Despite his chequered history as premier of the Western Cape, the ANC this week appointed Ebrahim Rasool as the party’s 2019 election campaign chief in the province.
Rasool, who was recalled as premier because of the “brown envelope” saga linked to the payment of journalists at The Argus for favourable reporting and sent to the United States as South Africa’s ambassador, apparently remains popular in the province.
He spoke with great enthusiasm about the party’s campaign to regain support in the Western Cape. He believes President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “new dawn” has given the ANC an opportunity to take the fight to the Democratic Alliance as it grapples with its own demons.
“The moment of the ANC renewal has coincided with the moment of the DA implosion,” Rasool said in an interview this week.
Key to the ANC’s success will be how well the party is able to rescue its reputation from the damage done during Jacob Zuma’s presidency. Rasool said the party did not want reminders of the 2017 leadership such as former public enterprises minister Lynne Brown. “The people want the ANC but they don’t want the ANC of last year; they want the 2018 model of the ANC.”
Rasool believes the foibles of the ruling party, particularly allegations made against Zuma, are being used as a racist taunt. “The disappointing thing I have found in the Western Cape is that, when people don’t know how to debate politics with me, if they are white, they throw the word Zuma out as if it is the new k-word.”
Rasool returns to provincial politics after resigning in 2008 amid the bribery allegations. He said a challenge to provide evidence of the payments to the journalist or journalists still stands.
But it is exactly his credibility as a leader that will come under scrutiny as the ANC challenges the DA in the coming months.
The Western Cape ANC increased its support by an average of 4% in each election before its decline in 2009, but Rasool believes there is an opportunity to score major support from coloured voters, who make up the majority of Western Cape citizens.
“We must go to coloured communities and ask what is the relationship of coloureds to their fellow citizens,” Rasool said, adding that the most difficult task of his career was when he failed to secure the coloured vote for Nelson Mandela in the 1994 elections.
Rasool said he is not interested in becoming premier. “The premier candidate is a campaigning position and not a governing position. Even when I was premier candidate in 1999, we stood back even though we won, because there was an opposition to our campaign. Even in 2001, we gave it to Peter Marais, because we did not want to take it at that point.”
Marais became premier when the New National Party formed an alliance with the ANC.
ANC elections head Fikile Mbalula also played down Rasool’s premier candidacy. “Rasool is not ANC premier candidate; he is a volunteer in chief. We don’t recycle people.”
Rasool’s appointment as the province’s elections head follows a campaign to have him elected chairperson of the ANC in the Western Cape. Acting chairperson Khaya Magaxa has already publicly indicated his desire to return to his position as secretary of the South African Communist Party in the province.
Rasool was a frontrunner for the position, alongside Deputy Police Minister Bongani Mkongi, Deputy Agriculture Minister Mcebisi Skwatsha and provincial executive committee members Cameron Dugmore and Richard Dyantyi.
This campaign has been put on ice because the province needs to prepare for elections, Rasool said.
“For chairperson, I think we’ll delay all those kinds of things. We have all understood that bashing our heads against each other has got us nowhere — we were fighting over shrinking cake,” he said.
For the next two weeks, Rasool and provincial leaders will assess the provincial election structures and visit regions considered troublesome, such as Dullah Omar and Boland.
Persuading the regions to cease fighting over provincial positions is his next task, he said.
“This year people will subject themselves to the election campaign and not their own personal ambitions. We will have a conference after that in order to sort out provincial leadership. But, at this point, it is the discipline of the campaign that is paramount.”