Mahlatse Gallens

Is David Mabuza having a Damascus moment?

2017-09-21 11:03
David Mabuza

David Mabuza

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Mpumalanga ANC chairman David Mabuza, a self-confessed recovering factionalist, has emerged as a self-styled unifier of the divided party.

"We have caused such huge damage, in fact, what we were doing was wrong," Mabuza told ANC Youth League members last month, warning against factionalism.

He admitted that he was part of the winning clique that “entrenched factionalism” in the ANC at the two elective conferences that delivered us the train wreck that has been Jacob Zuma’s presidency.

Mabuza would like everyone to believe that he is like the biblical Paul who has discovered the truth on his way to Damascus.

But is his alleged personal transformation genuine or a disguise for a new faction?

Mabuza sounded regretful. "What we have done in Polokwane, what we have done in Mangaung cannot be repeated," he said.

For the past few months, he has styled himself as the unifier the ANC desperately needs, leading talks with different provinces ahead of the December elective conference.

But it is not clear how his past actions that “damaged the ANC” are different to what he is doing now.

As part of his unity project, he brought together leaders from the party’s four powerful provinces on Saturday to Mbombela. However, the second biggest ANC province, the Eastern Cape was not present. Limpopo and Northern Cape chairs who are backing Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa were also absent.

The curious outsider among the leaders of Mpumalanga, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and North West was Gauteng strongman Paul Mashatile.

He was never part of the Premier League that orchestrated Zuma’s victory at the two last national elective conferences and defended him in his tumultuous tenure that has left the ANC and country reeling.

Mashatile's involvement could be seen as the extension of a pre-existing faction rather than a unifying project as Mabuza claims it is.

The Premier League, the informal network of the premiers, wielded power, and they had influence on the outcome of the Women’s and Youth Leagues elective conferences. And it still enjoys the fruits of the factional politics that now define all the formal leagues.

On Saturday, the leaders agreed to an uncontested election as the answer to the factional politics that have paralysed the century old liberation movement. This is code for a decided slate by those with power.

This is nothing but a reinvention of factionalism. It would have the same effect of previous divisive strategies: deny genuine ANC members the opportunity to decide on their own how the party should be led and, most importantly, who should lead it.

The proponents of this unity process have their own challenge: Who will lead the “unity ticket” they are trying to ensure emerges at the December elective conference?

Ideally, a united front would have Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa who are front runners in the race. But earlier efforts to bring them together failed as neither was willing to deputise the other.

Leaders from the Free State, North West and KwaZulu-Natal are behind Dlamini-Zuma while Mabuza is said to be courting the third way of current Treasurer General Zweli Mkhize. Some have said Mabuza had a fall out with Dlamini-Zuma and while efforts to mend relations are still underway, Mkhize is his alternative to guarantee him a deputy president position.

And therein lies the problem: How can Mabuza campaign for unity while he has a stake in the outcome?

The same can be asked of Mashatile.

In June, Mashatile was singing the praises of Ramaphosa, endorsing him as a leader who “will instil confidence and protect the country from all forms of capture.”

But some insiders say he has jumped off the CR17 bus, after he failed to get assurance that he will make it on Ramaphosa’s top six. Mashatile has not hidden his ambitions to leave the province for Luthuli house.

Gauteng is widely seen as a support base for Ramaphosa, but his campaign in the province has been lacklustre, despite it being his home province.

The Mkhize ticket would see Mabuza get his position and Mashatile become treasurer general. Their personal ambitions suggest the so-called unity talks smack of nothing more than self-preservation and coming together of a new super-faction.

- Mahlatse Gallens is political editor of News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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