Malusi Gigaba has the right sort of generational mix. With the pizzazz of other youngsters and the discipline of his elders, he’s long been touted as a future ANC leader. As branches are nominating him for the top six, his rise might come sooner than expected. By GREG NICOLSON.
In June this year, Malusi Gigaba addressed a business breakfast of ANC sponsors and friends linked to its policy conference. As he stood at the podium, swiping at his iPad, I jotted down a story idea: “Policy conference fashion – definitely include Malusi.” He wore a bone-coloured blazer with a pocket square to match the checked shirt he wore under his sweater. His dark trousers and laceless leather shoes matched his glasses.
A cold sore sat heavily on the Public Enterprises minister’s lower lip. It’s hard not to look, he began, but we should focus on what he has to say and not the cold sore. The thing rose from his face like Mt Fuji on Japan’s horizon. But Gigaba made a joke of it – it’s been preventing him from receiving any comforting kisses during the stressful time, he said.
It’s the sort of thing that has made him popular among the public. But as Public Enterprises minister, Gigaba is central to the government’s infrastructure rollout and the ANC’s desire to create a China-esque developmental state. As an affable, iPad-carrying, tweeting, 41-year-old, he is the palatable face of generational change, a straight talking minister in high fashion. With only two months to go until the ANC’s national elective conference, he is emerging as a dark horse to take a position in the party’s top six.
City Press reported on Sunday that Gigaba has been nominated by at least 30 ANC branches from varying provinces to take an official seat on the table of the National Executive Committee. “Some said they wanted to see Gigaba become deputy president if incumbent Kgalema Motlanthe challenged President Jacob Zuma for the top spot,” said the report. “But most want him to become deputy secretary-general and step up to secretary-general or president at the ANC’s next congress in 2017.”
Gigaba has been a quiet star of the ANC government, with this publication running 2012 headlines such as “Transformation Minister Malusi Gigaba, the consummate ANC man in government” and “Ladies and gentlemen, the talented Mr Gigaba”. He is seen as a Zuma man but has kept a low profile in the lead up to Mangaung, generally ignored in the slates already proffered by provincial executive committees.
Since taking the job as Public Enterprises minister, Gigaba has been vocal about the role of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the country’s development. He has been resolute in the idea that the government is the sole shareholder of SOEs and they must be used to further the developmental objectives of the state. There are hundreds of SOEs with oversight scattered across their corresponding governmental departments. Gigaba wants to bring them all under his watching eye to see they’re investing, boosting jobs and delivering services.
But the minister hasn’t been shy about the shambles that pervades many of the organisations that fall under his responsibility. When he took over from Barbara Hogan in 2010 he admitted he faced serious challenges, but has not balked from wanting to address them. His commitment to the cause is the real deal. When last week South African Airways announced it would report a R1.3-billion loss, Gigaba refused to accept the board’s excuses and launched a task team to turn around the loss-making carrier. In such a position it might be wise to think about privatising the business, but Gigaba firmly believes he can get it on track.
He is professional in his job while also committed to the party stance. It’s a breath of fresh air when compared to another ANC youngster looking to ruffle feathers in Mangaung, Fikile Mbalula. Both men were leaders of the ANC Youth League, but have chosen opposite paths to take them to the top of the party. Mbalula’s desire to, somewhat prematurely, replace Gwede Mantashe as secretary general has been set in stone long before anyone was talking about nominations officially opening.
Gigaba, however, has been able to maintain an appearance of discipline. When Julius Malema complained he was booted out of the ANC for following the example set by the Youth League of the 1940s it was Gigaba who hit back. “Nobody can accept the proposition that militancy means attacking fellow comrades, mouthing the most vicious criticism against the movement, defying the counsel and orders of the leadership of the movement or burning down the flag and symbols of the movement.”
Gigaba’s commitment has been rewarded by the president. As Public Enterprises minister he will take a key role in what could be the most important initiative of Zuma’s presidency – the attempt to use infrastructure development to boost growth and jobs. It’s the sort of thing a future president would want on his resume, and Gigaba is being touted as a future president by many.
He remained disciplined on Mangaung this weekend: “The ultimate power in terms of the ultimate nominations resides in branches. The branches are going to pronounce themselves and some of the branches will pronounce themselves even against the guidance and guidelines provided by the PECs. So, it is democratic, it is OK to the extent branches are not being denied their responsibility to exercise final decisions over their own nominations because at the end of the day, the national conference is a conference of branches.”
It’s the stuff of political survivors, and Gigaba has certainly shown an ability to last. Unlike those who hitched their wagon to Zuma’s Polokwane campaign early in the piece, Gigaba was aligned to the incumbent. He owed much of his rise to the time he served as the Youth League leader under Thabo Mbeki. It was only during the Polokwane conference that he switched to the Zuma faction.
Now it seems that some branches want him in the top six. Unlike many of his peers in government, he appears in touch with the country and the ANC’s role within it. Unlike other young leaders, he has earned respect through discipline and commitment to his cabinet post. What he lacks, however, is a slate.
No one quite knows where Gigaba would fit into the top six, and it would truly take a conference of branches to get him there. But with Kgalema Motlanthe still reluctant to accept nomination or endorse a slate and differences in the nominations coming from PECs, there might still be space to shift Manguang’s line up. Gigaba might just squeeze in as a dark horse. In these strange and turbulent times, strange things could indeed happen. DM
“Transformation Minister Malusi Gigaba, the consummate ANC man in government,” on Daily Maverick
Photo by Reuters.