With powerful support and a good track record, Lebogang Maile radiates confidence writes Mandy Rossouw.
Before Gauteng MEC for sports and recreation Lebogang Maile enters his seventh floor corner office in inner city Johannesburg for our early morning interview he fires a quick instruction to his secretary: “Tell them I want to be first.”
A nosy journalist, I ask him what he is referring to. “It’s this press conference that I’m involved in tomorrow. I’m just telling her to tell them I want to be the first to speak.” And then he sits down to his coffee and biscuits.
He may be the youngest cabinet member of the Gauteng cabinet and in the most junior portfolio but when Maile is on any platform he wants pride of place.
This should serve as a warning to ANC Youth League president Julius Malema: Maile’s name is being mentioned as an emerging contender for Malema’s position as the league approaches its elective conference later this year.
In true ANC style Maile refuses to say whether he is in the running for the position. “Leaders must be respected once they are elected, whether you like them or not. We will not single out comrade Malema, we support that leadership.
“When the right time comes the structures of the youth league must be given space to decide on the leadership. It must not be discussed in public,” he says, sitting back in a white leather sofa.
Although no date for the conference has been announced and the venue—of crucial importance for the outcome of an ANC conference - is still undecided, Maile vows the public will not see a repeat of the chaotic conference in Bloemfontein which elected Malema.
“We must have a better conference than in Mangaung. It’s not good for the youth league to have that type of congress.”
In spite of Maile’s denials, the recent 99th birthday celebrations of the ANC in Polokwane laid bare the divide in the youth league.
While Malema arranged for his supporters to get beers for R5 at the Raging Bull Pub in the centre of town, Maile and his supporters were sipping expensive whisky at the upmarket Mawetse, a fine-dining restaurant in Bo-Dorp, a suburb on the outskirts of Polokwane.
Maile’s confidence stems from the fact that his support comes from the highest echelons of power in Gauteng and South Africa. He considers ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe and ANC provincial chairperson Paul Mashatile his personal mentors and is proud that his branch in Centurion, which recently won the ANC’s best youth league branch award, consists of professional and skilled members. Chante Jantjies, crowned miss Teen Universe in 2009, is a member of the branch.
Lobbyists for Maile, who still lives in his home suburb of Alexandra in Johannesburg, say the young provincial minister will present himself as the antithesis of Malema and that this will consolidate his support.
They say that like Malema Maile grew up in the ANC and started with menial party work, including putting up posters and doing door-to-door campaigning. But while Malema rose to popularity through ill-considered and immature statements Maile presents a more sophisticated image, said one businessman who is supporting Maile’s campaign for the league’s presidency.
The two leaders
“He will make a good president and get the league back on track,” the businessman said.
Malema has no professional experience in government, having served only in Congress of South African Students and youth league structures in Limpopo before his rise to the league’s presidency. Maile, who matriculated from the posh Johannesburg private school Crawford College, was the chairperson of the Gauteng Youth Commission and later served as a member of the provincial legislature before becoming a Gauteng minister.
But Maile’s detractors warn that his term at the youth commission was not uncontroversial. Shortly after he left the commission for higher office the commission’s overexpenditure on public campaigns was questioned, but Maile was cleared of wrongdoing, Gauteng government insiders say.
Maile’s close association with the so-called Alex Mafia, which consists of Mashatile and other provincial leaders, may also count against him in some circles. He laughs heartily when asked about his role in the “mafia”.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as the Alex Mafia and I also don’t think the ANC should be promoting such phrases. It is just a phrase that was used to tarnish the image of the leader of the ANC in the province [Mashatile]. But he is not like that, he continues to serve as an inspiration to us.”
The term was banned last year from the Gauteng legislature, when speaker Lindiwe Maseko, also the treasurer of the Gauteng ANC executive, ruled that it should no longer be used in the forum.
So, although his campaign is still hush-hush, Maile is set to tackle the man once considered the most influential member of the ruling party. He appears undeterred, radiating a confidence that seems to say: “in this contest I will also emerge first”.