South Africa

South Africa

The Gathering 2015: Mashatile distances ANC from Nkandla spending

The Gathering 2015: Mashatile distances ANC from Nkandla spending

Powerful ANC Gauteng chair Paul Mashatile has put clear blue water between his party and Police Minister Nathi Nhleko’s report on the spending at Nkandla. Mashatile’s surprise announcement was made at the Daily Maverick’s The Gathering conference in Johannesburg on Thursday, in the course of a wide-ranging discussion with DA leader Mmusi Maimane and unionist Zwelinzima Vavi. By REBECCA DAVIS.

Paul Mashatile might be on the receiving end of a frosty phone call from Luthuli House sometime soon. Speaking at the Daily Maverick’s Gathering, Mashatile took an unexpected route when it came to Police Minister Nathi Nhleko’s Nkandla report.

“When the minister gave his report, he said something to the effect that more is going to be spent [on security at Nkandla]. I just want to say that is not the ANC position,” Mashatile said. He indicated that the report was yet to be discussed by the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC), and for the moment remained purely Nhleko’s view.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane suggested this was hypocritical, pointing out that Mashatile was a member of the ANC’s parliamentary caucus which voted in support of the report. Mashatile demurred: “I supported the report being discussed,” he said.

Unionist Zwelinzima Vavi went on to congratulate Mashatile. “I support Paul and his guts,” Vavi said. “If we had had a lot of Paul Mashatiles in the NEC in 2009 [when the first reports about Nkandla surfaced]…we would not be sitting with R246 million [bill] now.” Vavi said that current cabinet ministers should “hang their head in shame” about the Nkandla security upgrades.

On Nkandla, it appeared that there was a remarkable amount of consensus between Vavi, Mashatile and Maimane. That was not the only issue on which the three men found common ground: they also came together on an expressed desire for a non-racial society. “Sometimes it’s okay to agree,” Mashatile said.

“When I joined the ANC… I was taught we are fighting against a system, not white people,” he elaborated.

The question of what lay in the futures of Vavi and Mashatile was broached by moderator Ranjeni Munusamy. There is some uncertainty on both counts. Vavi currently lacks any formal position after being ousted from trade union federation Cosatu, though he continues to play an influential role in union politics from the sidelines. And there are suggestions that Mashatile is preparing to make a play for a position near the top of the ANC leadership.

Both men were reluctant to talk specifics. Vavi acknowledged wryly that he was currently “part of the 8,7 million unemployed”. He rejected the idea that he would start his own political party, however, saying that such matters were “up to the workers”. Later in the discussion, he described himself as an “activist” rather than a politician.

When Munusamy asked Vavi whether he would consider throwing his lot in with the Economic Freedom Fighters, Vavi laughed off the suggestion. But he said he wasn’t ruling anything out: “Never say never”.

Mashatile didn’t want to be drawn on his possible leadership aspirations either. “It’s a rumour for now,” he said.

On the matter of the DA’s leadership, Maimane again paid tribute to his predecessor Helen Zille’s contribution to the party. “We’re the only political party which had had a female leader,” Maimane said. (Except for Agang, the National Freedom Party, the Independent Democrats…)

Asked if Mashatile could foresee a female leader of the ANC in the near future, he said that the party was open to being led by anyone. “I wouldn’t mind being led by a woman,” he said.

The harshest words about the status of South Africa in the discussion were spoken by Vavi in his prefatory statement. The unionist hit out at President Jacob Zuma for having told Parliament that the country was “doing very well”.

“In our real world,” Vavi said, “South Africa is teetering on a knife edge”. Unemployment and poverty were causing South Africa’s poor to ask “fundamental questions about whether a tipping point has been reached”. Vavi criticized the government for being in thrall to ratings agencies, and also said that Nkandla was by no means the only government project to overrun its budget. In the case of the Medupi power station, he pointed out, the project was initially costed at R52 billion, which then climbed to R130 billion. The Gautrain project also exceeded its budget by almost R21 billion.

“This ticking bomb continues to tick, with our cities surrounded by a ring of fire,” Vavi said ominously.

Unsurprisingly for a conversation taking place in Gauteng, e-tolls were also on the agenda, with Maimane joking about the e-tolls audience members would have encountered en route to the event venue in Midrand. On Wednesday, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa claimed to Parliament that “thousands” of people had been phoning up to express support for the new e-tolls dispensation and asking how they could pay. Mashatile took a more sober view at The Gathering.

“I’m aware that there’s still discontent with the new system,” he said, but suggested that progress had been made since the previous year. Mashatile also gave an intriguing hint that people with huge e-toll debts may be offered a way out, though he didn’t specify what. He said that he was “sure” such grievances could be “addressed”.

Though at one point Vavi told Mashatile he was “embarrassed” by the fact that the DA’s Maimane appeared to be expressing more progressive views than the ANC, the tone of the three politicians’ interactions was generally cordial and relaxed.

“We need a South Africa where we can offer alternatives without fighting,” Maimane said. For 90 minutes, it seemed almost possible. DM

Watch The Gathering live.

Photo by Greg Nicolson.


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