As head of the ANC's election campaign, Malusi Gigaba faces the twin challenges of winning over voters and proving to his critics that he is the right man for the job.
The former youth league leader, who is also minister of public enterprises, replaces deputy correctional services minister and fellow national executive committee (NEC) member Ngoako Ramatlhodi, who has been sidelined as a result of alleged underperformance.
The ANC faces its toughest elections since 1994 next year and is set on achieving a two-thirds majority, despite criticisms that it has done little in the past 19 years to root out corruption, deliver basic services and reduce unemployment and poverty.
Party insiders say Gigaba was brought in to energise its election machinery, including wooing the youth and "born-frees" who are seen as being widely apolitical. Another challenge will be to change the negative perception among middle-class voters about President Jacob Zuma's lacklustre leadership.
Opposition parties have made much of Zuma's blunders, such as using at least R206-million of taxpayers' money to build himself a mansion in Nkandla, allegedly allowing the influential Gupta family to land their private jet at the Waterkloof military base and nagging questions about how his family benefited from multimillion-rand business deals.
Two ANC NEC members this week said Gigaba's experience as a former youth leader would stand him in good stead.
Appoint and reappoint
Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, who is also the ANC's head of organising and campaigns for the elections, welcomed Gigaba's promotion and said she expected him to excel in his new position.
"I have worked with him [Gigaba] on the ANC NEC's subcommittee on organising and campaigns for elections, of which he's still a member. I am looking forward to working with him as chair of the subcommittee on national elections. I am responsible for mass mobilisation and we are going to work very well together.
"The most important thing is that we serve as a collective. The NEC has the right to appoint and reappoint whoever it deems fit."
Pule Mabe, the former treasurer of the ANC Youth League, who is also a NEC member, said he believed that Gigaba was the right man for the job.
"He will deliver what is expected. He has the necessary experience. He is not flamboyant and he is easy to work with. He does what he is supposed to do. He is approaching 20 years as an ANC NEC member. He served under Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and now President Zuma. I have always known him to keep his eye on the ball. I am confident he will drive the elections successfully," said Mabe.
Asked for comment, Ramatlhodi said: "It is the prerogative of the ANC to deploy and recall its cadres whenever it deems appropriate."
Attempts by the Mail & Guardian to obtain comment from Gigaba were unsuccessful.
Not all NEC members are happy with Gigaba's elevation, with some saying it is a strategy to build his public profile ahead of the party's national conference in 2017. Gigaba is said to be earmarked to take over from ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, who is tipped to take over as deputy president.
"People wanted Bheki Cele to run the election machinery, but Malusi was chosen. I don't know why, because he does not have the time. Cele has time on his hands. It means Malusi will have to leave his government work and campaign for the ANC," said the NEC member.
Another NEC member said: "From a generational point of view, some feel [Police Minister] Nathi Mthethwa must take over. He [Gigaba] is the Guptas' blue-eyed boy. Without number one [Zuma], they need to ensure they have a key person in the top six."
Mabe defended Gigaba against his detractors, saying they were envious of his illustrious political career.
"People are jealous. If they say Gigaba was the worst youth league leader, why is he getting high numbers in the ANC? He has been deputy minister since 2004. He became president of the youth league when he was only 23."
Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema scoffed at the idea of Gigaba as a crowd puller.
"How many people know him?" he asked.