By S’thembiso Msomi
Hardly a week goes by now without a leader telling a publication they are “being lobbied” to stand for one top post or another.
As ritual dictates, they all tend to say they have “been approached by the branches” and are “still consulting with structures” while refusing to confirm if they are available for the post. But of course they are.
Quite eager, too. They feign reluctance only because in the former liberation movement they’d rather pretend holding office is a “sacrifice” one makes on behalf of the “toiling masses” instead of the lucrative career move it often is.
“Branches want me to be president but I am prepared to serve anywhere, even if it means sweeping the floor,” so famously said one leader a while ago. Soon thereafter he waged a campaign so vicious against his opponent that it became clear that for him it was the top job or bust.
The party culture makes being ambitious taboo while evidence of the past two decades of fierce infighting over leadership roles shows that most are in it for the positions and power. Being in politics for power and positions is not in itself a bad thing.
That is, as long as the objective is to use those positions and the power they come with for greater good rather than self-enrichment or to curry favour for one’s friends and sponsors in the private sector.
But because being upfront about one’s ambitions is frowned on, many ANC politicians find themselves resorting to the weird method of announcing “I am being lobbied” as shorthand for “When you go to your branch meetings and regional conferences, please know that I am available to be elected to this job”.
With Lindiwe Sisulu and Zweli Mkhize perhaps the only people in the ANC who believe it may be a good idea to change the ANC president at the next conference in December, many in the “I’m being lobbied” crowd appear to have accepted that President Cyril Ramaphosa will be re-elected and that they can run only for the remaining top five party posts.
As we report elsewhere in this edition, there are at least six names being bandied about for the post of ANC deputy president.
Among the political pundits one speaks to, the money seems to be on the young justice & correctional services minister, Ronald Lamola. His main attraction, apparently, is that at 34 he could help the ANC convince young voters that it is not “a dying party of pensioners” who have no stake or interest in the future of the country.
Until the conferences are held, expect more ANC politicians granting media interviews ‘to confirm’ they have ‘been approached’
His standing is also helped by the fact that he is one of the few leaders of his generation not implicated in one form of corruption or another.
But one should never underestimate Paul Mashatile, especially as his camp is likely to win the upcoming ANC Gauteng conference, where his associate, Lebogang Maile, will be running against Panyaza Lesufi for the post of provincial chair.
There is also an assumption that Mashatile has the backing of his old friend and current deputy president, David Mabuza. But DD, in typical fashion, is keeping everyone guessing.
He is yet to indicate if he has the appetite for another term. Mabuza often plays his cards so close to his chest that when he makes a move, he surprises both friend and foe alike. Ask Jacob Zuma supporters what happened at Nasrec five years ago.
So it may well be that Mabuza is not backing Mashatile; that he wants to keep the post for himself. But still, he could also be the brains behind the Lamola campaign. However, it’s all speculation.
None of those who say they are “being lobbied” have tangible support from party structures yet. That will not happen until most of the provinces have held their regional and provincial conferences.
Mabuza, for instance, cannot assume to wield the kind of power he had in 2017 ahead of Nasrec because his home province, Mpumalanga, is no longer as united behind him as it was when he was both premier and provincial ANC chair.
Until the conferences are held, expect more ANC politicians granting media interviews “to confirm” they have “been approached”. Soon thereafter you’ll see them attending funerals of strangers in even the remotest of corners of the country — with camera teams in tow.
Pictures and videos of them singing struggle songs and dancing with “the masses” will be posted on social media as a demonstration of their oneness with the people. All in a bid to have their names remembered by branch delegates in December.
S’thembiso Msomi is the Editor of Sunday Times