Ladies and gentlemen, the talented Mr Gigaba

By Stephen Grootes 31 January 2012

‘Tis been the season for ANC politicians in general, and those of a younger (but not Malema persuasion) in particular to have been quiet about internal ANC politics. It's also been a season of silence on policy issues from our Cabinet ministers – particularly those in charge of the ministries with the most problems. But one impeccably dressed man has been consistently bucking the trend. Wherever there's been a controversy, particularly around those hot button issues such as mine nationalisation and parastatals, Malusi Gigaba has been wading in, where many fear to tread. And it seems, he's surviving very well thank you. How? And what does the future hold for him? By STEPHEN GROOTES.

Public enterprises’ Malusi Gigaba is not the youngest member of our Cabinet. That honour goes to sports minister Fikile Mbalula, but by just a few months. They’re both 40. The two just cannot be any more different, despite the fact they followed each other into the position of ANC Youth League leader. While Mbalula is full of fire and “razzmatazz”, Gigaba is quiet and sober. He gives the impression being the ANC’s chief cheerleader at public rallies would not be his first choice, while Mbalula laps it up.

It shows in the way they use their portfolios. Mbalula tells the Springboks to “moer hulle”, while Gigaba quietly tells the nation that Eskom is doing the right thing by taking power stations off-line for the summer maintenance season.

Mbalula has been the one who’s garnered more headlines. His unfortunately public campaign to become secretary-general of the ANC has ensured that. The fact that he brought that Young Lion Julius Malema into the fold (Stephen, stop mixing your metaphors! – Ed) also ensured that he’s been drawn into a morass of disciplinary action and paternity claims. And yet, for the last two years, it’s been far braver – politically speaking – to speak out against nationalisation than for it; to try to tell the youth to keep their place than to talk wildly about generational mix.

Perhaps this is how Gigaba has done it. He was Mbeki’s Youth League leader, in a way that Mbalula most certainly was not. Mbeki brought him into the big league, making him deputy home affairs minister (a portfolio he seems unlikely to return to, even if Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma does somehow still become AU chairwoman). You would have thought that post-Polokwane, that would be the kiss of death for him. And yet he’s thrived. President Jacob Zuma made him a fully blown minister. Gigaba repaid the favour by being the one Cabinet member (apart from minerals minister Susan Shabangu, who was almost forced into it) to openly oppose nationalisation. In doing so, he provided space for Shabangu. And he also showed that, on this at least, he had Zuma’s back.

What’s also so interesting is that in a portfolio fraught with massive problems, Gigaba seems to feel free to speak out and openly. The parastatals are generally a mess. Think of the stink around Siyabonga Gama at Transnet, or the mess of corporate governance that seems to follow most state entities. And yet there he is, plotting to have a big super-ministry that would run all of these entities, along a Chinese model. And this while there is still a commission investigating how the state-owned-entities should be run.

So as Mbalula’s star seems to fade along with Malema’s, where does that leave Gigaba? He’s suddenly in a very interesting position.

If you were an ANC president looking to avert any kind of leadership fight during a centenary year (apart from perhaps, the position of treasurer-general) you might want to start looking for a few compromise candidates. And, because of the growing number of younger people in the party, with the balance in fact swinging towards the young, someone who is on Twitter (and is actually typing in the words with his own two thumbs) might be a good person to include at your top table. It might be a very definite nod to the younger generation. At the same time, you get someone who is very much switched on. Someone who actually is of a different generation.

The impact of a much younger person within the ANC’s top six would be fascinating. It would be someone who has lived almost all of his political life post-apartheid. And doesn’t feel the need for Malema-style posturing about “what I did during the struggle”. In Gigaba’s life, there has probably never been the need for the culture of secrecy and fear that has infiltrated those who gave up so much time and resources to fight either in jail, or in MK or from exile. It means that you would have someone who is likely to be far more open than the kind of politics we are used to.

There is a generation of people in the ANC who are about 10 to 15 years younger than Zuma, Kgalema Motlanthe and Gwede Mantashe. They are just coming into their early fifties. Many of them have held power in the provinces; some, such as Gauteng’s provincial secretary David Makhura, for quite some time. They completely understand the need for change within the ANC. The problem is, they are stopped in their tracks by the national executive committee, which is, sort of, controlled by Zuma. But if someone like Gigaba were to get in to the top six, that would change everything. They would suddenly find themselves with an eager ear. Someone who understands that the party simply cannot continue to keep leadership debates secret in this media age. They would be very likely to, perhaps not embrace, but certainly support on some levels such a person. He would speak their language.

At the same time, Gigaba gives every impression of being someone who is disciplined. Not for him headlines about parties and his private life (although there were those flowers…) When confronted with the images of Malema’s house and watch, he comes across as a man the older ANC members could do business with. He speaks their language, he is one of them, just younger, and more hip.

It’s way too early at this point to make predictions for Mangaung (Really? – Ed). But Gigaba gives the impression he could be a compromise candidate for many reasons. He’s young, but not wild. He’s young, but not overly so. And he’s conservative, but not extreme.

But there are several pitfalls. The first is what lies in wait for every compromise candidate. If you’re not fully backed by any one group, you can just get left behind. The second is that the ANC still has a pretty strong bias against youth. For all the recent self-serving talk by Malema and co., the days of 35-year-old secretaries-general are long gone. And of course there’s a strong risk that his Mbeki-ite past could come back to haunt him. But, in what could be a politically intoxicating year, Gigaba has a particularly interesting bouquet. Watch him closely. DM

Grootes is an EWN reporter.

Photo: Malusi Gigaba (Department of Public Enterprises)


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