Newsmaker: Jackson Mthembu, ANC spokesperson

ANC Communications boss Jackson Mthembu’s speaks to Matuma Letsoalo on the controversy around JZ’s love child

From a public relations perspective, do you think the ANC could have handled the saga involving president Jacob Zuma’s love child differently?
We handled this matter the best way we could. But like everything else in life there is always room for improvement.

Given the public reaction to Zuma’s conduct, is the ANC worried about the impact this will have on the party ahead of next year’s local government elections?
We said in our statement, “we are a listening party and have heard the concerns of our people”.
We believe this statement clearly articulated the ANC’s stance on the public reaction.

Were you surprised when some senior ANC leaders publicly expressed their unhappiness at Zuma’s conduct?
I am not aware of any ANC leader, who expressed his or her unhappiness on this matter to the media.

What’s the ANC’s reaction to plans by the Congress of the People [Cope] to call for a motion of no confidence against Zuma?
What is Cope? Cope consists of people who ran away from internal democracy within the ANC. They are fuelled by their own political agendas. They failed to push this agenda in Polokwane. What do you expect from them? They have deep seated hatred against President Jacob Zuma and would like to use parliament to effect what they could not in Polokwane.Just as they failed there, they are also going to fail in this instance.

It is also very surprising that this particular motion comes from a party whose leader disowned his own offspring and even failed to pay maintenance despite being ordered to do so by a court of law.

A number of senior ANC leaders interviewed by the Mail & Guardian two weeks ago, appeared to have changed their initial position that Zuma should serve for the second term as ANC president.
There are no changes in ANC structures. The 2012 conference preparations have not started. This process will only start sometime in late 2011 and early 2012. It therefore would have been inappropriate for anyone to say who are the nominees for the 2012 conference as there are none at the moment.

It would also be inappropriate for anyone to ask of any ANC structures who will serve or who will not serve for the second term, because the process of nominations has not started and there are no nominees. It’s the branches of the ANC that will do the nominations at an appropriate time.

Despite the ANC’s ambitious election plan in its manifesto to improve the lives of the poor, there has been an increase in a number of service delivery protests in the country. Would you read this as an indication that people are becoming increasingly frustrated with the ruling party?
There is no frustration with the rulling party,let’s look at where we had serious protests, in Standerton ( lekwa) for example, we removed all those councillors who caused problems. We went for bi- elections and won all of them.

If people were frustrated with the ANC,they would not have voted for it. In almost all the provinces where by-elections took place the ANC took a clean sweep. People are not angry with the ANC but with certain individuals who are elected or deployed into positions by the ANC, individuals who fail to utilise such positions to advance the interests of our communities as promised by the ANC.

Our people appreciate the ANC’s efforts and policy directions to change their lives for the better. They also appreciate that in some instances it’s the people we have employed and deployed that do not live to even our own expectations in implementing the directives and policy positions of the ANC which then impacts negatively on service delivery.

The ANC has embarked on a turnaround strategy in local government, wherein our selection criteria of people who should represent us would be different. Previously, we would deploy people because of their popularity in the party. This is not going to happen anymore. We need good councillors and good administrators. Our next deployment criteria will emphasise competency and integrity. Our turnaround strategy will also look at skills needs as well as the systemic problems we have identified at local government level.

One of the key resolutions adopted during the ANC conference in Polokwane in 2007, was the creation of decent jobs. Do you believe the implementation of this resolution is possible under the current economic policies?
There is nothing that says we can’t change policy to give effect to this resolution. If we think the current policies are unable to do this, we can change them. What we have not done appropriately before is that we had people working from different angles in pursuit of this ideal. Now we have the economic development department, which will try to get everyone working towards the same direction. I think there was a problem with coordination of all players both in public and private domain to achieve this objective. I don’t think it had anything to do with the current economic policies. It’s the current policies that gave rise to serious economic growth which did not translate into meaningful job creation. We believe that better coordination and planning at broad government wide level and at an economic sector level (including both the public and private sector) will create the necessary conditions of economic growth with job opportunities.

Cosatu has criticised Zuma state of the nation address for failing to appreciate the full extent of the massive crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality in the country.
It is an unfair criticism. The President did allude to the issue of job losses as well as the poverty and inequality that characterises our country. The President went further to even say we need to strengthen our education system and skilling of our youth as one part of dealing with the crisis. The other part that the President alluded to in addressing this problem was the setting aside of R846 billion in the MTEF period to deal with the infrastructural needs of our country and thus ensure creation of job opportunities. I don’t know how Cosatu can come to a conclusion that the President has not taken note of the crisis. In my view, Cosatu has jumped the gun. They did not even wait for finance minister Pravin Gordhan to download his budget and other ministers to give details that the President could not give in his State of the Nations Address. If Cosatu has other helpful plans, they should express such in structures they are serving in together with government and business. They also have every avenue to influence the direction of government through the fora in which they engage with the ANC.

Do you support calls by the ANC Youth League to nationalise mines?
We support the debate. Let’s all engage the ANCYL in a debate and if we agree with their version lets do so, if we don’t agree with their version lets also do so.

The ANC Youth League in Mpumalanga has called for a total ban on politicians and government employees having business interests with entities which do work for the state. What is the ANC’s position on this?
There is logic in what the youth league is saying. I think this is something worth looking into. I know there are laws that oblige politicians and government officials to declare their interests in government departments and entities. The question is whether people in government should have any business interests in government at all?

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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