Extract: Mangaung: Kings and Kingmakers

2012-11-19 08:02

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What does the national conference of the ANC mean for the average South African? Mandy Rossouw explains, in easy and engaging fashion, how Zuma replaced Mbeki, how we got from the shock at Polokwane to daggers drawn at Mangaung - and who got us here. Here's an extract from Mangaung: Kings and Kingmakers.

For a moment during his speech at Gallagher Estate in June, President Jacob Zuma stopped, looked across the room and said: “I’m looking you in your face and telling you, don’t get involved here.” The conference room of 3 500 people fell silent. This was Zuma’s moment to show that this conference was his, and he wasn’t about to let anyone spoil it.

In his line of vision was the ANC’s newest structure, the Veterans’ League. This is made up of older comrades who featured in the struggle but were not necessarily Umkhonto we Sizwe fighters. They are mostly inziles, who formed the League in 2007 at the Polokwane conference. Back then its significance was not clear. On the face of it, it was simply a voting bloc resuscitated by Tokyo Sexwale, who at that stage thought he could become president of the ANC. Once Sexwale realised his presidential campaign was hopeless and threw his weight behind Zuma, little more was heard about the Veterans’ League. They received an office in Luthuli House and their president Sandi Sejake became an ex officio member of the national executive committee – the ANC’s highest decision-making body between conferences – and was given voting rights at these meetings, but for the most part the Veterans’ League was seen and not heard, and that apparently was the way Zuma liked it.

But then Sejake started to raise his voice against Zuma, at first quietly and diplomatically, and later more boldly. At issue was Zuma’s lifestyle and friends. The Veterans’ League was deeply disturbed when the news broke of Zuma fathering a child out of wedlock with the daughter of his close friend Irvin Khoza.

At the time, the ANC was dumbfounded as to what they should do. On one hand the outcry in the country about the behaviour of the president – the same man who was the chief patron of the Moral Regeneration Movement at one stage – could not be ignored. On the other hand, how do you talk to an elder who happens to be the president about bedroom politics? Despite the delicacy of the situation, the Veterans’ League took it upon itself to make it known that Zuma’s behaviour was unacceptable and a while later Zuma apologised to the nation. This was the second time Zuma had had to apologise about having extramarital sex with the daughter of a friend.

But the Veterans’ League had more beef with Zuma. The relationship between Zuma and the well-known and well-moneyed Gupta family was a source of great concern for Sejake and his ilk. Zuma’s twin children, Duduzile and Duduzane, had been invited to join the board of Sahara, a large computer company owned by the Gupta family. Duduzane Zuma had also, with the Guptas as his partners, secured a lucrative iron-ore tender that would have made him an overnight billionaire. The public outcry was, however, too loud and too vociferous to contain. Now the case is in court and the Gupta deal is off, but at the time the Veterans’ League felt that the president should not be seen to be so closely identified with a family that is so brazen about using its influence.

The reason for the Veterans’ League’s concern can be understood through an uncorroborated account of an NEC meeting, where a tearful Fikile Mbalula is said to have begged Zuma to tell him why the Guptas had told Mbaks – as Mbalula is known to his friends – that he was tipped for higher office than the deputy minister of police (which he was at the time). Mbalula would surely have been thinking that decisions of this nature were only made within the ANC, not in consultation with “outsiders”. If the Guptas had such levels of influence, it signalled that the ANC president had made the Guptas, not the ANC, his chief advisors. Other politicians have similar stories to tell – implying the Guptas either have irregular access to the president’s thinking or play a role in it. Both options send chills down many people’s spines.

- Extracted from Mangaung: Kings and Kingmakers by Mandy Rossouw (Kwela Books). Available from bookshops nationwide. Buy a copy now on Kalahari.com.

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