Opinion

Navigating the corridors of power

Staff Reporter

The M&G's A-Z of South African Politics is an all-new edition of this best-selling guide for navigating the corridors of power.

South Africa is undergoing its most profound upheaval since the country’s transition to democracy in 1994.

There are new faces in Parliament, in Cabinet and in the provincial capitals. Who are they? Where do they come from? How do they intend to remake the political landscape and what are their chances of success?

The Mail & Guardian‘s A-Z of South African Politics is an all-new edition of this best-selling guide for navigating the corridors of power. Edited by M&G deputy editor-in-chief Rapule Tabane and former M&G associate editor Barbara Ludman, the book offers an under-the-skin look at the movers and shakers of 21st-century South Africa—the politicians and the judges, the activists, commentators, academics and religious leaders. Included are examinations of the provinces and the major political parties and analyses of the issues confronting South Africans, from BEE to xenophobia.

The A-Z of South African Politics takes the reader on an entertaining ride through the maze of our politics and the workings of our increasingly complex society. On these pages are profiles selected from among more than 120 in the book.


Zanele Magwaza-Msibi
(Photo: Rogan Ward)
The new face of the IFP
Political analysts—and the party itself—have punted Zanele Magwaza-Msibi as the new face of the Inkatha Freedom Party. And it has nothing to do with her broad smile—almost the antithesis of the dourness associated with the IFP—or a sometimes bling fashion sense.

Magwaza-Msibi is the first female chairperson of a party long considered a bastion of Zulu patriarchy.

As the IFP tussled with the demands of modernisation and reconciling president Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s almost feudalistic control of it—a tension as yet unresolved—Magwaza-Msibi emerged a somewhat surprise choice as chairperson in 2007.

In 2008 she rose above stalwarts, such as secretary general the Reverend Musa Zondi and national organiser Albert Mncwango, to be the party’s KwaZulu-Natal premiership candidate in the 2009 general elections.

Yet, while Magwaza-Msibi has shattered the IFP’s gender mould, she remains baked in the party’s furnace of social conservatism, traditionalism and unquestioning loyalty to Buthelezi.

When Buthelezi announced last year that he would not hold public office after the elections in 2009, she was one of the first to proclaim that the party would attempt to convince him otherwise.

Magwaza-Msibi has proved an adept administrator. Since 2000, when she assumed office as executive mayor of the Zululand District Municipality, the municipality has received unqualified reports from the auditor general during the entirety of her tenure—an exception in the province.

In 2006 the Zululand District also won a provincial award for the municipality with the most effective service delivery in KZN.

Magwaza-Msibi has been critical of the ANC-led provincial government for wasteful expenditure, a lack of accountability and transparency.

She has been especially critical of the provincial department of agriculture, accusing the KZN government of covering up audit reports relating to over-expenditure amounting to R125-million in 2006. There was also R80-million unaccounted for and the IFP has instituted legal action to gain access to the reports.

Born in rural Makhosini, she is a former primary school principal with a BA degree from the University of Zululand.

She holds a diploma in further education (management) from the then University of Natal and a diploma in local government from the University of Durban-Westville.

Magwaza-Msibi joined the IFP in 1975 and moved up to the executive committees of both the IFP Youth Brigade and Women’s Brigade by 1988.

She served as deputy chairperson of the youth brigade from 1998 to 2003 and later served as national secretary of the Women’s Brigade before assuming the position of national chairperson of the party.

Date of birth: February 1 1962




Trevor Manuel
(Photo: David Harrison)
Manuel: the survivor
Trevor Manuel wears well-cut jackets, but they do nothing to conceal the broad spread of his shoulders.

The seams aren’t strained, as such, but there is the barest hint of tension in the fabric. Is it intentional, this signal of just-constrained force?

Like most things about the world’s longest-serving finance minister, it seems certain to be so.

The physique of a retired prize-fighter is a not inconsiderable asset in the private confrontations of the Cabinet room, the International Monetary Fund and the ANC’s national executive committee, or on the public stage of the National Assembly, the press conference and the hustings. Manuel certainly knows how to use it.

His wife, Maria Ramos, cuts a very different figure, slim, diminutive, perfectly contained in a Chanel suit. A Mail & Guardian headline once referred to the former treasury director general and Transnet chief executive as an ‘Amazon”. ‘It is the first time I’ve seen a four-foot Amazon,” Manuel said, jokingly and not at all disapprovingly.

But if the Trevor Manuel of 2009 conveys an impression of physical and political heft, and if he clearly has an appetite for confrontation, we should not forget that he began his political career as an escape artist and it is his combination of force and guile that makes him the most remarkable of the ANC’s big beasts.

In the 1980s he was a worthy inheritor of Nelson Mandela’s ‘black pimpernel” moniker, criss-crossing the Cape Flats, and later the country, under the noses of the police, as the United Democratic Front generated the most coherent resistance yet to the apartheid regime.

Key aides, like his spokesperson, Thoraya Pandy, and Logan Wort—now a general manager at the South African Revenue Service—were among his troops then.

His apparent survival of the post-Polokwane street-fighting in the ANC required a combination of guile and sheer power that only he could bring to bear.

Here, at number four on the party’s electoral list, amid the vanguard of Jacob Zuma and the left wing, is the man who implemented the most successful, and for many, the most loathed, of Thabo Mbeki’s policies.

Manuel may not have invented the growth, employment and redistribution strategy (Gear)—Ramos, with treasury staff and private-sector advisers like Iraj Abedian worked out the detail—but he drove it through a reluctant ANC, and indeed government, against intense resistance.

Derided by the SACP and union federation Cosatu as the ‘1996 class project”, Gear dramatically reduced state debt by keeping expenditure on a tight rein and gave the bond market new confidence in South Africa.

Manuel has always insisted that inflation hurts the poor most and that government borrowing constrains the capacity of the state to spend on services, making it beholden to financiers.

‘It was a class project,” he told the M&G in 2008, ‘a working-class project.”

SACP president Blade Nzimande would beg to differ and it is from him that comes some of the staunchest resistance to Manuel staying on in Zuma’s government as a senior economic minister.

Even Manuel’s admirers concede that the fiscal restraint of the late 1990s may have cut too deep, choking off investment in crucial infrastructure—notably electricity and transport—just as the neglect of the late apartheid years was beginning to tell.

Manuel counters that the discipline was essential and the steep reduction in debt service costs, with a boom in tax revenues, enabled him to open the taps to vastly expanded infrastructure programmes, as well as welfare spending, from 2003 onwards. Even unemployment, the most intractable of South Africa’s problems, began to fall.

The resurgent SACP and Cosatu have long complained that the treasury under Manuel had far too much power. It must not be so in a new government, they insist.

A new law that gives Parliament a much greater say in the budgeting process is one constraint, but there will be others, they say—not least a new planning division in the presidency with oversight of all economic departments.

Manuel’s greatest frustration, however, has been his lack of ability to force better value for money out of other departments.

Year after year he has cajoled Parliament to insist that education, health, transport and other ministries demonstrate they are spending taxpayer money wisely and well. He has had little joy.

And he has been forced reluctantly to sign off on some of the least defensible investments the government has made: the arms deal, which he resisted, but ultimately put his signature to; the Gautrain, which he felt was colossally wasteful; bail-outs for SAA and the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor.

If, after Polokwane, he seemed to give up briefly on fighting for his job, that quickly changed.

His resignation when Mbeki was forced out sent markets into a tailspin. It was, his team assured us, a communication error, but not before a useful message about the value of Manuel had been sent.

Of late he has been saying what he no doubt does not believe, backing­ the government’s refusal to grant the Dalai Lama a visa, for example, just as he backed the arms deal, and allowing it to appear as if he tolerated Mbeki’s position on HIV.

It is part of the escapologist’s toolkit, this dissembling, and something he knows he has the political capital to get away with.

Before the election, there were many in the ANC who believed he should be deputy president to lend real credibility to a Zuma Cabinet, which has precious little of it. That was politically impossible.

But make no mistake, he is determined to stick around to save the country and his own legacy, which he may have a chance to do as minister in the presidency responsible for planning, a role many see as de facto prime minister. And, make no mistake, he will survive.

He has been part of government since 1994, cooling his heels for two years as trade and industry minister before replacing Nedcor chief executive Chris Liebenberg as finance minister.

There seems to be a competition for influence between Manuel and Gwede Mantashe but Mantashe, along with the rest of the ANC leadership knows just how vital a stabiliser he is.

Date of birth: January 31 1956




Ryan Coetzee
(Photo: David Harrison)
Backroom operator par excellence
Ryan Coetzee is not the most popular person in the Democratic Alliance, but he is one of the brightest and most effective.

To be fair, it was always going to be difficult for him: appointed as the party’s strategy chief in his mid-20s by then DA leader Tony Leon, and responsible for directing people many years his senior, he had to overcome some considerable resistance­ as he set about enacting Leon’s plans to seduce and destroy the National Party.

It probably didn’t help that he countered his critics with a brashness that seemed all too closely modelled on Leon’s own, sometimes abrasive, style, without the gravitas that the party leader brought to bear.

He may have got up people’s noses, but few contest that he was effective, building an exceptionally efficient spin operation, gathering the best polling data in local politics and effectively consolidating the white opposition vote behind the DA.

He is unrepentant about the party’s infamous ‘Fight back” campaign, pointing out that it achieved what was required at the time, the ultimate collapse of the National Party.

And, despite the fact that he was a crucial Leon lieutenant, he got out ahead of the changes in the party in 2006 with a strategy document that charted the path that would be taken by Helen Zille when she took over from Leon.

This paper argued that the DA had failed to attract black support in part because it had not taken cognisance of the depth of the wounds inflicted by apartheid.

The policies might be right, he suggested, but the tone was all wrong—too combative, too dismissive of the terrible legacy of pain bequeathed by institutionalised racism. Deep and thorough changes were essential, Coetzee argued.

Now at the ripe old age of 36, he has been the DA’s chief executive for four years, and an effective MP for five.

But he has been involved in DA politics for far longer. At the University of Cape Town, where he earned a BA and an HDipEd, he was chairperson of the Democratic Party Youth and served on the DP’s national council and regional executive. In 1993 he wrote speeches for Leon. He went on to teach but soon returned to politics.

These days he has to help hold together an organisation that is far from united behind Zille’s project of creating a nonracial, liberal opposition.

He is surely helped in that by the fact that he is no longer simply one of ‘Tony’s cronies” and that he now has a decade of experience at the top of the party.

Zille, who sometimes seems isolated and far out ahead of the rest of the party in her ambition to make it a viable choice for far more South Africans, needs all the enforcement help she can get as she insists on promoting relative outsiders to senior positions and maintaining a very different dialogue with civil society, the media and government to her predecessor.

Hence Zille has now appointed Coetzee as her political adviser as the DA sets out to make the Western Cape the model of good governance and service delivery. Coetzee has resigned his post as an MP and chief executive of the party to focus on creating a governance legacy for the party.

The Congress of the People presents powerful challenges—and opportunities—for the DA. If anyone can figure out how best to take advantage of them, it is Ryan Coetzee, backroom operator par excellence.

Date of birth: January 8 1973




Vuyiswa Tulelo
(Photo:Oupa Nkosi)
A future ANC star
Amid the furore surrounding ANC youth leader Julius Malema’s ‘kill for Zuma” statements in 2008, an explanation was left begging and when free-to-air channel e.tv took it upon itself to get answers, the hard task of accounting was given to Vuyiswa Tulelo. As the newly elected secretary general of the ANC Youth League, it was Tulelo who faced up to tenacious television anchor Debra Patta.

At the end of the interview, after Tulelo had sparred with Patta and in the process told South Africans that Malema was merely using metaphorical language, the news bull terrier simply got up and walked off with a stern face.

One blogger, after watching Tulelo suddenly thrust into the spotlight, summed up the interview as follows: ‘After watching the interview [Tulelo] had with Debra Patta on 3rd Degree, I am in awe of her. She is smart, she is strong, she stands her ground, she knows what she’s about and she articulates it well.”

Then in July 2008, after eight years of waiting in the wings as deputy secretary, Tulelo got her chance to show her mettle by organising a largely event-free youth league conference.

The disastrous Mangaung conference three months earlier had resembled more of a brawl than a congress as delegates threw bottles at one another and exposed their bottoms.

Tulelo, from Galeshewe township in Kimberly, is a future ANC star and potential Cabinet material. She is the daughter of devout parents and her younger sister is in public service as a staff sergeant in the South African National Defence Force.

At just 13 years old Tulelo became an activist when she joined a group that was protesting against astronomical school fees.

Despite her age, the Galeshewe Young Students’ Organisation made an exception and allowed her to join. The next year she spearheaded efforts to start her school’s first student representative council and eventually served two years as SRC chairperson.

At 15 she was provincial secretary of the Congress of South African Students.

She joined the regional structure of the ANC Youth League in her hometown province of the Northern Cape in 1995 and two years later became the first female deputy chair of any of its provincial structures.

Tulelo resigned from this position in 1998 when she packed her bags and made her way to the University of the Witwatersrand, where she studied towards a BA in politics.

At Wits she continued where she left off, becoming SRC president in 1999 and being co-opted into the national executive committee of the youth league. She served two terms as deputy secretary general of the league before being elected to her present position.

Last year she was elected vice-president of the International Union of Young Communists and she sits on the boards of the National Youth Commission and Umsombuvu Youth Fund.

Date of birth: July 17 1975

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