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Ramaphosa, Mashatile & Newco – These are the ANC’s Top Seven

Ramaphosa, Mashatile & Newco – These are the ANC’s Top Seven
The ANC Top Seven, from left: Second Deputy Secretary-General Maropene Ramokgopa. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula. (Photo: Brenton Geach) | President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | Treasurer-General Gwen Ramokgopa. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | First Deputy Secretary-General Nomvula Mokonyane. (Photo: Lucky Nxumalo) | Deputy President Paul Mashatile, (Photo: Leon Sadiki / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Chairman Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

The incoming Top Seven of the ANC sees a return of three members, with four new arrivals. We take a look at the new team at the top of the ruling party.

President: Cyril Ramaphosa

Margin of victory: 579 votes

Potted political bio: 70-year-old Ramaphosa was born in Soweto and cut his teeth in student activism and union politics. Trained as a lawyer, he rose to be the general secretary of South Africa’s largest union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). During the transition to democracy, Ramaphosa played a key role in negotiations, but his tenure in post-apartheid politics was short-lived. Leaving the political fray in 1996, Ramaphosa entered the business world and became fabulously wealthy through his investment in corporations as diverse as MTN, McDonald’s and Lonmin. In 2012 he made an unexpected return to active politics and won the deputy president role at the ANC conference in Mangaung, serving as DP for former president Jacob Zuma’s second term. He narrowly wrested power from Zuma at the ANC’s 2017 conference at Nasrec, and has served as ANC and country president since February 2018. His win at the 2022 conference means he will now serve a second term — although whether he will finish it is less certain.

Best known for: Founding the National Union of Mineworkers, being the leading ANC negotiator at Codesa, heading the team which drafted the SA Constitution, his role behind the scenes in the Marikana massacre and allegedly being Nelson Mandela’s anointed political heir.

Major scandals: Having weathered controversy regarding campaign funding for his last presidential run, CR enters his second term weakened by the ongoing Phala Phala scandal, which remains a major beating stick for use by his opponents.

Political style: Conflict averse; over-conciliatory; pro-business; incremental reforms; non-racialism.

anc top seven

anc top seven

Deputy President: Paul Mashatile

Margin of victory: 320 votes

Potted political bio: 60-year-old Mashatile hails from the township of Alexandra, in Johannesburg, an environment which has profoundly shaped his life. He is one of a cohort of energetic political activists to emerge from Alex in the late 1970s and 80s, many of whom have gone on to powerful positions in business and Gauteng politics. Mashatile’s first influential posts were in the Gauteng government in the mid to late 1990s: he held almost every MEC (provincial minister) role available in Gauteng, before ascending (briefly) to the top job of Gauteng premier in 2008. Fearing his influence over the province, Zuma moved Mashatile to the ANC Siberia — deputy and then full minister of arts and culture. Zuma and Mashatile have been foes for more than a decade, with the Gauteng ANC under Mashatile’s sway expressing increasingly vocal criticism of JZ from the Nkandla scandal onwards. To say Mashatile has been influential in internal ANC structures during Ramaphosa’s first term would be an understatement: he has been single-handedly undertaking the majority of Top Six roles, serving simultaneously as treasurer-general, secretary-general and deputy secretary-general following the suspension of Ace Magashule and the death of Jessie Duarte.       

Best known for: Being a member of the “Alex Mafia”, the term given to a group of activists from the township who became bigwigs in Gauteng politics and business and allegedly rewarded each other accordingly.

Major scandals: From roughly 1997 to 2012, corruption rumours dogged Mashatile; see here for more. These ranged from fancy dinners at the state’s expense to graft allegations involving massive contracts awarded through Gauteng’s economic development agencies.

Political style: Seemingly laid back and affable, wily Mashatile holds his cards extremely close to his chest — as witnessed by the fact that he refused to endorse either Zweli Mkhize or Cyril Ramaphosa for the presidency of the ANC. His brand is that of a moderate centrist who is pro-business, and in recent years at least, anti-corruption.

Secretary-General: Fikile Mbalula

Margin of victory: 102 votes

Potted political bio: 51-year-old Mbalula (Mbaks), who originally called the Free State home, is probably one of the best-known politicians in South Africa — largely for less than flattering reasons. Mbalula formed part of the ANC Youth League leadership in the Julius Malema generation, though he is slightly older than Malema and Co. Within the ruling party he is seen as having a tremendous knack for grassroots campaigning and mobilising: a skill which has seen him head the ANC elections campaign on a number of occasions. He was first appointed to the Cabinet of Zuma in 2009 and has never fallen out of the Cabinet since, despite distinctly non-stellar performances in every portfolio he has held: Sport and Recreation, Police, and Transport. Many will be relieved to see him move to Luthuli House, where his energies can be channelled into issues like regrowing the ANC’s dwindling membership.

Best known for: Being an absolute loose cannon on social media, and the king of selfies.

Major scandals: Most Mbalula controversies have been the result of buffoonery rather than corruption. As police minister, he called on the SAPS to “shoot the bastards”; as sports minister, he termed the Springboks a “bunch of losers”; as transport minister he has been talking up the prospect of “bullet trains” when the country’s regular rail networks barely function. He did accept the paid holiday to Dubai and his role in 2017 Nasrec conference grabber scandal is yet to be fully understood.

Political style: Extraordinary levels of self-belief. Famously flexible when it comes to his political principles, and has a real genius for reading the political winds and adjusting accordingly.

Chairperson: Gwede Mantashe

Margin of victory: 44 votes

Potted political bio: 67-year-old Mantashe is Eastern Cape born and bred. Like Ramaphosa, Mantashe came up through the union movement; in fact, he held positions in NUM until 2006. Despite leaving the mineworkers’ union then, Mantashe has — so to speak — remained at the coalface of organisational politics since. Having served in the Top Six of the ANC since 2012, he brings institutional memory in spades and his gruff, no-nonsense style can quieten a crowd in seconds. Barring a four-year stint as an Ekurhuleni councillor in the late 1990s, Mantashe had largely stayed out of government until he was unexpectedly appointed as mineral resources minister by Ramaphosa in February 2018: a post which became minister of mineral resources and energy a year later. Mantashe has not been a good fit, in particular, for the “energy” bit, stubbornly maintaining loyalty to coal power and contradicting top officials on vital issues like climate change.

Best known for: Being an omnipresent figure in the ANC leadership.

Major scandals: Mantashe was fingered by the Zondo Commission for potential corruption regarding security upgrades sponsored by Bosasa, but lately he has been embroiled in different kinds of controversy related to his Cabinet post: from backing Shell against the people of the Eastern Cape, to suggesting that Eskom was trying to overthrow the government.

Political style: Grumpy, behind-the-scenes street fighter who provides hugely valuable protection for his political principal: he did it for Zuma, and does it for Ramaphosa. Particularly skilled at whipping committees.

First Deputy Secretary-General: Nomvula Mokonyane

Margin of victory: 50 votes

Potted political bio: 59-year-old Mokonyane is known as Mama Action by her supporters for her reputation for getting things done. She was the sole member of Zweli Mkhize’s slate to ascend to the Top Six, and her election will be viewed with concern by proponents of clean governance, because Mokonyane is pretty much as tainted as they get. Mama Action is from Gauteng and, like Mashatile, has derived much of her political power from the province. (Mashatile and Mokonyane have historically been at loggerheads but more recently, reconciliation has reportedly been achieved.) She came of age politically in the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) and served in provincial and national government continuously from 1994 to 2019, when she was shuffled out of Ramaphosa’s Cabinet. Her stint as minister of water and sanitation under Zuma, from 2014 to 2018, was absolutely disastrous: among the catastrophes that can be laid squarely at her feet is the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which is now years late and billions over budget.

Best known for: Corruption allegations, many of them; for being an Aston Martin club card-carrying member.

Major scandals: Virtually an entire volume of the Zondo Report is dedicated to Mokonyane — the portion dealing with Bosasa. That is just Mokonyane’s most recent corruption scandal, but it is the one most likely to see her prosecuted in the near future — in which case she would have to step aside from her position.

Political style: Fears fokol; energetic and animated; good at grassroots campaigning; RET-adjacent; speaks her mind, often resulting in memorable quotes. Example: “ANC does not need their dirty votes” – 2013; “Let the rand fall, we will pick it up.” — 2017

Second Deputy Secretary-General: Maropene Ramokgopa

Margin of victory: 425 votes

Potted political bio: 42-year-old Ramokgopa is by some margin the youngest member of the new Top Seven, and is also a largely unknown quantity. Ramokgopa currently works as Ramaphosa’s adviser on international relations. More significantly, since June 2022 she has been serving as national coordinator of the ANC Women’s League, which may explain her impressive electoral showing as a candidate who has been in the public eye very little.

Best known for: Nothing yet.

Major scandals: Seemingly none to date.

Political style: Precocious (she became an Eastern Cape mayor while still in her 20s); she is described as “soft-spoken”; a close Ramaphosa ally.

Treasurer-General: Gwen Ramokgopa

Margin of victory: 157 votes

Potted political bio: 60-year-old Ramokgopa is no relation to Maropene. The first female treasurer-general of the ANC could hardly do worse than her male forebears, inheriting financial headaches aplenty. Ramokgopa has reportedly already been assisting Mashatile with party operations, so isn’t entering her role entirely cold. She grew up in Atteridgeville, west of Tshwane, and joins Mashatile and Mokonyane in having built her power base in the Gauteng ANC. A medical doctor by training who has mainly held health-related government positions, Ramokgopa tends to divide opinion somewhat; some health activists speak highly of her, but for a decidedly more mixed critique, read Stephen Grootes’ take on her from 2010. On the plus side, there appear to be no personal corruption allegations attached to her to date.

Best known for: Ramming through the name change of Pretoria to Tshwane without following due process.

Major scandals: Dubbed “the worst mayor in South Africa” for her tenure running Tshwane between 2006 and 2010; the fact that when she vacated the mayoral office in 2010 she was replaced by her nephew, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa.

Political style: Critics say she is stubborn and high-handed; an ally of both Ramaphosa and Mashatile. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Alley Cat says:

    Fikile Mbalula – “Many will be relieved to see him move to Luthuli House, where his energies can be channelled into issues like regrowing the ANC’s dwindling membership.”
    I for one am hoping he will bring his magical and famous inaction to this post and thereby accelerate the downfall of the ANC!

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    It was Sputla Ramokgopa who was Mayor not Maropene. Sputla is in the Presidency responsible for infrastructure. He is known as the “R10 million” man and left a trail of corruption in Tshwane with 800 people employed by his office to keep him in power. The DA led coalition had to fire these people. His removal led to the ANC loss of Tshwane. Maropene comes from Limpopo. Just a correction.

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