South Africa

Politics, South Africa

Time with Zweli Mkhize: The Billion Rand Question and The Fransman Question

Time with Zweli Mkhize: The Billion Rand Question and The Fransman Question

As the swirl of municipal election campaigns starts to become your typical Tembisa tornado, voters are about to take a final look at the differences between the major parties. In some cases, it’s about tone, identity and language, rather than policy. Strangely, differences are apparent not only between our registered parties, but also between parts of the ANC itself. Contradictions are emerging around the status of its Western Cape leader Marius Fransman, and around the funding of the campaign. On Tuesday, the party’s Treasurer-General, Zweli Mkhize, stepped into it all. And got slightly muddy. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

During an ANC campaign stop in Phillipi on Thursday last week, two strange things happened, at the same event, almost at the same time.

The first was that Marius Fransman emerged and said he had been reinstated as leader of the province, after being suspended following sexual harassment claims being made against him. With him was President Jacob Zuma. What is significant is not so much that Zuma was there, or that Fransman made this claim, but that Zuma did nothing to deny it.

Then, at the same event, EWN’s Rahima Essop asked Nomvula Mokonyane, in a shouted above-the-din-conversation, how much money the election campaign was costing the ANC.

The national tally so far, it’s a billion,” she shouted back.

A billion?” exclaimed Essop. “A BILLION?!”

A billion,” said Mokonyane, firmly. “You see, we do posters for candidates, we do billboards….”.

Thus, when Mkhize stepped into the fray on the Midday Report, the first question posed was whether Mokonyane was correct. Mkhize’s first response was to laugh. He said that it was not right, first, and that second, he was not going to say how much the campaign was costing, it was none of our business and it was an internal matter.

When pressed on the fact that Mokonyane is the head of campaigns for the ANC, and thus in the best possible position to made an educated guess on the total cost, he claimed that it was a light-hearted comment, a figure of speech, something said as a joke. He pointed out that she was simply trying to make the point that campaigning is expensive.

But, to listen to that Mokonyane interview again, that explanation simply doesn’t wash. It is a shouted conversation, words expressed at full volume because of the noise of the people around, a conversation with no space for nuance, irony or humour. It seems that Mokonyane believes she is speaking the truth, that the figure of one billion rand is what she understands the cost of this campaign actually is.

It would be easy for the other parties to make a song and dance about this. But almost all of them are as bad as the ANC. Both the DA and the EFF won’t disclose how much these polls have cost them. And the DA has joined the ANC in court to fight the various attempts made at forcing transparency.

But Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement is an honourable exception. He says that this campaign has cost his outfit “below R4-million”. And the money comes from the donations of members and volunteers, and cash from government administered by the IEC. This gives him a full licence to claim, with some vigour, that the other parties are bordering on corrupt, and win elections “with money taken from the state”.

The situation around Fransman is curious. He appears with Zuma on Thursday, on Monday he issues a statement proclaiming that he is officially back in office, that his suspension has been lifted, then Gwede Mantashe says he’s lying and on Tuesday morning the ANC’s national spokesman Zizi Kodwa follows up to say the suspension is still in place.

Only the Zuma ANC in the year 2016 is capable of creating its own tornado on this sort of scale.

When Mkhize was asked if Fransman was suspended or not, or in office or not, the first moment of significance was the time it took for him to start an answer. There was a noticeable gap between the question and his first response. And it was not a clear response, he had to be pushed into actually giving an answer. It could be claimed that in being asked this question, he was really being asked which camp he was in. Does he support Fransman, who is supporting and being supported by Zuma? Or does he back up Mantashe and Kodwa, the official line from Luthuli House?

In the end, he took the option Cyril Ramaphosa would have picked. He fell back on procedure, explaining how there is a procedure to be followed regarding investigations and hearings, and until that is complete, the suspension stays. Then followed a two-and-a-half minute explanation of how well the ANC is doing on the campaign trail, how much progress it is making, and how it will retain all of the important metros, because it has learnt the lessons of the past about divisions and factions. Oh, then what was that, Zuma backing Fransman against Mantashe, if that is not a faction, what is it, went that oh so annoying interviewer (Irritating is a better word, he’ll never work here – Ed).

No,” said Mkhize, “if it looks strange that such a thing has happened, we do know that if there is a delay in the flow of information, those kinds of things can happen.”

Really, a delay in the flow of information. Quite a damaging one surely?

Yes, they will be damaging, but I can tell you there will no faction in that.”

Hmmm. In fact double hmmm. Hmmmm. Hmmmm hmmm hmmmm.

The three main players in Phillipi are all known to be aligned to Zuma. Fransman surely is, Zuma we know likes to look out for the interests of Number One, and Mokonyane was the person he anointed as Gauteng Premier in 2009 against the wishes of the Gauteng ANC (she even went as far as to try to unseat Paul Mashatile in a provincial ANC election – she was humiliated). That is surely a group of people we could call “a faction”, a group of people with the same aims, interests and agenda. So what are they actually playing at? Why is Fransman so important? It’s not like he will really bring votes in this election.

It is becoming more and more clear that the people who support Zuma are feeling the need to say so publicly. The actions of Fransman are very similar to those of Hlaudi Motsoeneng – it’s not about what you’re actually doing, whether you’re campaigning for a political party or destroying the SABC, it’s about showing your loyalty to Number One. The problem with this is that it is hugely damaging for the ANC itself. Fransman has no history of successful campaigning. Motsoeneng surely costs more votes in the crucial Gauteng battlegrounds than he wins for the ANC. It is hard to understand why people would act like this, unless you use the prism of the 2017 ANC leadership contest.

If you do use that prism, things become clearer. But what also becomes clear is that when the snow in the shaken prism settles, the earth that is the ANC is being scorched (Um, I think you mean snow globe – Ed). The ANC is not able to present a unified front during an election. This is astonishing, because an election should unify the party – they will have common enemies in the DA and the EFF. If it cannot appear to have a semblance of unity now, if a member of the ANC’s top six national leaders cannot answer a simple question about whether a provincial leader is still suspended or not, then what hope does it have of behaving in a unified fashion after the election?

And we also need to ask: if some people in the ANC are prepared to fight in this way that is so contrary to the interests of the ANC, then surely they are almost unfit to lead the movement of Nelson Mandela in the first place.

And then the fact they are able to act like this without any consequence also tells us that they are indeed in the Number One spot in the party. But perhaps more important, it tells us that the tornado that is the ANC is spinning furiously, and may spin even faster after the elections. DM

Photo: ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize during his interview with Stephen Grootes (Source: Siyanqoba @MYANC)

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