Baleka Mbete raises hand as ANC succession battles heat up
National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete has become the latest ANC leader to throw her hat in the ring in the battle over who should succeed President Jacob Zuma as head of state.
Mbete, the ANC's national chairwoman, said she had been "approached by many" party structures to run for high office and, "after agonising for a long time" over it, decided to make herself available for the job.
Her announcement, made to the Sunday Times during an interview at her Northcliff home this week, means that there are now three candidates who have declared their intention to be elected ANC president when the party holds its national elective conference in December.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa told PowerFM late last year that he was keen on the job, and outgoing AU Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's bid for the top job was boosted last week when the ANC Women's League named her as its preferred candidate. The league's announcement has been seen as a blow to Mbete and other female presidential hopefuls.
But Mbete told the Sunday Times that although she was "surprised" by the timing of the league's announcement, she did not believe that it prevented her from entering the race.
"No, not at all. I mean, all it does is it clarifies the views of the leadership of the ANCWL ... that's all it does, it says they are also committing themselves to campaign and persuade other members of the ANC to agree with them on their position, that's all. It does not say nobody else should be nominated."
The league said it believed Dlamini-Zuma to be "the only candidate" fit to become the first woman president and named Mbete among a group of female leaders it believes should be accommodated in other senior ANC positions.
But Mbete's lobbyists said they were confident that she enjoyed support in the league's lower structures and that there were already six ANC regions across the country that wanted her to succeed Zuma.
ANC members lobbying for an Mbete presidency have put out an election slate that has Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza as her deputy and National Council of Provinces chairwoman Thandi Modise as ANC chairwoman.
The slate also names Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa as secretary-general and former ANC Youth League activist Febe Potgieter-Gqubule as deputy secretary-general.
Gauteng ANC chairman Paul Mashatile is named as the group's preferred candidate as treasurer-general.
However, the group is also toying with "option B, C and D" slates that name secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane and billionaire Tokyo Sexwale as members of the top six. In all these other options, Mabuza is consistently named as Mbete's deputy.
Mbete criticised the league for announcing the name of its preferred candidate, saying this went against an ANC directive not to prematurely open the succession debate.
"In politics, one must always be ready for surprises, or receiving pronouncements on issues that you didn't think that people were about to pronounce on but they do it; that's politics," Mbete said, adding that she did not feel betrayed by the ANCWL as expectations were that it would endorse her when the time came.
"[What was surprising about it] is the timing, for the simple reason that the NEC [national executive committee] prevailed on everybody that there should be a formal process allowing structures to freely come out about preferences. So what was odd was the timing."
Mbete, who has been a member of the NEC since the party's first national conference after its unbanning, in 1991, said she would "be honoured" to be nominated for the ANC presidency when the process was officially opened later this year.
"When that time comes I will respond accordingly to the call by the branches. The issue of, over a long period of time, people talking to you about having to consider availing yourself one day to be a leader ... I've agonised personally and it's been very difficult because you don't think of yourself to be that."
block_quotes_start We must ensure that our branches are stronger. Branches must not be preoccupied with divisions among ourselves, which are about tenders
She said she believed it was time the country had a woman in the highest office as a blow to patriarchy and sexism.
She also argued that women in political office tended to put more emphasis on addressing social ills than men did.
"I remember in the very first ANC caucus, in 1994, an old man freaked out and was very angry that the issues of men and women abuse were being brought to discussions of caucus.
"It was ANCWL members who had to slowly but surely introduce a sense of taking those issues seriously."
Mbete said the party also needed to come up with measures to support women who occupied senior positions in the public and private sectors, arguing that they were often set up to fail.
In ANC quarters, Mbete has always been seen by some as "presidential material", leading to her appointment as the country's deputy president under Kgalema Motlanthe following Thabo Mbeki's recall from office in 2008.
This week, Mbete revealed that she had actually proposed to Zuma at the time that Dlamini-Zuma be appointed Motlanthe's deputy, but that Zuma had refused, arguing that this would weaken South Africa's foreign affairs programme. Dlamini-Zuma was foreign affairs minister at the time.
"The president was against the idea of causing further disability in our foreign affairs programme because we had already removed an expert in that area [Mbeki]," Mbete said.
But if she were to be president, how would Mbete plan to turn around the fortunes of a political party many analysts are saying is on its last legs?
It would be by changing the conduct of its leaders, who are seen as arrogant, and introducing lifestyle audits to fight corruption.
"It's the actual conduct of cadres, leaders and deployees who often adopt particular stances in engagement with people on the ground.
"There are people who are not clued up about the ANC and what it represents - a person has just recently joined the ANC and they carry themselves as if they are God himself.
"We must ensure that our branches are stronger. Branches must not be preoccupied with divisions among ourselves, which are about tenders; about 'How do I destroy that one so that I can get into a place where they've been sitting?'
"The money culture has also brought in bad tendencies in our midst and the leadership should pay particular attention to this because there's been a culture of corruption. We have to stamp it out. If needs be, let's do lifestyle audits.
"Let's examine the lifestyles of our people. Are we being exemplary in how we conduct ourselves, are we being true people of integrity?"