David Mabuza, who dramatically postponed his swearing-in as a member of Parliament this week, may be playing a wily game that could culminate in him being sworn in as an MP — but his fate as deputy president of the country rests with President Cyril Ramaphosa.
If he becomes deputy president, “The Cat” may well return stronger than ever and better placed to launch a campaign for the ANC’s presidency.
Ramaphosa supporters now fear that if Mabuza is not reappointed as deputy, it could result in a “regrouping” of the “wounded” who are opposed to the president.
Mabuza’s allies see him as taking on his detractors in the ANC by refusing to be sworn in — a decision he made at the last moment — and insisting on an audience with the party’s integrity commission.
The Sunday Times reported over the weekend that Mabuza would not be appointed deputy president. This revelation shocked his key supporters in Mpumalanga, his home province.
Two Mabuza confidantes in the province told the Mail & Guardian that he had told them on Sunday that he would be returning as deputy president of the country.
Then, in a cunning power play, Mabuza asked that his swearing-in be postponed to enable him to appear before the party’s integrity commission to respond to its allegation that he brought the party into disrepute.
The move could open the way for others flagged by the integrity commission to move to clear their names or step aside and potentially resign from Parliament, particularly if they are not reappointed as ministers and want to retain their ministerial pensions.
It also casts a shadow over other ANC MPs and another member of the top six, ANC chair Gwede Mantashe, reportedly flagged by the integrity commission but who were sworn in as MPs on Wednesday. This group includes Faith Muthambi and Mosebenzi Zwane.
For Mabuza, senior ANC leaders sympathetic to him say it once again portrays him as a leader who places the ANC above their own interests — a sentiment echoed in a statement from Ramaphosa on Wednesday.
Mabuza was key to ensuring that neither faction emerged on top at the ANC’s Nasrec conference in 2017. Without the support of the Mpumalanga province, Ramaphosa would not have secured his narrow win over Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
An ANC national executive committee (NEC) member said this is yet another calculated move forming part of a longer-term game by “The Cat” to position himself as a key power broker ahead of the ANC’s 2022 conference. An NEC member who supports the president, who wishes to remain anonymous, described it as a “proactive calculation to take control of the organisation”.
But, those close to Mabuza say the move is intended to strengthen the ANC and help clean up its image. “He raised the bar, he said he wants to help the president. He also takes his oath as deputy president seriously,” a source said.
“The president convinced him to postpone, there are only two days left [before the Cabinet is announced] … if the matter is not resolved there will be another deputy president.”
Mabuza’s backers in Mpumalanga remain convinced that he will be sworn in as an MP in the coming week.
“It is a political strategy so that when he comes back, he can win over broader credibility in the ANC and society and is also not seen to be undermining the integrity commission. It will be a positive contribution to his image if he addresses these allegations head-on.”
Either way, it is unclear whether Ramaphosa will appoint him as deputy president when he announces his Cabinet on Sunday or Monday.
The ANC head of the presidency, Zizi Kodwa, said it was not the first time an MP designate requested to postpone their swearing-in as an MP — former speaker Baleka Mbete made the same request in 2014, yet was sworn in later, he said. She withdrew as an MP this week.
Kodwa said it was important to delink the position of deputy president of the ANC from that of deputy president of the state. The only guaranteed position is that of president.
Asked whether this meant Mabuza would not be appointed as deputy president, Kodwa said that it was solely in the hands of the president.
The M&G understands that Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor has been tipped as a potential frontrunner for the deputy president post, with lobbying also under way for Dlamini-Zuma to take up the post. But there remains a chance that Mabuza could return after meeting with the integrity commission on Sunday.
A Ramaphosa insider said that if Mabuza was not appointed, it could result in a regrouping of those opposed to Ramaphosa. At the same time, many analysts agree that Mabuza does not inspire confidence in investors and international markets. Market reaction was immediately positive after Ramaphosa’s announcement of Mabuza’s postponement.
The group aligned to secretary general Ace Magashule were also said to be angered by Mabuza’s move, because it cast the spotlight on those who did not step down. After Mabuza’s announcement came, former environmental affairs minister Nomvula Mokonyane withdrew as an MP, although she cited “family responsibilities” because she is in mourning after the death of her husband.
Former minister Malusi Gigaba also withdrew his name from the list of MPs.
Mabuza tried to meet the integrity commission before the swearing-in was meant to take place, but he was unsuccessful.
This was confirmed by another NEC source, who indicated the integrity commission had, in its report submitted before the elections, listed 22 names of those implicated in wrongdoing. A paragraph was dedicated to Mabuza.
Mabuza is on record asking why the integrity commission had picked on him, but has indicated that he will not defy the body if it asks him to step aside.
Commission chair George Mashamba said Mabuza had requested a meeting with the body in the run-up to Wednesday. “He indicated he wanted to meet us in the past four days … It is important to note that we were given the list and we had to compile a report. We did not single anyone out.”
The commission said it is available for any ANC leader appearing on its list to appear before it between May 28 and May 30.
Ramaphosa was elected president unopposed in the National Assembly on Wednesday, receiving a standing ovation from both opposition and governing party benches.
His inauguration takes place on Saturday and his Cabinet announcement is expected on Sunday or Monday.