'I'm available,' hints Mantashe

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe refused this week to rule out the possibility that he will stand as president of the ANC after the departure of President Jacob Zuma.

Mantashe was addressing postgraduate business students at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

In a frank question-and-answer session, Mantashe was asked whether he has presidential ambitions.

“Not for the time being, but in politics you never use the word never,” he said. “It’s not done.”

Mantashe’s comment is a departure from the usual ANC practice of affecting a sublime lack of interest in the top job.

ANC leaders normally deflect questions about their ambitions by saying that the party’s branches will decide who leads the party, and will do so when the nominations process starts.

After his address, Mantashe told the Mail & Guardian that he wants to see through his term as ANC secretary general and will then decide what to do with his life.

Mantashe told the meeting that the ANC intends to force its leaders to declare their business interests once they are elected, to avoid corruption. He also wants to fight the practice of people using their influence with Zuma to introduce business people to him for a “facilitation fee”.

“I tell people, I know you have meetings with business people and then introduce them to Zuma and take R1-million. When you raise the matter, they say: ‘This will tamper with our business.’ But a facilitation fee is a bribe.”

He recalls a recent meeting he held with ministers where he warned them to be careful of the officials in their departments.

“I said to them: ‘You see, comrades, you are technically challenged in relation to your ministry. These bureaucrats, they will wash your feet and grease your palms.’ We need to be hard on the system where bureaucrats defraud government.”

He pointed to the recent spate of suspensions of directors general (DGs) as an example of how the ANC deals with corruption. “The suspension of the DGs was not by accident, it was by design.” He stressed that there would be no political interventions to protect individuals.

Asked about the civil unrest in certain municipalities, Mantashe admitted that councillors in some local areas were weak and the Democratic Alliance had better municipal representatives.

“I credit the DA, they have experienced councillors and they run circles around ours.”

On Zimbabwe, he said that the ANC was unhappy that the process of change was not moving fast enough. But he added that the ANC now was more open and vocal in its disagreements with Zimbabwe’s leaders. “We think that is comradely,” he said.

The ANC, Mantashe said, would not be an “absentee landlord” for the next five years, vowing that it would take up issues promptly.

He told the audience that he phones Zuma’s office when he picks up issues from newspapers that need the government’s intervention.

“I phone the people in his office and say ‘bring this to his attention’.”

Mantashe said debates about who runs the country were flattering to the ANC because they showed that power was now vested in Luthuli House, as the Polokwane resolutions envisaged it should be. “I took that as a compliment,” he said.

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