South Africa

Analysis

Mabuza: stepping aside might not be as noble as it seems – ‘The Cat’ knows what he is doing

Deputy President David Mabuza addresses the National Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) Rural and Township Economy Summit at the East London International Convention Centre in the Eastern Cape, 15 January 2014. (Photo: GCIS) Themed “Transforming Townships and Rural Areas from being Consumer Communities into Entrepreneurial Societies” the summit follows the decision of the President’s Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Advisory Council and aims to ensure communities in townships and rural areas benefit from black economic empowerment, 19/07/2018. Jairus Mmutle/GCIS

David Mabuza is a mathematician. A magician even. It is no surprise that he declined nomination to be an MP. The move created the impression that he will not come back as the Deputy President or be part of the national executive to be unveiled early next week, although President Cyril Ramaphosa can still appoint up to two people on to the Cabinet, who are not MPs.

David Mabuza knows exactly what he is doing.

Being Deputy President brings many risks that may hamper Mabuza’s presidential ambitions. The role of Deputy President makes him the “leader of government business”, a tricky position when public policy, government administration, economic trends, and generally, all the serious stuff is not your cup of tea.

He has to answer off the cuff jibes in Parliament, for example, about the fourth industrial revolution – which he fluffed when it came his way a couple of months ago. Such scrutiny exposes him as just a country bumpkin with serious ambitions.

Also, his legacy in Mpumalanga, the original capital of political murders and toxic tenderpreneurship, is brewing nicely for anyone who wants to go through it with a fine tooth-comb. It’s better to step aside before that day of scrutiny and judgment comes.

Mabuza’s latest move is not good at all for Ramaphosa. Mabuza now has all the time in the world to work on the ANC at grassroots level. Remember, that’s how he worked his way up, and eventually became the king-maker at the Nasrec conference in 2017.

The Ramaphosa camp generally has no control of the party, especially at sub-national level. Their focus has been on the national issues and mainly at governance level, with investment and policy talk receiving urgent attention at the expense of the political base.

Mabuza’s move also piles the pressure on Gwede Mantashe, chairman of the ANC, as both were part of the dozen or so senior officials flagged by the Integrity Commission as being unfit to represent the party as MPs.  

Mabuza, known as “The Cat” due to his many political and literal lives has now thrown down the gauntlet, without saying a single word, effectively challenging Mantashe to do the same. The former Mpumalanga premier has indicated he is determined to challenge the Integrity Commission report, but this may be so that he is able to have his cake and eat it, as by stepping aside, he can say he is concerned about the image of the party.

The biggest risk for Ramaphosa is that Mabuza knows the deep, dark, dingy holes in the underbelly of the ANC more than anybody else in the party’s Top Six. And having him closer and occupied with real work would have been better for Ramaphosa. 

There is still a slim chance that he may be a useful ally for Ramaphosa in the short-term battle to tame Ace Magashule, the SG, whose allegiance is only to the Zuma camp; the long-term risk is that Magashule and Mabuza could realign, after all, their DNA is the same, and they represent the rural barons who formed the bulwark that propped up Zuma’s ruinous era. What stops them from realising that they are better off together than apart? DM

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