ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe has emerged as a favourite of both of the party’s two main factions, with lobbyists for deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma moving to have him appear on their slates for the position of chairperson when the party goes to its elective conference in December.
Mantashe was earlier tipped for the deputy president position, but he has already declined attempts to persuade him to stand as Ramaphosa’s deputy, saying the ANC would not accept an all-male presidency.
This week, ANC Ekurhuleni chairperson Mzwandile Masina, known to be a close ally of President Jacob Zuma, announced that the regional executive committee had decided to endorse Mantashe for the position.
Masina’s deputy, Robert Mashego, told the Mail & Guardian this week that the work Mantashe had done as secretary general warranted his re-election into the party’s top six and that the Ekurhuleni region would communicate this to its branches.
“He [Mantashe] has not shown interest in the position, but it is our intention to persuade him and persuade branches to bring him up for nomination,” Mashego said. Ekurhuleni also endorsed Dlamini-Zuma as president and Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile as treasurer general.
The endorsement by Ekurhuleni comes despite long-standing tensions between Mantashe and Zuma supporters, who believe the secretary general to be untrustworthy because of his often critical view of the president.
Mantashe was scathing in his criticism in 2013 when the Gupta family landed their private plane, full of wedding guests, at the Waterkloof airbase. He criticised former police minister Nathi Nhleko’s report on the Nkandla debacle and expressed unhappiness about the president’s midnight Cabinet reshuffle in March. He was also unhappy with Zuma’s decision to replace then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene with Des van Rooyen in late 2015.
Mantashe’s diagnostic organisational report, presented at the ANC’s national policy conference in July, attributed much of the party’s declining support to public concerns over Zuma’s actions.
Despite these differences, the influence Mantashe wields has been enough to convince both the pro-Dlamini-Zuma Ekurhuleni regional executive and the pro-Ramaphosa trade union federation Cosatu of his suitability to play a major role post-December.
Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla told the M&G this week that Mantashe possessed all the qualities the federation wanted in a leader.
“He brings a lot of experience. He has finished a decade as secretary general and that tells you a lot, and we as Cosatu believe there aren’t many with the secretary general’s grasp of the plight of the workers,” Pamla said. “You can accuse him of a lot of things, but he is not a populist. He has vices, yes, but he is one of the few people in the ANC that can resuscitate and unite the organisation and the alliance.”
In the lead-up to the ANC’s 2012 Mangaung conference, Mantashe appeared on the slates of two factions — one that wanted Zuma retained as president and another that wanted him replaced with his then deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe. In the end it was Zuma, Mantashe’s preferred candidate, who was elected to the position.
A firm favourite at the conference himself, Mantashe secured a landslide victory to become secretary general, securing 3 058 votes against Fikile Mbalula’s 908.
Mantashe’s broad appeal stems from the reach and access he has to ordinary party members. His position sees him regularly interacting with provincial and regional secretaries who have direct influence over branches, a factor that should allow him to draw big numbers.
The first general secretary of the South African Communist Party, Solly Mapaila, said that, despite some differences he had with Mantashe, he understood why opposing factions would tussle to have him on their side. “There are times when I disagree with him, but he always seeks to do what is best for the ANC — and that is why various structures of the ANC are fighting to ensure that his influence remains in the party’s top six,” Mapaila said.
“More than anyone else, he has vowed to represent the collective … even to the discomfort of some of us, in some instances. Based on that alone, his presence in the ANC’s top six will always be valuable and needed.”
University of the Witwatersrand political analyst Susan Booysen said, although Mantashe’s ambitions to be deputy president appeared to have died down, the ANC needed to retain him in its top six to make use of the influence and power he wielded.
“At some point, Gwede has acted as a de facto prime minister, making key decisions on policy, playing a big role in preserving the unity of the ANC and being one of the organisation’s strongest defenders,” she said.
Another political analyst, William Gumede, said the ball was now in Mantashe’s court to decide which faction would offer him the most.
“Both factions want to have Gwede in their top six because of the massive support he has in the party. They will want to keep him close because he will be able to get them some votes. But the problem then is what they would be able to offer Gwede.”