Politics at play over deputy prez

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.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Natasha Marrian
Natasha Marrian
Marrian has built a reputation as an astute political journalist, investigative reporter and commentator. Until recently she led the political team at Business Day where she also produced a widely read column that provided insight into the political spectacle of the week.

Related stories

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

Female cops sent for rape counselling

Brigadier Sifiso Cele denies the rape allegations, saying that they are part of a smear campaign and that criminal charges should have been opened if the accusations were true

Malawi’s new president is off to a good start

In 100 days of presidency, Lazarus Chakwera has been mostly well received despite a few glitches

Load-shedding’s silver lining: Lower levels of sulphur dioxide air pollution

Analysis of Nasa data shows that although SO₂ emissions around the world have fallen by about 6%, the levels are high enough to harm the health of billions of people.

Ramaphosa reiterates support for emerging farmers

On the back of the announcement that the government would allocate more land to be leased by emerging farmers, President Cyril Ramaphosa says that beneficiaries will also be trained in financial management and enterprise development

Infrastructure key to economic recovery — Ramaphosa

The governing party wants localisation at the centre of its infrastructure-led strategy

Subscribers only

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

More top stories

Hawks swoop down with more arrests in R1.4-billion corruption blitz

The spate of arrests for corruption continues apace in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.

Catholic NGO boss accused of racism and abuse in Sudan

The aid worker allegedly called his security guard a ‘slave’

Agrizzi too ill to be treated at Bara?

The alleged crook’s “health emergency” — if that is what it is — shows up the flaws, either in our health system or in our leadership as a whole

SANDF hid R200m expenditure on ‘Covid’ drug it can’t use

Military health officials are puzzled by the defence department importing a drug that has not been approved for treating coronavirus symptoms from Cuba

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday