It is sad when a party loses talented people. It is sadder when one has worked for decades to build a party to see it teetering on the brink of a major setback.
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba. (Photo: Gallo Images)
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Malusi Gigaba symbolises the tragedy of post-94 South African politics.
A once promising and confident politician who, according to current ANC leadership standards, could've easily been the party's president in the next five years, Gigaba's career is at a crossroads.
Whenever there were informal discussions in ANC circles about the need to rescue the party from the clutches of pensioners and to reinvigorate it with youthful energy, Gigaba's name came up. Until recently.
The man is crumbling in front of us. His once waxing star is waning fast.
While on the rise, Gigaba was shrewd to always be a loyal follower of ANC leaders. Past and present leaders of the ANC were his idols. He saw himself as a good student of the intellectual class of former leaders like Anton Lembede.
When Thabo Mbeki was president Gigaba could be mistaken for his political clone. His mannerisms – from the way he would read his speeches, how he would clear his throat and the extent to which he would quote books – it sounded and looked like he was the next Mbeki in the making. And if, as is often said, Mbeki had been influenced by the respected Oliver Tambo, it means Gigaba was indirectly assuming Tambo's attributes in the ANC political lineage.
I remember Gigaba, as leader of the ANC Youth League, presenting a political report at the league's conference in Bloemfontein. He spoke for more than an hour in a speech that sounded like a combination of former finance minister Trevor Manuel's budget speech and Mbeki's State of the Nation Address – except that Gigaba was neither finance minister nor president.
I and a few fellow journalists felt that his speech wasn't addressing Youth League issues. We intermittently walked in and out while he spoke, confident we wouldn't miss any newsy bit. But in hindsight it is safe to say that, that long speech was more than Gigaba mimicking his leaders. It was a clear signal of his political ambition.
He nursed the ambition quite well. Over the years, he increasingly became fluent in his political speak, confident in his posture and showed signs of an intellectual politician – at least by South African standards.
He rose to become a Cabinet minister. He has occupied key portfolios: finance, public enterprises and home affairs. He was also elevated to the ANC's national executive committee. There's no doubt he was destined for even bigger things.
He might still be in line to rise further if the current credibility crisis he is facing proves more of a detour than a fatal political blow. Indications are that the latter is more plausible under the circumstances – and here is why.
While Gigaba's loyalty to his leaders guaranteed his rise in the ANC (in contrast to Julius Malema, whose rebelliousness saw him being kicked out), it also had seeds of destruction. And while it might have been harmless, if not politically enhancing, to mimick Mbeki, it was a different story when it came to Jacob Zuma.
Gigaba's tragedy can be traced to two factors from which many younger leaders should learn. The first is that he uncritically embraced leaders of the ANC. He was Mbeki's man until Zuma came along. And he was Zuma's man until Cyril Ramaphosa emerged.
The last phase is proving difficult for him because unlike his idolising of Mbeki, he had to pay with his credibility by being a Gupta stooge to prove his loyalty to Zuma. The Zuma/Gupta legacy is now a stumbling block to his transition to be a Ramaphosa loyalist. His lies about the Guptas' citizenship is a consequence of this difficulty.
He can't break with the toxic Zuma/Gupta past that had become an integral part of his personality. Ironically, only the truth can cleanse him, but that would require him to dig deeper into himself, to excavate his lost conscience. And that could mean spilling the beans in ways that would reveal his complicity in dodgy dealings.
The second factor is that in the course of his uncritical loyalty to his leaders – for which he was handsomely rewarded – Gigaba forgot to craft a Gigaba independent of his leaders.
This is a lesson to emerging political leaders in and outside the ANC: be loyal to a principle rather than personalities. Make it cool to be principled. In so doing you will, unlike Gigaba, deserve to be trusted to hold public power.
- Mkhabela is a political analyst with the Department of Political Science at the University of South Africa.
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