South Africa

Men at Work: Team ANC takes the power seats

By Ranjeni Munusamy 21 May 2014

On Wednesday, the National Assembly will be occupied again when a full composite of 400 Members of Parliament take their seats – some old, some new, some defectors (therefore borrowed), and definitely more blue. And red. President Jacob Zuma will go through the motions of becoming Number One again, but rumour has it that the red team intends putting up their own candidate for the position of President of the Republic of South Africa (guess who!). The ANC’s strategy will be to get things to settle down quickly and prevent any further turbulence. This is also evident by their premier candidates, with the reduction of the risk factor in the choices. This is lockdown – ANC style. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

Imagine if David Makhura did not become the Premier of Gauteng. The factional battles in the ANC in Gauteng would have intensified, the perennial debate about who really runs the province would have continued, and the ANC would have effectively surrendered control of the big metros in the coming local government elections. Calls for the disbandment of the Gauteng provincial executive committee would have intensified. The ANC’s Gauteng provincial conference in July would have been a big gamble and the fracturing of structures would have been disastrous for the party.

It is not as if Makhura can wave a magic wand and get the ANC working as a unit, both internally and in government. On the contrary, it will take a lot of work. He is one of the few people with the requisite seniority and character to deal with the problems in the province methodically, and without upsetting the apple cart.

Why anybody else should have been in contention for the premiership of Gauteng is bizarre. If the ANC were concerned about rescuing the province and preventing further loss of support, there was really only one choice. Makhura has always been a backroom operator and one of the ANC’s top policy fundis. It is difficult to spot him in a suit or in a blue light brigade. After all the big spending and show boating, which contributed to the erosion of the ANC’s support base in Gauteng, his minimalist approach is exactly what is needed in government for the to regain lost ground.

The choice of Makhura is also Luthuli House conceding that perhaps they should have paid attention when Gauteng was ringing the alarm bells during the election campaign. The dramatic drop in support in the province bears testament to the fact that the Gauteng ANC was correct that  “normal” campaigning and deployment of party heavyweights was not enough to win back sections of the middle class who had become disappointed and angry with the ANC government.

The Gauteng ANC had wanted to coax the black middle class in particular through small discussion forums and roping in respected leaders such as former president Thabo Mbeki to campaign in the province. This plan was vetoed by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, who believed that the party’s top guns were sufficient to garner support to win the province comfortably. He was wrong.

But Gauteng is not the only problem area. ANC structures have been beset with factional battles, which the leadership was unable to intervene effectively in order to contain them. Most of these battles have been over access to power and patronage. In the past, the ANC chose premier candidates who were most amenable to the Luthuli House barons and people who were less likely to rock the boat. They also used the positions to show some commitment to gender parity.

But after a hard fought election, the ANC is not taking chances. Preserving unity, maintaining stability and reducing turbulence was seemingly a much higher priority than promoting female empowerment and finding the best candidates for the premier positions.

The ANC stuck with safe bets and strongmen like Ace Magashule and David Mabuza, in the Free State and Mpumalanga respectively, and opted for provincial chairmen like Phumulo Masualle in the Eastern Cape and Supra Mahumapelo in the North West to keep their provinces content. Replacing Senzo Mchunu in KwaZulu-Natal and Stan Mathabatha in Limpopo, who have only served short stints as premiers of their provinces, would appear as if the ANC did not give them sufficient opportunity to perform. Sylvia Lucas is a benchwarmer in the Northern Cape until the corruption case against the provincial chairman John Block plays out and the leadership of the province is sorted out.

The patchwork solution to reversing gender representation in the provincial top jobs was to appoint women speakers in provinces with men as premiers. It is a transparent move to appease women and gender activists, creating the impression that women are in important positions, when the positions of real power are filled by men.

In something of a surprise move, the ANC has also re-installed its national chairwoman Baleka Mbete as the Speaker of the National Assembly. With Mbete, the ANC was facing an additional dilemma of what to do with a person who served as Deputy President for a short while and wanted to return to Parliament.

With ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa already having secured reservations for the bench next to Zuma, any other position in Cabinet could have been perceived as a demotion for Mbete. Besides, Zuma is looking to reduce the size of his Cabinet, not create more ornamental pedestals for excess baggage. With the former Speaker Max Sisulu proving to be too much of nonconformist for the ANC, Mbete would be, as she was before, much more cooperative in the Speaker’s chair.

Now that the likes of Julius Malema and his contingent of Economic Freedom Fighters are in the House, the ANC cannot afford to take chances that a free spirit as Speaker would allow them leeway to fire missiles across the House. The trick would be to keep a tight grip in Parliament and in the provinces to make sure the ANC is protected.

The only missing piece now is Zuma’s team in Cabinet – and no doubt the same considerations will be in place when selecting the new ministers. Zuma’s core team of guardians and defenders – among them the security cluster ministers – are likely to be retained in Cabinet, although some might be moved to other portfolios.

Zuma rarely takes performance into account when appointing his Cabinet, so many of the old faces are likely to return – even if they proved to be dead wood. With the number of women as ANC premiers being sliced down to one, the president will have to make sure that there is gender parity in Cabinet, or it will expose the ANC as paying lip service to women empowerment.

On Saturday, Zuma will be inaugurated as president and immediately after he will begin summoning people to inform them of their new posts. He is expected to announce the Cabinet on Sunday, which will bring the excitement of the election and composition of a new government to a close.

By the looks of things, the ANC has every intention to lock things down and run a tight ship from now on. But as history has shown, the best laid plans of presidents and their men often go astray. DM

Photo: ANC delegates sing and dance as the NEC is announced – a clear sweep for Jacob Zuma’s supporters. Mangaung 20 December 2012. (Greg Marinovich/NewsFire)

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