Asking Gwede Mantashe to talk about Nelson Mandela is a bit like asking Jesus to talk about God. They are from the same place, cut from the same cloth, belong to the same tribe. But Mantashe, being the son of political man, kept to more modern-day issues than matters of deep history. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
How’s this for concept-driven politics: in one speech we heard that the ANC squandered 1995 – the country isn’t patient enough to build a good sports team, never mind a nation; we have too many university students and not enough people acquiring technical skills; some people are trying to steal Madiba’s legacy; the arrest of John Block shows the ANC respects the rule of law; and Afrikaner capital has done better under us than it did under the Nationalists. All in less than an hour. And in a room with just 50 people
The occasion was Tuesday’s lecture about the role of Nelson Mandela in the liberation struggle, hosted by Ikweza, an institute that looks at politics. The setting, the Delta Park Environmental Centre, complete with young children in their gaggles, and a rather strange display about how a toilet works. No comments about our politics, please.
Mantashe is obviously passionate about sport, and the role it can play in our society. There was a strange admission that, “I always tell the ANC we squandered 1995. We won, there was a party, and that was that”. Which is rather interesting, because there are those who’ve suggested Madiba went too far in appeasing the whites in those years. But his own organisation should carry the can in a big way for not using sport effectively. Why put Makhenkesi Stofile in charge of the sport ministry for so long? All he did was hate rugby. That was it. He was the unseen minister, except when his ministry put out expensive newspaper ads saying The Beast Mtawarira (who has certainly done more for racial reconciliation than most – despite not being from here) shouldn’t be playing for the Boks. And his role pales into insignificance when compared to the person deployed by Mantashe’s party to chair Parliament’s sport committee, the incomparable Buthana Kompela. Before Julius Malema came along there was no other ANC person who angered mlungus more. No doubt Fikile Mbalula will get everyone stirred up, in the right way of course, behind the national teams.
But Mantashe also wants us to show some patience. He believes this is our biggest problem; everyone wants to win now, everyone wants our nation to be fully transformed now, everyone wants full employment now. These things, from winning a World Cup to creating a big black middle class won’t happen overnight. Sensible stuff. And then he goes and ruins it by saying that “I’m a big supporter of Peter de Villiers by the way, as Springbok coach”. Well, you’re on your own there, Mantashe.
On the judiciary, well, Mantashe’s argument goes like this. Two weeks ago, John Block was arrested. The ANC (except for its Northern Cape Youth League) said, let the law take its course. But people want us to pre-judge someone who hasn’t been convicted yet. And in fact, the people who claim the ANC is attacking the Constitution are those who want to change the Constitution, to have presidential elections and so forth. Anyway, no judge in this country has to look over his shoulder when he makes a decision.
It’s short, sharp and to the point. It’s a political argument sure, but it’ll do the usual thing of angering his opponents, and giving succour to his supporters.
Mantashe has some great stats on business. He claims that after 40 years of Nat rule, “Afrikaner capital” owned just 10% of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. He says that total has grown to 40% under the ANC. His numbers might be a little shaky, but they bolster his point that people should stop worrying so much about BEE. Although, for him, he doesn’t really respect the owners, he prefers the operators – black people who go out, get skills, and then rise up through a company and eventually run it. Come to think of it, so do we.
While we’re on the subject of skills, he reckons we have 800,000 university students, and 400,000 people studying at Further Education and Training colleges. He would like that reversed; he says it leads to a mismatch with our economy. Or the soundbite if you prefer, “I’ve never seen an unemployed artisan”. Again, we agree completely. But Mantashe has an interesting explanation: It’s about Bantu Education, the hangover left by the fear of the colonisation of the black mind. Basically, people who grew up through that system came to feel that only a university education would do, because technical fields were reserved for “scheduled persons”. These were not people who were always on time, it was Apartheid code for whites. So for black students there was no point in becoming just skilled, you were not going to get any work that way.
All in all, without touching on the usual political themes of the moment, this was a space for tackling some of the big problems we face. But while we’ve consistently said Mantashe is probably the most powerful person in our politics at the moment, even he is not going to get much of his statements transformed into reality. DM
Grootes is an EWN reporter.
Photo: The Daily Maverick.