Paul Mashatile will be a very happy man after this weekend’s provincial general council of the Gauteng ANC, which he leads. He had things going his way – and our suspicion that he’s preparing for something big at Mangaung only got stronger. By SIPHO HLONGWANE
Most of the ANC’s provincial structures held provincial congresses over the last six or so months. There were largely no surprises, and most provincial bosses managed to hold on to their positions. The only joker in the pack all along has been ANC chairman Paul Mashatile.
After Mbhazima Shilowa resigned as premier of Gauteng in 2009, Mashatile was elected to replace him. Then he won the race to become the provincial chairman, comfortably beating Nomvula Mokonyane, who would later turn out to be the national ANC’s choice for provincial premier (and perhaps even chairwoman of the party in the province).
It was a vicious kick in the teeth for Mashatile, but he took the junior position in the cabinet and bided his time. Within the ANC, he set up an informal caucus of provincial chairs, away from the disapproving scowl of Luthuli House, where he’s been free to cajole and influence. It’s a long play in the political game, and one that will do him well in the very long run.
Another genius move for Mashatile has been to mostly stay clear of Mokonyane. Every time there has been even a whisper of a suggestion that Mashatile might be trying to interfere with the running of the Gauteng province, the ANC in the province has loudly proclaimed its chairman’s innocence. This move (or lack thereof) has given Luthuli House little ammunition with which to snipe at him.
Conventional wisdom and precedence would suggest that Mashatile should wait until 2017 to make his move for a national post within the ANC. Luthuli House is still firmly within the control of the Robben Island alumni, who wield a massive amount of power. Between ANC president Jacob Zuma and deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, the race for president of the party seems too crowded for a third candidate. It’s an unfortunate legacy of apartheid – a lot of ANC people started their political careers in the twilight of their years, meaning that everyone below has to wait a decade or more than they otherwise should have before they have a turn in the driver’s seat.
It makes little sense in that respect for Mashatile to start interfering too heavily in the Mangaung race. And yet, he has to be very aware of the fact that there are a lot of very ambitious youngsters on a very good career trajectory who might just decide to create big problems for him in 2017.
He will be considered one of the old guard by then (he’ll be 56 with yards of experience in the United Democratic Front, South African Communist Party and ANC trailing behind him). It would not be outrageous or even far-fetched for him to push strongly for some sort of generational mix at the Mangaung conference. He knows that if the policy is embraced, he stands most to benefit. The likes of Fikile Mbalula or Malusi Gigaba are still considered too young for such positions.
Such a success for Mashatile would be a poke in the eye for the ANCYL, who have banged on the generational mix the hardest for Mbalula’s sake. The ANCYL and Mashatile don’t like each other very much.
Even if he realises that he may walk away empty-handed from Mangaung, it will do him good to establish very strong credentials there. It will make whoever becomes the ANC president less likely to ignore him, and give him good seniority in the party – not a bad move if his endgame is the presidency within the next 10-12 years.
Before all of that can happen, Mashatile needs to ensure that the province is firmly behind him ahead of Mangaung. And it starts with the ANC policy conference, to be held at the end of the month in Midrand. Mangaung may certainly end up being all about the politics of personalities, but the policy conference is a good place to test one’s political strength and to assert authority. Last week the ANC Youth League announced what its policy positions at the policy conference will be. The Gauteng ANC could not have chosen a more diametrically opposed position.
At a hastily convened press conference on Sunday afternoon at the wane of the provincial general council, called in preparation for the policy conference, Mashatile and provincial secretary David Makhura spelled out some of the decisions that had emerged from the commissions.
The Gauteng ANC has rejected the call for the wholesale nationalisation of all strategic sectors of the economy. In fact, from Makhura’s description, it does not sound like the province even supports the idea of nationalisation. The idea of state intervention via a state-owned mining company was welcomed, but that’s the extent of the support for government intervention in the mining and energy sector.
The province also strongly opposes the expropriation of land without compensation, calling instead for the ANC to fall in line with the government’s current policy of willing buyer, willing seller. However, the Gauteng ANC also called upon the party to place food security at the forefront of land redistribution, saying that the land should be redistributed to those who can actually till it.
The Gauteng ANC’s policies are the central line within the party. This is exactly where Mashatile has wanted to position himself. (At the ANC’s national general council, he physically prevented the ANCYL from trying to force nationalisation of mines on to the list of resolutions.)
The provincial legislature’s integrity commission, and the party’s own integrity commission, will have to deal with Gauteng MEC Humphrey Mmemezi, who is accused of grossly misusing his government credit card, according to Makhura. As far as Mashatile’s political ambitions are concerned, the Mmemezi problem is one he could do without.
At the very least, the deputy provincial secretary is not politically astute enough to hide his alleged corruption, or it could be something that could split the province when he needs it to be united behind him. In any case, Mashatile has kicked the problem to the provincial legislature, where presumably it will only resurface at a time when it won’t cause too much of a headache for him.
On two other key issues, the Gauteng ANC is going out of its way to oppose the line that Luthuli House wants everyone to toe. The province is steadfastly refusing to drop its decision to allow the provincial structures to debate the leadership of the ANC. It flies directly in the face of the national executive committee’s ban on the leadership debate, which it wants to only start in October once nominations for national positions are open.
“The council agreed that all structures of the ANC must continue with the assessment of leadership as we go towards Mangaung,” Mashatile said at the press conference. “But this debate must be done within the proper structures of the ANC. We don’t want this debate to happen in shebeens or taverns. It must be done properly.”
Makhura called upon Luthuli House to call to order all provinces that have openly expressed their support for a specific person for the position for president. As the only person who has been openly supported is Zuma, he is calling for Zuma to tell provinces to stop openly supporting him before the nomination period arrives. By the NEC’s own rules, Makhura is correct. It is a clever way of nudging Zuma into a corner.
If we are reading the tea leaves correctly, there is a massive doubt that Gauteng will be supporting Zuma come Mangaung. The province is tiny compared to the others, but it wields a great deal of influence – there are perks to being situated in the richest province, after all – and is not afraid to disobey Luthuli House when it wants to. And there’s the added promise that the entire province will support Mashatile at Mangaung. Or, as Makhura put it: “We are going to ensure that Gauteng speaks as one voice at the policy conference and the national congress.”
This is no idle threat: the six members of the ANC in Tshwane were expelled for dissent and the council upheld their suspension. Interestingly, the 19 party members who were involved in a violent riot in Ratanda and subsequently suspended also saw their sentences upheld by the council.
The only person who knows if Mashatile will make a move for a top-six position at Mangaung (he’s certainly an attractive running partner for anyone who decides to have a go at Zuma) is Mashatile himself. But it looks like he’s laying the necessary groundwork. DM
Photo: ANC Gauteng’s Paul Mashatile & David Makhura (Greg Nicolson)