The question on most people’s minds when former ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa was deployed to the office of the party’s presidency last week was whether secretary general Ace Magashule would be looking over his shoulder.
When, during his tenure, former ANC president Thabo Mbeki placed Smuts Ngonyama in a similar role at Luthuli House, it decentralised the power of the party’s secretariat and concentrated it around the office of the president. The then secretary general, Kgalema Motlanthe, his confidence depleted, became more of a figurehead philosopher than the Captain Ahab-type figure who could have single-mindedly led the ANC ship away from the mess developing in the party.
Kodwa dismisses the notion that the secretariat’s powers will be depleted. He says his appointment is about “building capacity in the ANC” so that the party can “adapt and continue to modernise” as it resuscitates the effectiveness of its socioeconomic policies, cleans up how it is perceived by a public weary of corruption and win next year’s national elections by an increased majority.
To ensure the ANC government’s transformation agenda is fulfilled, “it’s important to build synergy between Luthuli House and the office of the president [of South Africa],” says Kodwa. “No one should be worried” and “there is no reason to compete [between officials],” he adds.
But Kodwa’s installation is, unarguably, a calculated move by ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. The 48-year-old is smart, deft with the media, thinks quickly on his feet and is able to get on top of situations with the speed of an AK-47 bullet.
It also helps that Kodwa supports Ramaphosa and that he is joined at Luthuli House by another Cyril backer, former KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairperson and premier Senzo Mchunu, who will be the head of organising and campaigns.
Their appointments strengthen the ANC internally but they also strengthen Ramaphosa’s everyday hand in the party as he tries to clean it up while countering factions sympathetic to former president Jacob Zuma, who may be wanting to destabilise his nascent tenure.
Along with deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte, Magashule was considered a fellow traveller of Zuma and his state capture project. The duo’s presence in the party’s secretariat is considered an obstacle to whatever self-correction and renewal Ramaphosa may be planning.
The son of a single mother who was a domestic worker, the Gugulethu-born Kodwa sees his job as monitoring and evaluating the efficiency of ANC “policies at work” and whether their objectives are met. “It’s not a technical job, it’s practically to go out to communities and evaluate what is going right or wrong,” he says.
This entails also monitoring the performance of ANC deployees to government, from councillors upwards, to “ensure that their oath of affirmation is internalised and that people move with it”.
He believes the next 10 months are critical for the party “to act decisively” in calling errant government officials to account. Where necessary, disciplinary processes will be taken as an essential part of cleaning up, because “the organisation must assert its authority” over members.
Kodwa is unequivocal that “our eyes are on 2019 and the elections”. Although the post-Zuma moment allows the ANC an opportunity to change how the public considers the party, another element in the drive to win the hearts of South Africans is “reintroducing the razzmatazz” into its political brand, says Kodwa. He considers Fikile Mbalula’s recall from the police ministry to head the ANC’s elections operations as a vital part of winning the votes of “a young country”.
In the mid-2000s, Mbalula was ANC Youth League president when Kodwa was the organisation’s spokesperson and current ANC KwaZulu-Natal “co-ordinator” Sihle Zikalala its secretary general.
They were vociferous Zuma supporters, campaigning hard for his election as ANC president at its national conference in Polokwane in 2007. They were ever-present at rallies outside the courts when Zuma fought being charged with corruption and fraud one week and defended rape charges the next. Those were emotionally heated and politically desperate times.
Songs like Mbeki wewe (Mbeki is a female genital) and Shaya Pikoli (Hit Vusi Pikoli — the former national director of public prosecutions) were commonplace at these rallies. Outside the high court in Johannesburg, Kodwa had told Zuma supporters: “We must hit the dog until the owner comes out.”
An unfortunate statement. More than a decade later, Kodwa says it was a “figurative” message aimed at the Scorpions investigative unit and not Zuma’s rape accuser, Fezeka Kuzwayo. The youth league and other “100%” Zuma supporters had accused Mbeki of using the Scorpions and other state institutions to fight a political battle against Zuma.
Kodwa concedes that the youth league often used “hyperbole and exaggeration” to get public messages across but, “in 2018, I would not use that type of language”.
Going from the Congress of South African Students and the ANC Youth League to the mother body, Kodwa has grown and risen within a movement he has spent most of his life with. His next step certainly does not appear the end of that journey.