Why Mantashe is tweeting up the wrong tree on the ANC leadership battle

11 October 2017 - 16:31
Secretary General of the ANC Gwede Mantashe.
Secretary General of the ANC Gwede Mantashe.
Image: Masi Losi/Sunday Times

If relations between the ANC president and its secretary general were not already at an all time low‚ Gwede Mantashe trying to strong-arm Jacob Zuma into endorsing Cyril Ramaphosa as his successor would definitely have soured things.

While Mantashe might be trying to defuse the brutal ANC leadership battle‚ he is using the wrong premise to do so. He is also making the intervention rather late‚ after months of intense jockeying and just two months before ANC members are due to elect a new leader.

Mantashe said in a speech in Plettenberg Bay on Tuesday that there should be an orderly management of the ANC’s succession with the deputy president ascending to the top post.

He also threw cold water on Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s main campaign point – that it was time for a woman leader.

“If a sitting deputy president cannot take over from the incumbent‚ the organisation is owed an explanation‚” said Mantashe.

In tweets from his account‚ Mantashe also suggested that Zuma should be supporting his deputy.

“If Pres Zuma‚ with experience‚ refuses to handover to DP‚ we will be in a crisis. Let us find a woman to be DP‚ for succession to be managed‚” the tweet from Mantashe’s account said.

The secretary general was apparently referring to Zuma not endorsing Ramaphosa rather than refusing to cede power should his deputy win. Part of Ramaphosa’s campaign strategy is that he should be the natural successor to follow the ANC’s “tradition” of deputies becoming president.

While it is true that all the ANC’s recent presidents all served as deputies first‚ the practice does not supersede democratic contestation. It is also an odd argument for Mantashe to make that Zuma should be endorsing Ramaphosa or explain why he is not.

Of all the explanations the ANC needs to demand from Zuma‚ why he is not supporting Ramaphosa really need not be top priority.

Thabo Mbeki did not support Zuma to succeed him – he actually stood against him. It is also an open secret that Nelson Mandela’s preferred choice for his successor was Ramaphosa‚ not Mbeki‚ and yet there was a smooth handover of power.

So there is nothing binding Zuma to support his deputy‚ except‚ perhaps‚ the agreement they had in 2012 when Ramaphosa was lobbied to return to active politics. The understanding then was that if Ramaphosa joined Zuma’s ticket‚ the president and his camp would throw their weight behind him in 2017.

Zuma reneged on the agreement but Ramaphosa was naïve to trust the president‚ believing he would have an easy walk to the presidency.

There was something of a contradiction in Mantashe’s comments around the issue of woman leadership. He said the campaign behind Dlamini-Zuma to be the first woman leader of the ANC was unfounded.

A tweet from Mantashe’s account read: “There’s a theory of a woman President. That’s strange. We want a President of the ANC‚ male or female.”

But in a subsequent tweet‚ Mantashe suggested that the ANC should elect a woman as deputy president in December “for succession to be managed”.

That means five years from now‚ there would be no contest and the woman deputy would automatically ascend to the presidency.

Apart from this being wholly undemocratic and an imposition for the ANC in 2022 to be stuck with someone it might not want‚ it is also a superficial attempt to defuse the current factional conflict.

If the ANC is serious about managing succession‚ it needs to groom talented young people in its ranks to compete for leadership positions on the basis of their abilities‚ skills‚ character and knowledge.

The ANC’s obsession with fuddy-duddies who peaked during the liberation struggle is part of the reason it cannot keep ahead of the curve.

There is no quick fix to the current leadership battle. And if Mantashe thinks Zuma will suddenly back Ramaphosa because he is his deputy‚ or start explaining his behaviour to the ANC‚ he is stuck in la-la land.