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Land of the Free (of Competence and Delivery): Mbalula’s ANC Secretary-General ambition should worry everyone

Land of the Free (of Competence and Delivery): Mbalula’s ANC Secretary-General ambition should worry everyone
From left: The ANC’s former KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart) | Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti) | Deputy Public Enterprises Minister and former Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier) | former deputy minister and Tshwane Mayor Gwen Ramakgopa. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Much of the focus of the ANC’s leadership race in December has been on who will challenge Cyril Ramaphosa, but the race for the key position of secretary-general appears to have several candidates — some of whom are rather surprising.

With the ANC having no apparent clear direction or dominant organised faction at this stage, and with an apparent general view that President Cyril Ramaphosa will have another term as leader, things are much messier with the positions downstream from the President’s.

An assessment of the names in the running for party secretary-general suggests that the matter of competence has yet to make an appearance. It is not yet clear and, quite frankly, difficult to understand why some people have received support for the job of running the ANC while others have not. There is, however, plenty of evidence of how important this position is for the party.

The history of the ANC reveals the crucial role that people in the position of secretary-general have played in the past.

During the start of the Jacob Zuma era, before State Capture, some believed Gwede Mantashe was the most powerful person in the country. Certainly, during his time, he was often the ANC’s main persona, the defining spokesperson and the main image.

During the Thabo Mbeki era, when then secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe kept a lower public profile, there’s some evidence to suggest that once Mbeki lost Motlanthe’s trust, his term in office was bound to end.

Going back much further, to the 1940s, during the period when the ANC became a mass movement, Walter Sisulu played a key role as secretary-general.

Currently, it appears that several people who support Ramaphosa are contending for this position. They include:

  • Former deputy health minister and Tshwane mayor Gwen Ramokgopa;
  • The ANC’s former KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli;
  • Deputy Public Enterprises Minister and former Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle; and
  • Current Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula.

It must be pointed out that this is a period when many suggestions are still being made and there is still some time before the list of realistic candidates will reach any kind of clarity. As others have suggested, it is also possible that some of these suggestions are red herrings — they are being put forward simply to disguise certain people’s real favourite.

Keeping record

Of these four candidates, Ramokgopa may have the most experience at Luthuli House. She’s been running many of the functions of the secretary-general’s office for a while now. She was, technically, seconded to the position by the National Executive Committee (NEC) after the suspension of Ace Magashule and the death of deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Gwen Ramokgopa for ANC Secretary-General?

Ramokgopa has been doing much of the work in that office, while the final decisions are being made by Treasurer Paul Mashatile as acting secretary-general, and, if necessary, by the NEC itself. This possibly puts her in a strong position as she is likely to play an important role in the organisation of the December conference itself.

This is no mean feat, with thousands of branches around the country trying to hold meetings, all amid a hailstorm of internal political disputes.

Ramokgopa’s supporters may believe that because the situation in the ANC is not much worse than it is, is a testament to her skills in the position. Her time in government — as a MEC in Gauteng, mayor of Tshwane and deputy minister of health — may also suggest she has the necessary experience.

Ntuli has some intense political experience of his own. He ran the day-to-day operations for the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal as provincial secretary during a very difficult time there. For some, the fact that he was able to ensure it remained a functioning political entity shows he has the skills and the temperament for the position.

Although Ntuli is reportedly receiving support from branches across South Africa, the KZN leadership of the party is not backing him for the post. This means he has lost the chance to follow the example of someone like Mashatile, who has support from provinces who support both Ramaphosa and former health minister Zweli Mkhize.

Masualle, who is the deputy public enterprises minister, appears to have the backing of some regions in the Eastern Cape. But it is not clear that the leadership of that province will back him strongly. Without that, he may find it difficult to mount a serious challenge in December.

Wild card

And then… there is the candidacy of Mbalula.

The minister of transport first campaigned for the position of secretary-general as long ago as the ANC’s national general council in 2010. At the time, he was the candidate backed by Julius Malema, then the leader of the ANC Youth League.

For much of the period that followed, he supported Zuma, and then suddenly swung around to back Ramaphosa.

At one point in 2019, Mbalula appeared to be acting almost as Ramaphosa’s enforcer, even going to watch Magashule give an interview to ensure that he said what Ramaphosa wanted him to say.

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

But the ANC needs a competent and sometimes inspired administrator as secretary-general. Any evidence that Mbalula possesses these qualities, for that job or any other, is yet to emerge.

As has been previously stated by this journalist, Mbalula’s track record could be described as disastrous. This is a person who tweeted at the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that he had “just landed in Ukraine”. And then he refused to answer questions about it from television reporters.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “How low can they all go, Mr President? The case of the still unbreakable Mr Mbalula

When all of this was pointed out, he simply lied, and claimed, without evidence, that this journalist had been paid by a faction of his own party. To be clear, his statements were completely and utterly false.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “ ‘Stephen Grootes’s spurious attack disguised as objective criticism is gutter journalism’ ”

It is hard to predict what will happen in the ANC if a person with this kind of track record — someone who is happy to lie in public — were to be elected as secretary-general. It does seem unlikely that Mbalula would be able to keep the party together during what is certain to be a very difficult time in the next few years.

It is possible that the dynamics of who really wields political power in the ANC will begin to reveal themselves in the next few weeks. This could result in the number of serious contenders for this position being winnowed down.

But it is also possible that there is no dominant political power in the ANC, that the factions are so numerous and ever-changing that no one emerges from this contest with a clear mandate.

That would weaken the person in the position at a time when the party is likely to come under more pressure than ever before to prove to voters that it is going through a process of “renewal”. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Hard to predict – surely we can after ACE – I’d say it’s perfectly obvious. The deathly shambles that has become the ANC will continue until it is dead and buried. They did to themselves.

    • William Stucke says:

      Unfortunately, even after it dies, the carcase of the ANC will continue to heave with maggots. This is probably enough to convince the Great Unwashed that it’s still alive and they will continue to vote for it.

      Cry, the beloved country.

  • Louis Potgieter says:

    Any poison pill has my support.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    It appears that there are not enough untainted members to fill all the positions and certainly not cabinet posts. How depressing is that as a concept. When the best choice is the least crooked, you know we’re waaaayyyyyy down the slippery slope to failed state.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Oh yes Luthuli House is very well run, apart from workers, UIF and tax not being paid.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The problem of CR22 is that it is led by people without a constituency themselves who believe that being a Minister is a constituency and they are living in a time warp of 2017. The objective factors that obtained in 2017 are not there and Cyril failed to build his own constituency after 2017. His campaign managers, Mondli Gungubele, Derek Hanekom and Enoch Godongwana do not have a constituency themselves beyond their branches. Cyril is proposed by people who have a constituency and who believe rightly or wrongly he is the only person who can the win 2024 for the ANC. They then make their demands of
    their inclusion into the slate. The CR22 people want Mbalula for SG who has no constituency just like them and no province has proposed him. In fact he is not going to be even in the NEC in December. There are only two candidates for the position, Masualle and Ntuli. Phumulo has the Eastern Cape faction of Madikizela with 60% delegates, Limpopo, KZN, Gauteng and Northwest. Mdumiseni has the support of Western Cape, branches in Gauteng, KZN, Eastern Cape, North West and Mpumalanga. Mbalula has zero support. He would save himself embarrassment by asking the clowns to remove his name so that he may have a chance in the NEC. Cyril has to tell the three clowns to leave Mathabatha to be Chairperson otherwise he will risk his second term and Zweli Mkhize will win. He must dismiss the three as a liability to him. No Masualle no Eastern Cape then a path for Zweli Mkhize. Forget Senzo.

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