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Confident and defiant, Zweli Mkhize talks about policies and hard line on corruption if elected ANC president

Confident and defiant, Zweli Mkhize talks about policies and hard line on corruption if elected ANC president
As one of ANC front runners in the race to party presidency next month, Dr Zweli Mkhize met with students at UKZN. (Photos: Mandla Langa)

Since emerging as the leading contender against the incumbent Cyril Ramaphosa for the position of ANC president, the former health minister has spent the past few months crisscrossing the country delivering lectures, meeting ANC regions and lobbyists, and addressing small gatherings — all the while defending his role in the Digital Vibes saga.

Unlike political parties in other democracies around the world, the leadership of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) will not have a public debate during which contenders will tell members of the public what they will do once they assume positions.

Instead, regional barons, provincial leaders and other powerbrokers meet behind the scenes, haggle over positions and come up with a leadership collective that would serve their interests before serving those of the public.

South Africans often have to rely on information from individual interviews or public pronouncements to get a sense of what they will get should Candidate A or B emerge as the leader.

Since emerging as the leading contender against the incumbent Cyril Ramaphosa for the position of ANC president, former health minister Zweli Mkhize has spent the past few months crisscrossing the country delivering lectures, meeting ANC regions and lobbyists, and addressing small gatherings, all the while defending his role in the Digital Vibes saga.

On Tuesday he spent hours listening to and addressing the plight of university students at his alma mater, the University of KwaZulu-Natal (where he studied medicine in the 70s, along with the likes of Steve Biko).

Here, dozens of student activists pledged their loyalty to his campaign, many addressing him as the “incoming president of the ANC” and asking not to abandon them and their struggles when he “assumes office”.

Zweli Mkhize meets with students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

After several attempts, Daily Maverick was able to pin Mkhize down at a guest house in La Lucia, a leafy suburb in Durban, for an interview. He spoke at length on a variety of subjects pertinent to the ANC and the country, including the Digital Vibes scandal which forced him to resign his position as health minister in August 2021.

FROM OUR ARCHIVES: Exposed: DoH’s R150m Digital Vibes scandal – Zweli Mkhize associates charged millions for Covid-19 media briefings

Although Mkhize has been given a nod of approval from the overwhelming majority of ANC structures in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) to run for the ANC presidency, he faces an uphill battle to convince sceptical ANC structures in the nation’s other eight provinces that he is the best man for the job. He and his campaign team say they will campaign until the final hour when more than 4,000 delegates go on to cast their votes for the new leadership of the party.

Mkhize said he was approached by ANC branches and other structures to contest the party’s leadership, even before the Digital Vibes scandal broke. Mkhize has constantly denied any direct involvement or knowledge of the irregular Digital Vibes deal.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Department of Health’s irregular R150m Digital Vibes deal: Daily Maverick’s investigative work so far in one bundle

“The conference of the ANC is about looking at the policies and looking at the leadership that will drive those policies. All that one can say is that the branches would have looked at the track record of my service to the ANC and government and also looked at the challenges that the organisation is facing and (they) believe that I can make a contribution,” said Mkhize.

He stressed that branches believe that his experience in uniting the party and in leading a united and strong ANC in KZN stand him in good stead to deal with the current climate of disunity and factionalism in the party.

Mkhize agreed with the assertion by Nomvula Mokonyane that the current ANC NEC is the weakest ever.

“This is the most factionalised NEC I have ever seen in the ANC…People, when they come out of the conference should disband their factions and align behind the elected leadership. You cannot continue to run a faction that will run parallel to the ANC. If you do that, you run the risk of running the ANC in a factional manner, where partiality is the order of the day, especially when it comes to wrongdoing. This is when other people are punished for certain offences and others are not,” Mkhize said.

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If elected, Mkhize said he would focus on the implementation of the ANC’s policies, which he described as good, saying the lack of implementation frustrated party members.

It is the Presidency or nothing

“There are no other nominations,” said Mkhize, adding that if he won the party presidency, he would bring about a number of changes. Without a hint of irony, he said his first change would be dealing with corruption.

“The law will apply equally without favouritism or protected sides,” he said, in what was an apparent jibe at President Cyril Ramaphosa — who some accuse of being treated with kid gloves by the party in connection with the Phala Phala scandal. 

Read on Daily Maverick: ANC Integrity Commission – Phala Phala has deepened divisions and Ramaphosa must take NEC and country into his confidence

Governance and discipline in the party would be key, Mkhize said, adding that “people need to remember why they are here. They need to know they are there (in leadership positions) to fulfil the historic mission of the ANC of being a servant of the people and committed to clean governance”.

Mkhize waxed lyrical on the need to fix Eskom and end rolling blackouts — an issue that has left many South Africans frustrated. Part of his plan would include ensuring “that coal must and will remain the country’s main source of electricity and other sources like wind, sun and water and other renewable energy sources will only play a secondary role, only used during the peak demand hours in the morning and evening”. 

As South Africa looks to transition its energy supply to be less reliant on coal, unions and workers have been concerned about the impact that this will have on coal-related jobs. 

His comments also follow a recent announcement by Ramaphosa that he had secured R10.7bn in concessional loan agreements that would go towards South Africa’s just transition plan, which has been hailed as one to follow by several world leaders.

On Ramaphosa

Mkhize is credited as one of the people who persuaded President Cyril Ramaphosa to return to politics ahead of the 2012 Mangaung ANC conference as the running mate of former president Jacob Zuma.

Before the Digital Vibes scandal, there were talks that he could be Ramaphosa’s running mate as the deputy president in this elective conference.

“There were no talks between myself and President Ramaphosa but people always talked about the need to unite the party. Those talks were ongoing but there were no specific talks about Ramaphosa and me working together and becoming part of a structure together. This is because there were no issues of an elective conference then,” he said, adding that as the conference neared, he was approached by ANC structures who asked him to stand.

The Digital Vibe Scandal and his role in it

Mkhize proclaimed his innocence in the Digital Vibe scandal but acknowledges that leading figures in the company were close to him and that his family members had received monies from them.

He said he played no role in awarding the Covid-19 communications tender and no official had come forward to implicate him or claim that he had influenced them to award the tender to the company.

Mkhize claims that he was targeted because he was seen as the biggest threat to the incumbent president and his supporters

“I have a problem with how the Special Investigations Unit tried to distort the situation to what it was not. By the time they met to interview me they had made up their mind and had already written their report.”

He said he has been under investigation for more than two years but no charges had been laid against him.

R1.88m from Digital Vibes deal funnelled to May Mkhize’s farm loan — family’s ‘cut’ climbs to R8.7m

On Phala Phala

Mkhize said he had spoken when the issue of Phala Phala was raised in the NEC meetings saying that the relevant bodies — the Hawks and parliament — must deal with it. 

“It is important that the allegations [are] investigated and that there must be accountability on the entire saga. The processes have to be followed so that we can get the matter disposed with,” he said.

The scandal relates to allegations by Arthur Fraser that Ramaphosa had covered up a multimillion-rand robbery at his Phala Phala farm in 2020. 

The Zondo Commission and its recommendation

Mkhize said he served as the ANC treasury-general during the State Capture period but “interestingly, there is no accusation against me in the commission. There was no mention of my name there, I am not implicated and there is no finding about me.”

He said the ANC made a resolution in 2017 to establish a judicial commission of enquiry into State Capture.

“Everyone of us was bound by the decision that this commission will take place. We took the view at that time that anyone who is called must go forward and give evidence to the commission and those who are implicated must face the consequences…the law should take its course,” Mkhize said.

Mkhize said if he were to emerge as the leader of the party, he would help implement the recommendations of the commission.

“The point here is that there is no one in the ANC who took a resolution to be corrupt. When there is corruption, it is against the ANC, is against the public, against good governance,” Mkhize said. DM

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