ANC NGC: Fikile Mbalula does his best to scupper his own top-job bid

By Stephen Grootes 23 September 2010

The ANC has said it over and over again: The meeting in Durban is not an elective conference and nobody has plans to oust anybody else. So we'll say it again: Fikile Mbalula is eyeing Gwede Mantashe much as the fox eyes the chicken. Except this fox may not be as smart as we gave him credit for. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

If you are one of the chosen, that tight group of mortal enemies and life-long comrades that make up the ANC’s top table, you don’t have a great deal to fear. Helen Zille? Bah. That funny Zulu guy who split off in the ‘60s? A joke. Cope? Oh, come on, let’s be serious.

On the other hand, being asked, in the full glare of public scrutiny, whether you are running for a position in the top six leadership of the ANC itself? Well, that’s gut-wrenching. Discombobulating. More horrific than fingernails scraping down a blackboard.

And utterly inevitable. After the build-up, the speculation, the denouncement of the speculation, the leaks and denouncement of the leaks, there was no way it wasn’t going to happen. Scary? Oh yes, but the kind of scary for which you can steel yourself.

There is no right answer in the world of the ANC, but there is a wrong one. The Kgalema Motlanthe route (“I’d rather be an advisor than president”) you can survive. The Zuma line (“I am just a cadre of the ANC willing to serve”) will earn you points internally, though it sounds foolish to everyone who isn’t a cadre. The worst answer we’ve heard, though, the one you’d think would have been crafted with care and honed with the help of friends and advisors, came on Wednesday: “I will answer that question at the appropriate time.”

For Fikile Mbalula, rising young star of the movement with a real chance of becoming president some day, that was unforgivable. An ugly hedge, uglier by far than the evasions used by Jacob Zuma before Polokwane or the devil-may-care admissions by Tokyo Sexwale. It satisfies neither allies nor foes nor ordinary concerned citizens, while annoying supporters staking their futures on a “yes” as well as those who forgo personal advancement by toeing the selfless-cadre line. Worst of all, though, is that it can mean anything your enemies want it to mean.

If we weren’t so utterly immune to conspiracy theories, we’d wonder whether he hadn’t been manoeuvred into it through some skilful rumour manipulation before the fact.

Does Mbalula still have the ambition to become the secretary general of the ANC, and does he intend to do so in 2012, by forcing Gwede Mantashe out if necessary? We have every reason to believe so. The nice thing about the ANC is just how comprehensively everything that happens in its internal debates leaks to the media, and when you involve the ANC Youth League, the problem is not so much a scarcity of information as sorting the truth from the outright lies.

In the past couple of days those ambitions have suffered an awful setback. If anything, Mbalula will be leaving the NGC with less support than he had coming in, rather than laying the groundwork for a serious campaign as had been the plan. Right from the starting gun the Mbalula/Malema band has been outplayed, outfought, and, if Wednesday was anything to go by, simply outwitted. If you’ve been following our predictions, you’ll know we said the people who run the show will be running the show. Much like Malema managed to manipulate the Youth League meeting that preceded this one, those in charge here (Stephen, just stop being bloody coy and name Gwede Mantashe already – Ed) have managed to have it all their way.

It’s too early to call Mbalula dead in the water, and it has proven dangerous to underestimate the extent to which Malema can dominate any sufficiently controversial discussion. Then again, 2012 is starting to loom large, and the two youngsters will need to learn the ways of the wily and crafty pretty damn quick if they hope to succeed. DM

Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter.

Photo: The Daily Maverick.


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