Many people joined the ANC during the liberation struggle because their principles made them act against a system that was vile and innately wrong. Many also wanted to be on the right side of history. So why then would they flush all that away by trying to defend something now they know is wrong and can leave their own legacies tainted, as well as destroy the organisation they love? Political survival, of course. But what happens when a change in power is visible in the distance? If your name is Gwede Mantashe, you adopt a new survival strategy. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
A few weeks ago, it seemed the top leadership of the ANC had retreated into the underground, much in the way the organisation operated during exile. Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko had released his astonishing report on Nkandla and it felt like people ran for cover – not knowing what to say about it. It was certainly difficult to get a coherent position on Nkandla then from the ANC, especially with Nhleko’s blasé announcement that more taxpayers’ money is likely to be spent at President Jacob Zuma’s home to step up security.
Then ANC Gauteng chairman Paul Mashatile broke the conspiracy of silence and said at The Gathering last month that the ANC had not endorsed this position. Mashatile had an uphill battle at last week’s alliance summit trying to argue for an exit strategy on Nkandla. It appeared as if the Gauteng ANC were going to be on a lone mission to shake the Nkandla monkey off the ANC’s back.
Enter Gwede Mantashe.
The ANC secretary general at some point was trying to cushion the organisation from the political fallout, and make it a government problem. Then he overstepped the mark by suggesting a media tour to Nkandla to inspect the upgrades. This apparently offended the homeowner. Nkandla has been a touchy subject for him ever since.
When Mantashe was contacted by The Citizen about Mashatile’s comments a day after The Gathering, he said: “It is Mashatile who said that, the ANC and I cannot comment on an individual.
“I don’t know whether Mashatile drafts ANC’s NEC (national executive committee) policy. Maybe he knows something I don’t know.”
That is coded political speak for “If Mashatile knows what’s good for him, he should shut the hell up!”
The ANC’s role on Nkandla has been to get attention deflected to the officials and contractors involved in the project and contain the political fallout. In Parliament, the ANC’s role has been to run interference to protect the president from scrutiny and fight off opposition demands for accountability.
But from a story in Sunday’s City Press, it would appear that Mantashe had a rethink about keeping the ANC chorus line going. Mantashe was quoted by the paper as saying in an interview: “To me, if Nhleko says we will spend more money, and leaves it at that, I think that is reckless in the first place. That is my view. That is reckless.”
“Mantashe said it would have been better had Nhleko broken down how much was to be allocated to which additional security measures he claimed were needed. Mantashe said this would have enabled citizens like himself to make up their own minds about the necessity of the measures and whether they were maintenance related,” the City Press report read.
“Citizens like myself?” Really? Since when does Mantashe identify himself as an ordinary citizen and not the boss of the ruling party?
It is worth quoting his other statements made to the paper, which had not been denied by late Sunday night.
“The failure to go beyond the ‘more money’ phrase had only served to irritate the public further”, he said. South Africans, Mantashe added, were already “psyched up” by news reports of more of their money being channelled to Nkandla, which was increasing public dissent. He felt Nhleko had found a “clumsy” way of stating his intentions.
“What does ‘more money’ mean in real terms? I don’t know whether you are going to construct something new or are maintaining something already there,” Mantashe told the paper.
“When Thulas [Nxesi] and [Nhleko] sit there, they sit there as ministers of state and must be interrogated. Leaving that aside, they are members of the ANC.”
But isn’t this aligned to what Mashatile had said? That Nhleko’s report had not been approved by the ANC and they did not know anything about more money being spent?
Daily Maverick understands that Mantashe did not speak out on the Nkandla issue during the alliance summit last week, either in support of Mashatile or participate in the onslaught against the Gauteng chairperson.
So what made Mantashe speak out? Perhaps it is the blinding realisation that Nhleko’s report is just utterly ridiculous and unjustifiable. Or perhaps Mashatile made sense to him.
Or maybe the answer lies in this statement: “Once we come to the end of the term and Zuma goes, Nkandla will be closed.” Mantashe made the comment in the context that the Nkandla matter was being kept alive as part of an agenda against Zuma and that there would also be an agenda to discredit the next ANC president.
But it is also an acknowledgment of the fact that Zuma is on his way out and the ANC will be relieved of the Nkandla scandal once the president retires. While the legacy of Nkandla will haunt the organisation, it will not have to contend with ‘Pay back the money!’ when Zuma leaves.
But Mantashe also has his own ambitions. After serving two terms as secretary general he has his sights set on the succession ladder. Talk of a slate with Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president and Mantashe as deputy has been bandied about for some time. Mantashe has to rally support if his ambitions are to be realised; he does not have a distinct constituency like he did in 2007 when he first contested the secretary general position at the ANC’s Polokwane conference. Then the left was a strong united force, with Cosatu and the South African Communist Party firmly in his corner. He could also ride on the Zuma slate, so he did not have to do much spadework himself.
But the game has changed and so have the factions. The claim by Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema at The Gathering that Zuma had wanted Mantashe removed some time after the Polokwane conference has given new perspective to current tensions and the makings of the next ANC succession battle.
Mantashe and anyone else who wants a political life after Zuma needs to distinguish themselves and the ANC from the Nkandla madness. Mantashe might still recant or be forced to “contextualise” his comments if he feels more political pressure.
But the genie is now completely out of the bottle. While it was expected that ANC members in the parliamentary ad hoc committee on Nkandla would simply rubber stamp Nhleko’s report and continue to shield the president, Mantashe has let some fresh air into the ANC caucus room.
Perhaps he too might get shafted and shut down like Mashatile. Or maybe this is the start of a change in the Nkandla trajectory. If the history of the ANC is anything to go by, absolutely nothing is certain. Dominant factions set the agenda.
Photo: President Jacob Zuma and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe (L) toast the 102nd birthday of the ANC during the launch of the party’s election manifesto at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga on Saturday, 11 January 2014. Picture: SAPA stringer
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