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South Africa

ANC Leadership Race: Phosa poses as a coalitions candidate

ANC Leadership Race: Phosa poses as a coalitions candidate

Businessman and ANC presidential hopeful Mathews Phosa could be a sure-fire bet for the ANC to remain in power in 2019 even if it loses the elections – especially if the Economic Freedom Fighters emerge as the kingmakers. Phosa seems to get on really, really well with them – but there’s the almost impossible feat of becoming ANC president first. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

Enemies of enemies make for good friends. That is perhaps why, at the main table of this graduation party dinner at the luxury Casambo lodge just outside Nelspruit the last weekend, ANC doeks peacefully sat side-by-side with the red berets. Wearing no party colours whatsoever, except for the proverbial campaign hat, was businessman and ANC presidential hopeful Mathews Phosa. He was the party’s treasurer-general until 2012 when he ran for deputy president against Cyril Ramaphosa, who was on Zuma’s winning slate at the time.

Phosa was flanked by his wife, Pinky, and convicted poo-thrower extraordinaire from the Western Cape ANC, Andile Lili, who is managing Phosa’s campaign. He reckoned Phosa’s campaign was going well, with a substantial number of ANC branch nominations in Mpumalanga (Phosa and premier David Mabuza are not friendly at all), the Eastern Cape as well as in KwaZulu-Natal.

EFF secretary general Godrich Gardee and his wife were also at Phosa’s table.

At the second main table sat a number of people in black togas and, instead of berets, academic caps, including the latest graduate from the EFF, Mpumalanga chairperson Collen Sedibe, with a Masters in Public Management from Regenesys Business School. (Sedibe also, incidentally, recently got on the wrong side of EFF leader Julius Malema because of a lack of branch growth in the province, which Sedibe said was being addressed ahead of the regional conferences in November.)

Sedibe and Phosa’s friendship goes back even further than their mutual membership of the ANC’s ward 30 branch in White River. (Incidentally, Sedibe recently discovered that, despite his defection to the EFF a while ago, he was still a member of the branch – evidence, he claimed, that numbers were cooked to balloon ANC membership in the Mbombela region.) When Sedibe was arrested somewhere in the troubles of the Eighties, Phosa offered him free legal services. Struggle bonds.

In his keynote address Phosa even joked that, should he wear his graduation toga (he has degrees in philosophy and law), the maroon colours will “make me look like I’m EFF”. He might as well have worn that toga.

I want to congratulate the EFF for encouraging education. It is a correct thing to do,” he said, gushing. “Never mind the chaos in Parliament, but when it comes to education, they are leading.”

Much of the speech extolled the virtues of educated leaders, and of leaders who value education, like Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe.

Much of the speech slagged off Zuma, whom Phosa and the EFF dislike in equal measure. Zuma has sunk deep “into the stink of corruption”, Phosa said. “We should not send Comrade Zuma to jail, we should send him to exile in Dubai. We don’t know if he’s in jail [whether] he will start a syndicate in jail,” he said, citing the billions that have allegedly left the country under Zuma’s watch.

Even Brother Leader, Muammar Gaddafi, apparently wanted to know why Zuma was trying to evade justice, but Phosa advised him to ask Zuma himself.

Addressing Gardee, Phosa said: “I agree [with the EFF], he must step down.” However, if Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa took over, the red overalls would just chant “Marikana, Marikana” in Parliament, Phosa said, referring to Ramaphosa’s alleged involvement in the 2012 government massacre of 34 miners.

Phosa went on to quote polls aimed at the 2019 election, all of which point to the ANC getting below 50%. Between 21 and 25% of people are undecided, and they are “black, unemployed, poor and angry”. Phosa said: “Who will win them, will win the power in this country.” The EFF could get some, the ANC could get some, but he didn’t believe the Democratic Alliance would sway any of these voters.

By the sound of it, neither did he believe the ANC would, because he was certain 2019 would be a year of grand coalitions.

I’m a realist, I make calculations, and I said before the local government elections the ANC will win marginally. And I was right.” He continued: “To my comrades in the ANC, we need to regain our moral authority, and to the EFF, never lose your moral authority, because if you lose your moral authority, you lose your power.”

Those going to the ANC’s conference in December “must go and liberate the ANC” by getting rid of all the corrupt leaders.

But at end of the day, in that scenario of 2019, we must all be realistic, if we go to a grand coalition, we will all need one another,” he said. Phosa, who has been close to Malema ever since opposing his expulsion from the ANC in 2012, was involved in getting the ANC and the EFF to talk coalitions in August 2016, after the local elections. His efforts came to naught because the EFF would not budge on their condition that Zuma should step down.

Zuma is, however, likely to be gone in 2019, he said. “Progressive forces”, including the United Democratic Movement and the Congress of the People, should unite. “They can all go back into an alliance without losing their identity,” he said.

The businessman and former Mpumalanga premier had some T-shirts distributed, took pictures of jiving dancers, and enjoyed the music with them, before he left. Amid the toxic battle that is the race for the ANC’s presidency, he could perhaps at best hope for some consolation prize in December. DM

Photo: Mathews Phosa being interviewed by Melanie Verwoerd. (EWN)

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