With just over seven weeks to go before the ANC’s 54th national elective conference in Midrand, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe shared his thoughts with the Mail & Guardian about the succession battle, political killings, calls for a woman president and his warning about a crisis the party might face if deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa does not succeed Jacob Zuma.
M&G: You have received a fair amount of criticism regarding your tweets supporting Ramaphosa to succeed Zuma. What motivated your thinking?
Mantashe: An old organisation like the ANC cannot allow its succession to be accidental. The succession process has to be managed. Oliver Tambo gave the ANC its growth. He was a [present-day] Moses and President Nelson Mandela a [present-day] Joshua. Tambo handed over to Mandela and there was stability. Comes 2007 [Polokwane elective conference], Comrade Thabo [Mbeki] looks for a third term. As a result of this, the run-up to that conference was a point of rupture. If we do not want the sitting deputy president [to succeed Zuma], the ANC is owed an answer. An explanation must be given. The ANC is not looking for a woman president. We are electing an ANC president — male or female. I am not a chief lobbyist for anybody. The organisation must engage in those discussions.
M&G: There’s a perception that the ANC is imploding under your watch. What do you have to say about that?
Mantashe: My two cellphones get flooded with SMSes that the ANC is imploding under my watch. I am not the CEO [chief executive]. The president is the CEO. When people say the ANC is imploding under my watch, what are they saying? For 30 years [in exile] the ANC was kept alive by Duma Nokwe and Alfred Nzo, but people would say, ‘the ANC was kept alive under the leadership of Oliver Tambo’. The ANC went through these difficult periods.
Why now is the ANC imploding under my watch? I am not washing my hands of it. I am saying we are going through a different stage of the revolution. The revolutionary movement is [today] the governing party. The sins of incumbency are very strong … we are taking responsibility for huge resources. Others are tempted to eat themselves to death out of these resources. It is always a risk of all liberation movements when they are sent to power. Whether it is because I am the secretary general, or if it was someone else, something different [would happen], I don’t think so.
People forget that the arms deal was debated under former secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe. But they tend to forget now because both Kgalema and I are dealing with one programme — greed. Greed that translates into corruption and looting is a function of consciousness as distinct from conscience. Consciousness becomes low, watered- down by access to resources. That the ANC has been kept together during this period is quite significant because resources divide liberation movements.
M&G: A culture of violence and political killings appears to be becoming a norm in the ANC, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal. What do you think is the cause?
Mantashe: There are two factors around it. First, our analysis has shown that KwaZulu-Natal is the fastest-growing province of the ANC. When we heard that they were recruiting members from somewhere, our analysis was that what used to be interparty conflict had now become intraparty conflict. We are raising the consciousness of [our] members.
The second factor is greed. Greed and the fight for resources has become a problem. Election to position now translates to access of resources. Disagreements are elevated into enmity. Positions and access to resources have become a matter of life and death for which people are willing to kill. The Moerane commission, I would assume, would cast more scientific light into these killings than our desktop analysis.
M&G: There’s a perception that the ANC is removing competent cadres from key positions in government while those who are performing poorly are left untouched, such as Minister of Public Service and Administration Faith Muthambi and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini.
Mantashe: The ANC contests elections. Once elected, the people are given a new name called public representatives. In government, appointed Cabinet ministers are called executives. The ANC relates to the elected public service in a particular way. But what we avoid is to get into the space of the executives or Parliament. We meet them at our lekgotlas and NEC [national executive committee) and caucus meetings and express our views there on these matters of concern. Our approach to these allegations is that this is the responsibility of the president and the government to intervene. And this goes for anybody deployed by the ANC to the government and other entities.
M&G: The South African Communist Party, of which you are a central committee member, has made a proposal that the prerogative of the president to fire and hire be reviewed. Do you think they have point?
Mantashe: When you talk of the prerogative of the president you are talking about the Constitution of the Republic. You may rush to review the Constitution because of frustrations and find you have made a mistake. Presidents are not the same. As we go to the conference many will take their frustrations to the conference. We went to Polokwane and there were many who were frustrated with the president. I think this is a mistaken proposition by the communist party.
M&G: With the benefit of hindsight, do you think the ANC could have handled the Nkandla saga differently?
Mantashe: It is easy to be wise after the fact. Ironically, what ended up as the court ruling [Constitutional Court] was our initiative at the ANC. The government advisers [when we engaged them on the matter] said this was not our call, and we were to back off and so we backed off as the ANC. The lesson learnt here is how to strengthen party-government relationships. We should have asserted ourselves as the ANC and could have saved the ANC from many dents and embarrassments.
M&G: Makhosi Khoza resigned from the ANC and as an MP. She had called for Zuma to step aside and supported a motion of no confidence. What is your view on the matter? Do you regret her departure?
Mantashe: The ANC is an organisation. It is not an assembly of free agents. It is a revolutionary movement and not a [church] congregation. In a congregation conscience does work. In a revolutionary movement there are times when you take the party line. Sometimes as a party secretary general I lose an argument but still need to be loyal to the decision of the organisation.
The same-sex marriage Act divided the ANC in the middle, but the ANC had to obey the law because the Constitutional Court had ruled on it. When the Bill for the termination of pregnancy was passed, I was deployed by the communist party. One old lady resigned from the communist party because of that. The ANC voted in favour of it, and I should say many with heavy hearts.
On the motion of no confidence, there was a secret ballot. But she [Khoza] wrote a long article. We regret her departure; her resignation was a mistake. She was the only person charged. This was because she said she would vote with the opposition even as this was a secret ballot. She showed the ANC the middle finger. She has a lot of potential and brains, but her behaviour and ill-discipline were beginning to corrode the organisation.
M&G: You have been at the helm for nearly 10 years now. What are your political plans for the future?
Mantashe: I am over 60 years, old enough not to build a career. You serve, and can’t go around begging because you are over 60 years. If you are asked to serve, you serve.