Gauteng economic development MEC Lebogang Maile has rejected claims that he is being punted for a leadership position in the province merely to act as a proxy for his mentor, ANC treasurer general Paul Mashatile.
Maile, a member of the ANC’s provincial executive committee, is expected to go head to head next month with former Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau (who chairs the party’s Greater Johannesburg region) for the post of deputy Gauteng chairperson.
Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for the same position, the ANC’s second-most powerful post in the province.
Maile said it was unfair to create an impression that people who were nominated were standing for positions at the elective conference because they were proxies.
“Paul [Mashatile] is not my father. I met him in the struggle. It can’t be that because he decided that young people like myself needed guidance in order to play a meaningful role in the structures of the ANC [that] I am his proxy,” said Maile.
“In fact, for me, that’s an insult. I am not a robot and controlled by anybody,” said Maile.
He told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday that he would consider standing for the deputy chairperson position if ANC branches wanted him to do so.
“It’s the branches of the ANC who decide. As a disciplined member of the ANC, I will never say no if given the responsibility,” said Maile.
The contest between Maile and Tau has already created tension between Mashatile, who prefers Maile, and Gauteng premier and acting ANC provincial chair David Makhura, who wants Tau as his deputy.
ANC insiders believe Mashatile is pushing Maile for the deputy chairperson position to guarantee the province’s support for his campaign to become ANC president after Cyril Ramaphosa’s tenure.
“I don’t think DD [deputy ANC president David Mabuza] will be taking over from Cyril Ramaphosa as the next ANC president,” said a senior ANC member in Gauteng.
“Paul has ambitions. To be there [as the president], you must have your soldiers in [ANC] structures. As deputy provincial chairperson, Maile will keep a close eye on Makhura. But if Tau is elected as deputy chairperson, Makhura and his people would do as they like.”
Maile’s supporters believe the deputy chairperson position would prepare him to succeed Makhura as ANC provincial chair and would place him in line to become the next Gauteng premier.
Maile insisted that the reason why some ANC branches want him as the deputy provincial chair had nothing to do with his close relationship with Mashatile.
“[Former ANC deputy president Kgalema] Motlanthe taught us that an arranged leadership is not good for the ANC,” said Maile. “If the structures say no, I will respect that. I feel privileged that ANC structures gave me responsibility to lead the ANC over the years. That’s an honour to me. I can’t behave like an entitled, spoiled brat.”
Maile, a former ANC Youth League leader in Gauteng, said the party needed more young people in key positions to tackle contemporary challenges. “The ANC is a diverse organisation. It is important that its leadership reflects the diverse character of the party.”
He said he was not threatened by the electoral success of the Economic Freedom Fighters, despite the party having contributed to the ANC’s decline during the 2016 elections.
“I am not afraid of EFF. They should be worried about us,” said Maile, adding that he would be happy to work with the party formed by his one-time comrade Julius Malema.
“You can’t ignore the presence of the EFF on the political scene,” Maile said, adding that he still regarded Malema as a close friend. “I don’t see him as an enemy. That’s why I still keep in contact with him.”
Despite opposition parties hoping to win Gauteng during next year’s general elections, Maile believes his party stands a good chance of retaining the province, especially after the election of Ramaphosa as the ANC’s and the country’s president.
“The conditions are conducive for us. The DA [Democratic Alliance] has failed dismally in the metros [Tshwane and Johannesburg] that they won during the 2016 local government elections. There are more potholes. Every second day, robots are not working. The  elections will not be about rhetoric of the opposition, but what they have not done.
“We can prove that we are making progress. We are doing well — even better than the Western Cape [where the DA governs] in a number of areas,” said Maile.
Tau declined to comment when contacted by the M&G on Thursday but Lesufi confirmed he had been approached by ANC structures to stand for the post and that he was considering doing so.