Baleka Mbete: ‘Throwing stones at each other is very unANC’

'If the ANC is going to be strong, it has got to be strong at branch level. Because it’s there that our people are watching us,' said ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete in an interview with the writer (David Harrison)

'If the ANC is going to be strong, it has got to be strong at branch level. Because it’s there that our people are watching us,' said ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete in an interview with the writer (David Harrison)

Baleka Mbete, speaker of the National Assembly and a candidate for the ANC presidency, answers some tough questions.

What difference you would make if you were elected as president?

When one has the authority you are able to restructure things, shape things in a particular way. For instance, in my view we don’t need such a big governmentbureaucracy. You can actually cut down on the number of ministries and directorates within those ministries so that you don’t have to have the kind of wage bill we have.
There are a couple of ministries that, in my view, I would immediately do away with. I will no longer have it as a ministry, but I’ll create a directorate even in the presidency so that that function exists.

Which ministries would you consider cutting?

I would start with intelligence. It’s necessary, it’s a very vital function within a government because, as the head of state, you need to get intelligence so you know what you are doing, who is surrounding you, what’s going wrong. But I wouldn’t make it a whole ministry that even has a deputy minister and the many boxes on the organogram. I would create the capacity close to the head of state so that you put the structure close to you. It doesn’t have to come past many gates before it gets to you. There are many others that one can reconfigure.

Do you think you’ve disadvantaged your presidential campaign by going public much later than other candidates?

I guess I was stuck in a difficult corner because, as [ANC] national chairperson, there are just things that I can’t do no matter what. Because, while somebody else can do what they think they need to do for their campaign, I can’t sit in a meeting, preside over it and then go out and undermine the very decisions I was presiding over. I can’t do it. They are lucky that they were able to get away with running fully fledged campaigns when we had decided that it shouldn’t be done.

The process of branch general meetings has officially closed. Have you been nominated by any branches?

I was only told in the early days in the first few branch general meetings, I was given a sense here and there of where I’m being nominated, but I’m obviously not going to do as well as other campaigns that were well funded, I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Does that mean you would consider partnering up with another candidate or discuss consolidated leadership?

My team has spoken to other people but I’m really not an expert on what has been happening in that department. I spoke to my colleagues when we had dinner with the president and we had a common preoccupation and we had a wonderful, relaxed and very comradely time. We believe that, if what happened there could go into all of the [campaign] teams, we would have a very good conference.

What was the significance of the dinner with President Jacob Zuma?

We were all so grateful that it had happened. We were thanking the president for calling us and we think he should have done it earlier. He was saying some candidates have said things in an unANC way. When you campaign you must talk about the strengths of the ideas you have. It can’t be more about lashing out at others, because that introduces negativity that you don’t really need. We need to change the language to make sure that our teams understand the dos and don’ts so that each delegation understands what our collective thinking is, that this is about the ANC, not us as individuals.

The leadership collective you are part of has been criticised for the current crisis in the ANC. What would you say are your biggest achievements since you were elected in 2007?

Without hesitation, it’s the task of overseeing and leading the celebration of the centenary. For me that is the best memory I have of working and serving the ANC. Reaching 100 years is something important for any organism in life, especially this organisation.  And I listen to people who think the ANC is about to crumble. Do you think the ANC can survive more than 100 years and then suddenly crumble? You must be realistic about life.

In the four elections that have taken place during your time as chairperson, the ANC has seen a steady decline in support. Do you think your leadership collective has failed to inspire public confidence?

When there are human frailties in between [national conferences], we should acknowledge them and we’ve got to strengthen our ability to deal with them to ensure there are consequences when people have deviated from the culture, policies and principles of the ANC.

This thing of throwing stones at each other is very unANC. It’s shocked us. What went wrong? Maybe the way we live our daily lives as branches in particular communities is such that we don’t keep together enough.

If the ANC is going to be strong, it has got to be strong at branch level. Because it’s there that our people are watching us.

On paper the ANC appears to be tough on corruption, but seems less committed to taking action. Are you concerned about this?

I don’t have the statistics but I know that a lot of action has been taken and surprisingly so, actually, because we don’t keep up with these things, especially within the government.

Are you concerned that the president has still not appointed a judicial commission of inquiry into state capture, despite the ANC agreeing that this should be done?

That the commission has not been formed … you have no idea how much it frustrates me. For instance, the discussions that are happening in Parliament [about state capture] you can’t say to them, “Why are you dealing with this matter? There is a place there where it’s going to be dealt with”, because it hasn’t been set up. That’s very frustrating for me. Legalistically, people will tell you this matter was taken for review so you have to wait ... it doesn’t stop being frustrating.

Are you concerned about the influence the Gupta family appears to have over politicians and government officials?

You can make the example of the Guptas and I’m sure there are many others like your well-known, moneyed capitalists in South Africa, like the Ruperts and all of those. They cannot and must not ever be allowed to influence every corner and every level of what goes on in the state in the manner we are beginning to understand is being done.

Do you regret your decision to grant a secret ballot in the August motion of no confidence in Zuma in which 25 ANC MPs voted with the opposition?

No, no and no. That’s my answer.

ANC stalwarts have called for Zuma to step down. Do you support this call and the view that his departure will help the ANC mend itself?

I think we must be honest as cadres of the ANC. I don’t think we can blame things that went wrong on one person. No … please, for goodness sake. I think we are lazy, we are taking an easy way out and I just think comrades must be more honest.

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