In January this year I spent some time with Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba and wrote a profile on his rise to prominence in the ruling party. In the piece I noted that he was seen as an alternative to Fikile Mbalula as one of the top-six leaders in the ANC. They were both 40, former ANC Youth League presidents and rising stars.
While the rambunctious Mbalula's campaign was taking off thanks to the youth league, Gigaba was mum on his ambitions, instead keeping his head down and working with remarkable passion and determination on the public enterprises in his care.
Several months later, the possibility of an ANC with Gigaba at the helm seems stronger than ever. ANC branches met this weekend and according to one weekend report at least 30 branches have nominated him for a position in the top six.
Of course it's hard to tell fact from fantasy in the crazy pre-Mangaung season. Emotions and expectations are in overdrive in the ruling party, and as would-be leaders can't campaign openly it means people resort to all sorts of cloak-and-dagger activities to get their point across. It's the most ridiculous thing. As I've said before, it's completely normal to support an individual, as the US elective system recognises. It is not the sin the ANC makes it out to be, forcing their members to either go against human nature or, as is more common, work offstage, leaving the rest of us in the dark or confused when rumours emerge of what various camps are doing.
And so now we have this new rumour to contend with: a growing groundswell of support for Gigaba. Maybe, if the report's sources are to be believed. Gigaba, of course, can't possibly comment, as it would mean political suicide given the internal culture of the ANC.
But let's assume it's true: Would Gigaba do well in the top six of the ANC? My fellow columnist Khaya Dlanga seems to think so, and was even quoted in a document circulated at branch meetings calling for Gigaba's promotion.
I have had the privilege of spending a lot of time with Gigaba and his team, and recently went on a trade trip to Ghana with the department. The man is impressive in many ways. He works incredibly hard, is down to earth and respectful toward everyone he encounters and is passionate about his work and the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in his care, including the critical operations under Eskom and Transnet.
On the Ghana trip earlier this month I watched as he and his team, along with the heads of certain SOEs, went to meeting after meeting, trying to woe foreign investors in often trying circumstances. It was a refreshing sight to see, given exposés on the likes of the department of women, children and people with disabilities, whose foreign trips resembled tax-funded extravagant shopping sprees. Many of the officials on Gigaba's trip didn't even have time to see the beach a few metres from the door of the hotel.
There is a temptation within the public to tar everyone in government with the same brush. So while South Africans commenting on my original profile earlier this year were surprisingly positive about Gigaba, lauding me for showing a different side to the minister, they very quickly turned sour when the recent South African Airways staffing crisis happened.
Half the airline's board suddenly resigned, followed shortly by its chief executive and other top managers. Then the troubled parastatal's financials were finally released at an overdue annual general meeting, showing the company had significant financial woes – more so than is usual in the troubled aviation industry.
Suddenly Gigaba was cast as the bad guy. The board had, after all, sited "lack of shareholder support" as one of their reasons for their walk-out.
"Gigaba should be jailed with immediate effect," said one comment, while another simply said: "Another ex-ANCYL scum."
There was the general consensus that the SAA crisis was a result of yet another lazy and useless/corrupt government minister not doing their job. It was a simplistic and ignorant reaction, in my opinion. South Africans have become so hypersensitive about bad governance that we often fail to appreciate the nuances within the machine that is government. Gigaba can perhaps be criticised for making bad decisions when it comes to SAA, but he can't be faulted for trying and working damn hard to fix the situation.
And there's the rub. While I have respect for Gigaba's leadership skills and work ethic, it is his decisions and vision that sometime worry me – particularly his fierce determination to implement the party's vision for a developmental state.
I don't believe we have the state capacity for this China-inspired model of governance. There are many models of state-led development that have worked across the world but this depends on an efficient state that has the skills to deliver to its people and doesn't leak away its budget through corruption and mismanagement. We don't have that. Gigaba has amazing drive, but I wonder where he would take us if he envisions a future with increased state intervention, given how creaky, inefficient, and often inept our state largely is.
In the short term, having someone like Gigaba included in the top six of the ANC would be a good move to improve the internal discipline of the party, and his passion would do wonders to restore the trust in our government. I just hope he latches onto a new vision for the country or is one day able to perform a miracle on our current shambolic state apparatus so it can deliver the state-led transformation he dreams of. Personally, I'm hoping for the former.