Reporter's notebook: The Gospel according to Saint Gwede
- Stephen Grootes
- 29 Nov 2011 (South Africa)
For some time ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has been creating his own brand of honest denialism and straight talking – but really not 'cos actually, it's quite convoluted brand of language. We call it Mantashian (not to be confused with Martian). It often serves a variety of purposes – usually all of them his own. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
Often when Mantashe has to report back on a national executive committee meeting, he uses the occasion to give those elements of the committee which he disapproves of a dressing down. And then punt a few hobbyhorses of his own. On Monday he was at his best, discoursing wonderfully in full Mantashian flow – about mine nationalisation, that Info Bill and leaks.
Technically, the main point of this final NEC meeting of the year, held in Bloemfontein of all places, at the wonderfully but not really aptly named Phillip Saunders Resort was to discuss the party's centenary celebrations. We won't bore you with it, because, well, you don't care. They're on track.
You may recall, some time ago, at the ANC's national general council in September 2010 in fact (remember, the ANC Youth League tried to storm the stage etc.), that the party took a resolution to form a task team of academics, experts and members to investigate mine nationalisation. As a political kick for touch, it was one of those Naas Botha torpedo specials, with a real spiral that meant it bounced just before the touch line. Well, now it's line-out time. That team has visited 12 countries, looked at different models and, over the weekend, presented its report.
Two months ago, that would have been massive news. Now that Julius Malema is heading Stage Leftward, it's not. But Mantashe is taking no chances. He says "We told them it needs more work"; he wants it in plainer English. And he, and rest of the NEC of course, want case studies, recommendations and options at the end. His point is that "this is not a Masters dissertation", it must be read by every member in ANC branches so they can discuss it. And for that to happen, "they must be able to refer back and say this is what happened here, and this is what happened there and so on". Bear in mind, Mantashe has a Masters degree himself, and as perhaps our foremost political linguist, he knows a thing or two about words. Although he could hardly be accused of being plain-speakin'.
What's really happened here is that the NEC is going to delay things until the last possible moment. The longer this goes on, the weaker – goes Mantashe's logic at least – Malema and his acolytes will be. And if this can be delayed until, say next year, well brilliant. At the same time, by asking for "options" and "recommendations", he's forcing the panel to take sides. Already there's been one leak that full-on nationalisation is defined by the panel as very expensive and the "final option" that should be considered. Mantashe and co. may be pushing the issue here, he wants it spelt out in very bold letters: how nationalisation could be a very bad option. Well that's how it looks at the moment at any rate.
Mantashe takes great pride in being a coal miner. Speaking as COP17 was getting underway, he spoke about how he's made a journey from believing just in coal as an energy source to realising that an "energy mix" is important. But we thought he might need the oxygen when he started to talk about leaks – he means people who are in the NEC who leak information.
"When you do that you are denigrating yourself… you go from being an elected leader of the ANC to being a nameless source." Okay, he's said things like that before. But then the apoplexy started to hit: "You are a fifth column, you are an agent of someone else, it speaks to the political consciousness as an individual… you don't leak the decision, people leak the dynamics… you are deliberate about hurting the organisation". Very very angry indeed. Earlier he'd pointed out "You will never go off the record with me, I will always say, quote me, as Gwede Mantashe". He has been absolutely true to that in our experience. So perhaps he's finally just losing his temper on this issue, it's not the first time he's brought it up. Or maybe he's feeling pretty emboldened right now for some reason… Or maybe a particular leak has irritated him particularly badly. Either way, he's furious.
Mantashe's problem, of course, is that all the language skills in the world won't stop this practice. It happens because NEC meetings involve 86 people, and are held behind closed doors. That's just the way it is. It's part of a democracy with a relatively free media.
Talking of which…"I've seen many columns saying our MP's should have been able to vote their conscience". You know what's he talking about right? Okay. "If we do that we will not have an organisation…we will have groups of Christians and Muslims and Hindus and traditionalists…” Jackson Mthembu chimed in helpfully at this point with "and atheists". Of course, unfortunately for unlovely hacks like me, he's absolutely right. In our political system, with proportional representation, MP's have to vote the party line, otherwise there will be chaos. And as Aubrey Matshiqi pointed out in Monday's Business Day, to allow people to vote their conscience could turn out to be a very messy business. To take his point further, one could imagine that many of those who are calling for ANC MPs to be allowed freedom on this issue, would have been among those applauding the fact the ANC did not allow them any latitude whatsoever when it came of the Civil Unions Bill (which allowed gay marriage).
Overall, this NEC meeting appears to be part of a much broader sweep of political trends that is currently moving through the ANC. The Zuma Tsunami is gaining power again; he and Mantashe are joined at the political hip. As Malema starts to fade into the sunset, they have real freedom, space in which to move. For now it's about tying up loose ends – sorting out the nationalisation issue once and for all is one of those. So is making it clear that the days of ill-discipline being the norm are over. It's really all about exerting authority in the ANC. For the party, that's probably a good thing. People have been way too free of late. For us hacks though, life could be a little boring for a while. But, no doubt, not for long. DM
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