Mashatile’s anticipatory anxiety, Mbalula’s many words — ANC’s tangled web gets even more twisted
Fresh divisions in the top leadership of the ANC are emerging. Deputy President Paul Mashatile has claimed that there is a plot to remove him from office. And ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula has said that President Cyril Ramaphosa would have his support if he acted against the energy minister and ANC chair Gwede Mantashe.
In an interview with City Press, Deputy President Paul Mashatile claimed that “there is a plot to oust me” and that those behind it want to remove him from office by next month.
While he refused to reveal more, this is the first time he has taken direct questions about the reports that he had spent much time in homes owned by two people who have conducted billions of rands worth of business with the state, Edwin Sodi and Ndavhe Mareda.
His claims of a “plot” come just days after a strange statement was issued by political strategist Bejani Chauke, who is known to be close to Ramaphosa.
Chauke said, “It has come to my attention that there is a manipulated fake WhatsApp chat regarding the plot to disrupt the stability of operations of the office of the deputy president via the media.”
He went on to deny any involvement in such a plot and said that someone was manipulating images of WhatsApp conversations.
Mashatile has also had to respond to the incident that saw members of the VIP Protection Unit savagely attacking three motorists in what appeared to be an unprovoked assault.
The unit and Mashatile both said he was not there at the time, and there is no evidence to the contrary.
Once again, South Africa is back in an intriguing political space where opposing interests swirl and the stakes are high.
Mashatile now has to fight a plot against him (by unnamed people) and the current, and very real damage to his credibility for being close to Sodi, the man who benefitted from government contracts while also being linked to the cholera outbreak in Hammanskraal.
This may well bring back memories of former president Jacob Zuma. He too claimed, for years, that there was a plot against him by unnamed people. And he claimed that his friendships with certain businesspeople had nothing to do with his role in the government.
Of course, Mashatile was never an ally of Zuma and was one of the few people in the ANC who openly opposed Zuma, when he (Mashatile) represented the ANC province of Gauteng.
Who wants Mashatile gone?
This leads to the obvious question: Who in the ANC would want to remove Mashatile “by August”?
Certainly, at this stage, there is no obvious person who would take over from him, and there appears to be no frontrunner in the ANC, Cabinet or the ANC’s National Executive Committee who would just slip into that position. (We must also not forget how procedurally difficult it will be to do this.)
The question leads to speculation that in fact, the person who wants Mashatile removed is the only one above him in the pecking order — Ramaphosa himself.
There were some claims, in the days just before the ANC’s December 2022 elective conference, that Mashatile was manoeuvring to position himself to be elected as the president of the ANC. This was immediately after Parliament’s panel investigating the Phala Phala scandal recommended a process to possibly impeach Ramaphosa.
Also, it is well known that Mashatile had been meeting investors and trying to convince business leaders that he would be able to resolve some of South Africa’s problems.
This is unusual behaviour from a Deputy President and Ramaphosa may have seen it as a sign of overambition.
It is probable that Mashatile is making the claims about a plot to remove him because he is concerned that more information about him is going to emerge — which is likely if the first reports about his lifestyle are true.
What is strange about this is that while some may believe Ramaphosa is responsible for this, this would be almost the first overt political act by Ramaphosa in some time. It is hard to believe both that the President has lost interest in his job (and is “quiet-quitting”) and that he or those close to him are trying to sabotage Mashatile.
This suggests that there is some other dynamic at play.
Meanwhile, Mbalula’s claims in the Sunday Times that Mantashe has “defied” Ramaphosa over energy policy and by refusing to attend a signing ceremony are likely to lead to more difficulties in the leadership of the party.
While Mbalula has shown consistent and intense loyalty to Ramaphosa since 2017, he may lack the political heft to worry Mantashe.
When Mantashe was secretary-general of the ANC he was able to give the impression of having some political control of the organisation; certainly, he was at the centre of the party’s gravity field.
Mbalula has tried to assert his control over the party machinery (and was elected to the secretary-general position by ANC delegates), but he does not have the same gravitas as Mantashe. The fact that he has made silly claims about having “just landed in Ukraine” and other assertions that were outright lies, and faces findings against him from his tenure as sports minister, make it difficult for him to act against anyone in the party.
Particularly someone with the experience of Mantashe.
While it is likely that some in the ANC are frustrated with Mantashe, this does not necessarily mean that Ramaphosa will act against him. If the President hasn’t acted against him before, why would he do so now? Mbalula’s gesture of support for Ramaphosa may turn out to be meaningless.
Still, this collective mess suggests that those at the top of the ANC are still focusing on their internal rivals rather than on how to help South Africa’s people. Let’s not forget there’s a national election just around the corner.
Spending time and energy on internal battles, when the ANC is in danger of losing the war — staying in power in national government — does not look good. DM