THE packed Mangaung marquee erupted into a deafening jeer when Mavuso Msimang was nominated for a seat on the national executive of the ANC in December. The majority of conference delegates shouted, “Chaaaaange? Boooooom!”
On the face of it, this was a coordinated message so that everybody could hear loud and clear, not to vote for people in the “change camp” when they are alone in the voting booth.
This “Chaaaange? Boooom!” taunt dominated the conference, which was won by “second-termers” with an overwhelming three-quarters majority.
The mere chanting of the phrase had Msimang’s political cookie crumbling. It was a vulgar yet effective profiling of candidates, and demonstrated the culture of spite that reigns during ANC elections.
The mocking captivated the delegates in the same way a Mexican wave would hit a crowd watching soccer at a stadium.
During all that, Msimang endured the humiliation which ensured he did not make it onto the ballot paper for the election of 80 additional members of the national executive committee. He is not a Johnny-come-lately in the ANC. He was at the centre of the successful Home Affairs turnaround – having been enticed from retirement to spruce up the department, in what has since become one of the ANC administration’s success stories.
The perception among the jeering Mangaung delegates was that the former Home Affairs director-general was part of the change group, or that he was not sufficiently “Zuma camp”.
Others say the delegates were “punishing” him for his closeness to the Thabo Mbeki crew at the 2007 Polokwane conference. As a result of the jeering, other delegates realised Msimang was some sort of persona non grata.
He did not muster enough votes by show of hand the 25% of the 4000 or so delegates required to be considered duly nominated from the floor. That is how slate politics hatched the list of 80 NEC additional members. This is the ANC’s most senior committee, empowered to take vital decisions between five-yearly conferences.
The full committee list has been praised by the Zuma camp as a good mix of skilful leaders. But the side that lost in Mangaung says this is a weak team, a product of slate politics that saw sycophantic followers rewarded with seats.
These camps would obviously reach different conclusions in their assessment of the NEC. Its make-up shows a great deal of pragmatism, mixed with the usual politics where people good at the backstabbing get to senior positions, thumping those who may have more substance but cannot play the game of skullduggery of the ANC’s factions.
The election of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to the committee and former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni’s return to politics are counted as some of the good developments in Mangaung, together with Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as ANC deputy president.
They are considered to be pragmatic politicians who will help the ANC in crafting sound economic policies, and most importantly, explain them to the business world.
But these pragmatists are far outnumbered in this body by real ANC-style politicians: unskilled party stalwarts who rose through the ANC provincial system.
Most of them matured in the post-1994 South Africa. There is also a strong presence of unionists – who are considered conciliatory towards Zuma’s administration, and had been active in his second- term campaign.
Some of them are too junior in the ANC’s national scheme of things.
An example is Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba, who made the executive through a dexterous display of factional tip-toeing.
Like Msimang, Letsatsi-Duba was nominated from the floor, which came as a surprise to many delegates, who had heard her name for the first time in Mangaung.
She was nominated by a man from the Limpopo corner. There were vivas and ululation when the man got to the microphone, introduced himself and said his nominee was “Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba”.
Almost the whole hall cheered.
As they say, the rest is history. And Letsatsi-Duba is on the committee from which ministers are chosen.
Businesses wanting the inside track on the ANC also co-opt NEC members onto their boards or operations. Letsatsi-Duba became the Zuma camp’s darling when she outplayed Limpopo’s change campaigners, and turned the tables, in a peculiar situation where a province that initially appeared to be dominated by “change campaigners” arrived in Mangaung with the “second termers” in the majority.
How did she do it? She was instrumental in taking complaints to Luthuli House, just two weeks before the Mangaung conference. As a result of her appeal, close to 50 Limpopo delegates – part of the second-term camp who had been disqualified by the hostile Limpopo executive committee – were then allowed by Luthuli House to attend and vote in Mangaung.
Such shrewd politics turned Limpopo – once a vocal cog in the anti-Zuma wheel – into a timid, Zuma-dominated group when it got to Mangaung.
Letsatsi-Duba is now on the senior committee, while Msimang gets to enjoy his retirement and the developmental work he does around recreational parks in KwaZulu-Natal.
Slate politics continues to deprive the ANC of skilled people – as only those deemed “safe” by the “slate manager” are able to rise through the system.
Gordhan’s election is an obvious coup for the Zuma camp, as it validates the NEC, which has a huge task to convince the business and investment worlds that South Africa is on the right track.
But Gordhan may well benefit from a conversation with the man he succeeded as finance minister, Trevor Manuel.
Seeming burnt out after serving on the national executive since 1991, he turned down nomination for another term.
Manuel last year criticised the set-up, saying it disempowers people with policy know-how, thus advantaging ill-equipped branch level leaders.
Gordhan may walk into a culture of vuvuzela politics at national executive level – where people considered to be intellectuals and independent thinkers can be counted on one hand.
Naledi Pandor, Joel Netshitenzhe, Pallo Jordan … who else? The finance minister will soon find himself discussing fiscal prudence with the man called “Mr Money” – Philemon Mapulane. Mr Money is a flashy politician from North West.
He was once a municipal manager, at the Madibeng Municipality (Brits), a badly run council. Mapulane was arrested in connection with an alleged kick-back scandal but the charges were later withdrawn.
If it is not Mr Money, Gordhan may discuss austerity measures with another NEC novice, Humphrey Memezi – the man who bought a painting with a government credit card at McDonald’s.
Sam Mkokeli is political editor of Business Day where this article first appeared