alliance. More to the point, the party has not been pricked into more urgent action. The NEC only urged that “budgets that are earmarked for [youth absorption into the labour market] should be utilised urgently”. So much for Cosatu’s contention that the ANC now agrees that the subsidy is a bad idea.
- The NEC accepted the findings of the Press Freedom Commission’s report into media regulation acknowledged that there was progress in some areas and resolved that the report should now be taken to Parliament for “further engagement”.
When Mantashe set his notes aside to address direct questions posed to him, his peeves came leaping out. For one, he’s really not happy about Brett Murray’s portrayal of Zuma. The NEC merely condemned the painting and supported the decision to urgently interdict the Goodman Gallery and City Press to remove the painting – Mantashe went to eleven with his condemnation.
“It is rude, crude and disrespectful,” he said. “It has an element of racism. It says that black people feel no pain and can be portrayed walking around with their genitals in the open. They are objects of ridicule. I can tell you that if you were to draw a white politician in that way the outcry would be totally different.”
Mantashe dismissed opinion columns and editorials that said Zuma had brought this upon himself through his conduct.
“I read the view that the president brought this on to himself,” he said, referring to a column by Avusa newspapers' editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya, in which Zuma was referred to as a stallion. “A stallion is a male horse... that is insulting... it is rude, it reflects hatred; that is all it does.”
The ANC’s application will be heard by the South Gauteng High Court on Tuesday at 12PM.
Things don’t seem to be going well between the ANC and Cosatu, at least as far as their discussions over the latter’s objection to the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (e-tolling) is concerned. Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has been saying that he and his organisation are succeeding in convincing the ANC that the whole thing is a bad idea.
“It is not helpful for any of us to exaggerate what comes out of an engagement,” Mantashe said. “What happened is that we all agreed that the highway improvement project delivered good roads. We all accept that there is debt to be paid. We agree that the government of South Africa has a duty to maintain the roads. The user-pay principle is not an issue. User-pay is a fact of life. The issue is whether e-tolls is the best system and whether the revenue is distributed properly.”
When asked what on earth the NEC meant by dismissing the debate between Cosatu and the DA over the youth wage subsidy, Mantashe said: "We are not just looking at just the wage subsidy, we are looking at using the money to help young people acquire better skills and enter the labour market.”
He complained that the debate sparked by violence between the DA and Cosatu last week had completely messed up the issue.
The political climate in the country is more heated since we last had a post-NEC meeting press conference. The ANC’s highest elected decision-making body relies on Mantashe to get its view across, and he seems to be getting more opaque and pedantic as different factions and interests across society exchange words and draw swords.
The message is obviously meant to be: “Relax, the ANC’s got this”. While Mantashe might be the best-placed person in the party to deliver that message, the number of people willing to swallow would appear to be decreasing. But that’s not what the secretary-general would say. What’s that favourite phrase of his? “The ANC is the strategic centre of power”. DM
- Reporter’s Notebook: Mantashe at work in Daily Maverick.
Photo: Gwede Manatshe. DAILY MAVERICK/Jordi Matas.