Where is the deputy president?

David, David, wherefore art thou David? In this time of Covid-19 crisis, DD’s public silence has been deafening. Except on social media.

Deputy President David Mabuza has tweeted about recent Eskom meetings and paid tribute to nurses on the frontline of the fight against the pandemic.

Mabuza has attended every meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council and every Cabinet meeting, said Matshepo Seedat, the spokesperson of the office of the deputy president, when asked for the his schedule for the past three months.

“The deputy president has attended consultative meetings with social partners that the president has held with Nedlac [the National Economic Development and Labour Council], business, religious leaders, political party leaders represented in Parliament; Presidential Coordinating Council with premiers and MECs for Cogta [the cooperative governance and traditional affairs department] and parliamentary caucus meetings. He has chaired the Eskom task team meetings … He has been chairing Cabinet committees and as of now is in a Cabinet meeting,” she said.

But this work is out of the public eye.

Insiders at different levels in the ANC suggest that there are rumblings and discussions about what the deputy president is doing. The talk is not so much about governing and Covid-19 as it is about succession in the party and potential challengers to Mabuza at the party’s 2022 elective conference.

The amplified public profile given to health minister Zweli Mkhize by the Covid-19 pandemic has his backers talking about his bidding for the ANC number two post in 2022. Mkhize made a bid for the ANC presidency in 2017 but pulled out before voting took place.

A member of the ANC KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) provincial leadership said some of those who had backed Mkhize’s 2017 presidential bid had started working towards him standing as deputy president at the party’s 2022 conference.

The member said: “There is such a discussion taking place. Some of those comrades who had been part of his lobby in 2017 have started reaching out. So are some comrades who had backed him and then abandoned the campaign. There are people in the province who are linking this to their own campaigns at the regional conferences that still have to sit.”

The source said that it was unlikely that the position of ANC president would be contested in 2022, given the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for continuity at the helm of the party and country. The major contestation was therefore likely to be around the deputy presidency and the rest of the party’s office-bearers.


Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Mkhize is not the only potential threat to Mabuza come 2022.

Cooperative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who contested the ANC presidency in 2017, has a strong lobby behind her — and also a far stronger profile as a consequence of the pandemic — going into 2022.

Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, another 2017 contender who pulled out, reportedly also has her eyes on the number two position.

An ANC national executive committee (NEC) member said although these succession talks were not at an official level, there is a measure of dissatisfaction with Mabuza.

“You must remember that there is some history here. This pandemic was an opportunity for him to remake himself as someone who can lead the country. Instead, he has opened the gates for Zweli and Nkosazana and they are doing very well.”

People were saying Mabuza was not showing leadership — and that “this has been noticed not only by the branches and provinces but also my [NEC] comrades here”.

The NEC member added that many of committee members have had a lot of time on their hands to watch and think about who would best lead the party.

“Right now we are not sure when the national general council will be held, maybe early next year. But these issues cannot be avoided or ignored. He [Mabuza] should be out there in the public eye reiterating what the president is saying and standing before the nation and calming people.

“The murmurs are not only coming from KZN but also from within [the NEC]. And it’s not just [about] DD. It’s coming from other ministers as well that the deputy is meant to be monitoring through the department of monitoring and evaluation,” said the NEC member.

Mabuza’s strongest base, his home province of Mpumalanga, also presents challenges for the deputy president, who was the premier and provincial chairperson until he was elected to the ANC top six in December 2017.

The province is still to hold several regional conferences — and a provincial conference to elect his permanent successor — and no longer appears to be Mabuza’s fortress.

Mabuza had endorsed ANC provincial secretary Mandla Ndlovu as his successor, but the deputy president had since thrown his support behind Premier Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane.

An insider in Mabuza’s core team confirmed the deputy president has focused on building a base for Mtsweni-Tsipane, saying that he had even cosied up to factions aligned to former ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa. “He has been moving in Mpumalanga and is now feeling more confident that she has sufficient back to ward off any challenge by the acting chair [Ndlovu],” said the source.

“Part of the reason KZN is upset with him is because DD backed Nomsa Dube for the position of premier of KZN over Sihle [Zikalala], so Sihle’s people felt betrayed by the deputy president,” he added.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

A source in the Ndlovu camp said there had “for some time” been discussions in Mpumalanga about replacing Mabuza with Mkhize in 2022.

“People are still furious with DD and have been talking about doing this. Myself, I can support that. He [Mkhize] has the credentials,’’ he said.

Ndlovu is understood to have the backing of ANC secretary general Ace Magashule and his supporters in the party nationally. They are still smarting over Mabuza dumping them at the last moment at the party’s 2017 elective conference.

Seedat, Mabuza’s spokesperson, dismissed the claims that the deputy has been spending time in Mpumalanga working on election campaigns.

Instead, she said, he has been performing his constitutional duties of supporting Ramaphosa. “The deputy president has also been performing his duties as a member of the national executive committee and the national working committee of the African National Congress. The deputy president is adhering to lockdown regulations while performing his constitutional duties as a deputy president.”

The branch general meeting process in Mpumalanga was called off after Prince Manzini, a lobbyist for Ndlovu’s faction, was beaten to death at an ANC meeting in Kabokweni early in March. The purpose of the meeting was to nominate candidates for the provincial conference.

The lockdown declared at the end of that month halted processes towards 20 ANC regional and provincial conferences around the country.

Other sources in the ANC said the lobbying to move Mabuza out was at an advanced stage, with factions in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga pushing for him to be sidelined.

One of these sources said: “Mabuza is not as strong as he used to be. His core constituency is split in Mpumalanga, with his preferred candidate being contested for the head of the provincial position. Then he has the baggage from Nasrec [the 2017 elective conference] where he backstabbed the NDZ [Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma] faction. He has few supporters and it’s at this time that KZN is making its move.”

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.
Athandiwe Saba
Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession.

Sabelo Skiti

Sabelo Skiti is an investigative journalist.

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