First the ANC’s top man in Gauteng wrote a letter asking for his help. Then Johannesburg’s mayor went knocking at his door.
But former president Thabo Mbeki is resolute that he will not campaign for the ANC, the party he has served for 60 years as a loyal member.
Last month, the ANC Gauteng chairperson, Paul Mashatile, encouraged the ousted president to support the party in its election campaign. Earlier this week, Johannesburg’s executive mayor and the ANC regional chairperson, Parks Tau, visited his office in Killarney, Johannesburg.
With the August 3 elections expected to be the most closely run since 1994, the stakes are high and Mbeki’s public support would prove invaluable to the ruling party.
Senior ANC and government leaders familiar with the exchanges between Mbeki and the Gauteng leaders said this week that Mbeki politely declined the invitation to
campaign for the ANC.
“His reasons for not campaigning are simple. One is the blatant corruption that continues undermining of state institutions, which he believes are reversing the gains made since 1994,” said an ANC leader and a senior government official in Gauteng, who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorised to speak to the media about the matter.
“Second, he has still not forgiven the ANC for the manner in which he was treated when the party recalled him in 2008.
“The main reason the ANC recalled him was that it has lost confidence in him. So why must he campaign for the party that has lost confidence in him?”
Another ANC leader and senior provincial government official said he would be surprised if Mbeki backtracked from the position he took when he refused to campaign for the ANC during the 2009 general elections.
“He made his reasons [for not campaigning] very clear then. He said he was still a member of the ANC but he was worried about the cult of personality under Zuma’s leadership.”
In a letter Mbeki wrote to Zuma on October 31 2009, Mbeki took issue with the ANC president after he and the former ANC Youth League president, Julius Malema, announced publicly that Mbeki would campaign for the ANC, despite him having been recalled by the ANC a few months earlier.
“… you had sent comrades Kgalema Motlanthe and Gwede Mantashe to inform me that the ANC NEC [national executive committee] and our movement in general had lost confidence in me — I therefore could not understand how the same ANC which was so disenchanted with me could, within a fortnight, consider me such a dependable cadre as could be relied upon to promote the political fortunes of the very same movement, the ANC, which I had betrayed in so grave and grievous a manner as to require that I should be removed from the presidency of the republic a mere six to seven months before the end of our term, as mandated by the masses of our people,” Mbeki wrote.
In conclusion, he added: “As a small plea in this regard, I appeal that nobody should abuse or cite my name falsely to promote their artisan cause, including how the 2009 election campaign will be conducted.”
Mbeki’s spokesperson, Mukoni Ratshitanga, this week refused to comment on the matter and referred the Mail & Guardian to a statement released by the ANC in Johannesburg.
Tau, who spent one-and-a-half hours with Mbeki on Monday, also refused to discuss the content of their discussions, only saying: “It was a cordial meeting.”
Asked whether he got the impression that Mbeki would join the ANC’s election campaign, Tau responded: “I can’t make statements on impressions.”
He said Mbeki was not the only former leader who was invited to campaign for the ANC.
“We have been reaching out to all members of the ANC to help and also informing them what we were doing. It’s nothing new. We [the ANC] have been operating this way [for a long time],” said Tau.
But the ANC’s secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, contradicted Tau and described the action of Gauteng leaders to invite Mbeki as mischievous.
“Thabo [Mbeki] is a member and he is a leader. There is nothing which says [we] must invite him to campaign for the ANC. You don’t invite leaders of the ANC [to campaign]. They volunteer.
“A leader of the ANC may talk in an occasion that supports the work of the ANC. You can’t send a delegation to invite [someone to cam- paign for the ANC]. It’s not done,” Mantashe said.
He dismissed suggestions that Zuma did not enjoy widespread support in Gauteng.
“He [Zuma] held successful rallies in Tembisa, Tshwane and Sedibeng. He addressed the ANC provincial general council in Gauteng and the provincial manifesto launch. He is campaigning for the ANC in all regions in Gauteng,” he said.
Some ANC members in Gauteng had earlier told the M&G that during the door-to-door campaign conducted by ANC volunteers several residents in the province had raised concerns about Zuma’s scandals.
“It has not been an easy campaign for us. From time to time, we find ourselves having to explain why we are keeping Zuma as president,” said one ANC volunteer, who is also a senior official in the Gauteng government.
“The standard response to that has been that his [Zuma] term is coming to an end soon. He will be leaving the ANC and government soon.”