/ 23 October 2014

The rift deepens: Zuma is ‘sidelining’ Mantashe

At loggerheads: Top level ANC sources say the tension between Gwede Mantashe and President Jacob Zuma is intensifying.
At loggerheads: Top level ANC sources say the tension between Gwede Mantashe and President Jacob Zuma is intensifying.

President Jacob Zuma has sidelined ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, openly undermining him and directing Cabinet ministers to defy him.

The Mail & Guardian spoke to several ANC national executive committee (NEC) sources – independently of each other – who all painted a picture of Zuma openly at odds with Mantashe.

This is a stark departure from Zuma’s first term, before the ANC’s Mangaung conference in 2012, when Mantashe played the role of an unofficial “prime minister” and strongly backed Zuma.

Now Mantashe is seen as a threat to Zuma and his KwaZulu-Natal backers’ succession plans for when Zuma’s term ends in 2017. ANC members in Mantashe’s home province of the Eastern Cape have made clear their support for him to become ANC deputy president, a plan at odds with the Zuma faction’s ambitions.

But Mantashe says there appears to be a campaign to drive a wedge between him and the president. “That is what they are praying for,” he told the M&G this week.

Clearly aware of the claims of a growing rift, Mantashe said it was something some NEC members “wished for”. One of the contributing factors for the apparent rift is Mantashe’s propensity to speak his mind on ANC matters. The secretary general noted that, although he enjoyed freedom of speech, he was not petty. “I am organisational, I am not petty,” he said.

The tension between the two men seems to be intensifying, according to the NEC sources. Two members said Mantashe was increasingly marginalised by Zuma and his allies. And a former ANC top official said he believed the fight was getting worse.

One NEC member said Zuma appears to be on the warpath against Mantashe in an effort to “save his legacy” and “get more friends” – even if that means not toeing the party line as set out by Mantashe.

The sources detailed numerous incidents that demonstrate how Zuma advised his allies, including Cabinet ministers, to oppose Mantashe. “If the president says something and the secretary general says something else, we will listen to the president,” one source said.

Many of the allegations are based on anecdotal and behind-closed-doors interactions between the two men, but a number of incidents confirm the growing tension.

In June, Mantashe was vehemently opposed to a task team announced by then newly appointed Minister of Mineral Resources Nkgoako Ramatlhodi to mediate in the five-month-long platinum strike.

One source, significantly close to the matter, said Mantashe and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) – Mantashe was previously a general secretary of the union – were firm that government should not intervene in the strike.

They appeared to have argued that government’s intervention would legitimise what they called a “violent Amcu” [the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union]. Amcu, the NUM’s rival, led the violent strike that brought the platinum industry to a standstill.

Mantashe was not coy about this sentiment, repeatedly saying at the time that Amcu was supported by “foreign forces” and “outsiders”.

But despite Mantashe’s reservation, Ramatlhodi pushed ahead, and formed the technical task team – after being emboldened by a directive from Zuma. The source noted that Ramatlhodi went to Zuma’s office in Pretoria where he explained what he (Ramatlhodi) described as a “desperate situation” and was then given the nod by Zuma to intervene.

It emerged that Zuma went as far as directing Ramatlhodi to ignore Mantashe’s objection and to form the task team. At a subsequent NEC subcommittee meeting on mineral resources, Ramatlhodi was reprimanded for not abiding by Mantashe’s instructions. This was done by an NEC member aligned to Mantashe.

Ramatlhodi apparently noted in that meeting that as a member of the executive he took his instructions from Zuma and not Mantashe. He added that he did what he thought was “best for the country”.

But this week Mantashe denied trying to dissuade Ramatlhodi from intervening in the deadlock in the platinum sector. “We met Ramatlhodi as officials in the middle of the intervention,” he said.

During national elections in May, the ANC in Gauteng got a hammering from voters, ostensibly over the introduction of e-tolls in the province. Newly elected premier David Makhura set up a panel to review the tolls, but Mantashe was vehemently opposed to it, saying the scheme had been initiated and implemented by the ANC government.

Makhura pushed ahead anyway, and it emerged that he went to Zuma, who gave him permission to review the controversial e-tolls. This visit to get Zuma’s approval was confirmed by ANC Gauteng chairperson Paul Mashatile.

“People say the president is unhappy about it [e-tolls]. But he is the first person who was consulted and he gave the go-ahead,” Mashatile said after the ANC’s provincial conference earlier this month.

In an interview with City Press last week, Mantashe again reprimanded the Gauteng leadership for taking on the mother party. “If you have an issue, you don’t raise it publicly and threaten the ANC,” Mantashe was quoted as saying.

Two senior ANC sources said that in addition to the approval about the e-tolls by Zuma, it was then further discussed with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

But this week Mantashe denied being opposed to the e-toll review panel: “I did not meet the premier of Gauteng. He came to the office when I was not here. He met with the deputy secretary general [Jessie Duarte, a close Zuma ally], who gave him the go-ahead,” he said.

The ANC in Gauteng has now called for the scrapping of the controversial e-tolls and has sided with opposition parties to figure out how best to settle the infrastructure debt. The ANC almost lost Gauteng in the May general election, with opinion polls citing the e-tolls as an electoral turn off.

But the most damning bone of contention between Zuma and Mantashe has been the appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng as the SABC’s chief operating officer.

The M&G reported in July this year that the communications minister, Faith Muthambi, got a directive from Zuma to ratify Motsoeneng’s appointment. Mantashe told the M&G then that the ANC was opposed to the appointment.

Two other sources in the top leadership of the ANC said the friction between Zuma and Mantashe over this matter has not died down.

“The SG [Mantashe] is still very open about it, that the president made the wrong instruction about appointing Hlaudi,” one source said.

The same source added that Mantashe argued that the directive to appoint Motsoeneng had affected the public’s confidence in the ruling party.