Politics

The year ahead in SA politics: Gwede Mantashe

By Branko Brkic 6 January 2010

2010 looks like the year when tensions within the tripartite alliance are going to get hotter. And as a result, the person who's likely to need the antacids is Gwede Mantashe.

It is pretty obvious that the ANC Youth League (read: Julius Malema) is mobilising against Mantashe. It  wants Fikile Mbalula to take over as ANC secretary-general. And the weak point it’s exploiting is Mantashe’s other job, as the SA Communist Party chairman. The focus will probably be on Mantashe’s comments originally designed to mollify business and those who are quite attached to inflation targeting and judicial independence. Malema and co. will say he is no longer a lefty, and has possibly, even worse, become a counter-revolutionary.

Malema may also be hoping that Mantashe finally falls into the trap he’s set for him, and disciplines him. That way the League would have an immediate reason to attack Mantashe, which in turn would start a fight the League fancies itself winning.

Add to that the fact that this is really the year when the intra-ANC debate around economic policy is supposed to get under way, and it’s going to be a tricky 12 months for the man whose job description is effectively CEO of the broadest church in the country. He’s probably looking forward to the World Cup, perhaps hoping he will get some respite from the public glare. At least there’s no election this year Mantashe would have to worry about. But any campaigning that will happen will actually be an internal fight for ideas and jostling for power. And he knows that’s far worse than any external type of campaign.

All of this will come to a head during this year’s national general council meeting of the ANC. Mantashe will get no sleep for the week before and the days of this gathering. It’s the most important ANC gathering between leadership conferences, and will no doubt lead to fights about policy and possible power shifts.

But if there’s anyone who can soak up all this pressure, it’s Mantashe. Sure, the Youth League has redoubtable campaigners, and will blow loud and long at him. Some of it will be in code, as it was for most of the 2009, and some of it more direct. But in politics, age and treachery are no match for age and skill. (John Smit is living proof that the same holds for rugby as well.) And Mantashe will probably have some strong support from President Jacob Zuma. If Mantashe goes, Zuma has to find someone else to do the job, and that’s a big ask; imagine how many people might have left to join Cope if Fikile Mbalula had been in charge.

Mantashe also has an ace up his sleeve: his relationship with the unions is extremely strong. In another life he was the head of the National Union of Mineworkers. And he gets on very well with Cosatu, which is getting more and more irritated with Malema (remember its downright repudiation of his demand that Bobby Godsell leave Eskom). It’s his relationship with this third leg of the alliance that could really help Mantashe keep his job – and keep that pesky League at bay.

By Stephen Grootes

(Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter)

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