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‘Betrayed and angry’, but Mabuza’s back in the running as No. 2

2019-05-27 00:00

As Ramaphosa finalises radically reduced Cabinet, DD is set to make a comeback to his post following an urgent hearing by the integrity commission

President Cyril Ramaphosa is set to radically reduce the current size of Cabinet from a total of 72 people, including deputy ministers, to just 32, with Deputy President David Mabuza retaining his position.

Ramaphosa, who was sworn in as president on Saturday, is expected to first publicly outline the newly reformed Cabinet structure before announcing his new team.

Depending on the progress of what are expected to be tough consultations with the top six and the ANC’s allies, the process will be completed by Sunday or Monday.

Ramaphosa has articulated his vision to trim down the size of Cabinet to make it more effective and less costly to the taxpayers.

The number of ministers and deputy ministers went up from 50 under former president Thabo Mbeki to 72 under former president Jacob Zuma.

Senior sources said there was still strong resistance to the radical cut, as it had been expected that he would retain 25 full ministers and remove superfluous deputy positions.

“There is going to be a lot of disappointment,” the source said.

It is understood that even as late as this past weekend, there was lobbying in higher echelons for the cut not to be as deep.

The ‘moral high ground’

All indications are that Mabuza will still feature as the country’s number two.

City Press has learnt that Mabuza met with the ANC’s integrity commission on Friday and argued his case.

In a dramatic move, Mabuza had declined to be sworn in as an MP on Wednesday, citing the need to first clear his name with the commission.

This after it had named him, a few weeks before the elections, on a list of 22 people identified for conduct that might have brought the party into disrepute.

Sources close to the presidency said Mabuza had pressed to meet the integrity commission at its earliest convenience in a bid to clear his name, despite the ethics body’s initial statement that it would only be available to sit with all the implicated candidates between Sunday and Tuesday.

This could have ruled Mabuza out of the running for the deputy presidency. There was even speculation in political circles about possible candidates to replace him.

David Mabuza and his wife, Nonhlanhla Patience Mnisi, at the inauguration. Photo: Felix Dlangamandla

On Friday, the committee presented Mabuza with reasons why his name had been flagged as a reputational risk to the ANC – including allegations circulating in the media. He also got the opportunity to present his side.

The committee also interviewed ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe, according to its chairperson, George Mashamba.

Mashamba said the remaining 20 candidates would appear for a hearing from Sunday onwards, after which the integrity committee would submit its views to Luthuli House.

“We are meeting with another 20 people, if they come, so we have not yet formulated what we would hand over to the national executive committee,” he said.

He would not say whether Mabuza’s matter was treated as urgent.

Mashamba said the committee would have met more people on Saturday if it were not for the inauguration, adding: “We will finish the interaction with all of them first before reporting back.”

City Press has learnt that in the meeting with the integrity commission, Mabuza was informed that the list had been doctored at Luthuli House after it was handed over to the leadership.

Mabuza, who had thought he was being sabotaged by people who felt betrayed by his eleventh-hour switch of Mpumalanga’s support to the Ramaphosa camp during the 2017 Nasrec conference, is said to have been very angry on discovering that the action of placing his name on the list had come from within ANC headquarters.

The commission told him that it “could not help him” with the answers he was demanding because the original list did not contain his name, as well as the names of a few other leaders.

Mabuza, who had thought he was being sabotaged by people who felt betrayed by his eleventh-hour switch of Mpumalanga’s support to the Ramaphosa camp during the 2017 Nasrec conference, is said to have been very angry on discovering that the action of placing his name on the list had come from within ANC headquarters.

He intends to raise the issue at a meeting of the top six this weekend and demand answers.

City Press heard that ahead of Mabuza’s bombshell on Wednesday, Ramaphosa was lobbying hard behind the scenes to change his deputy’s mind.

“Ramaphosa even sent Mabuza’s close ally to convince him to accept the position of deputy president,” said a person in Mabuza’s camp.

Read: Ramaphosa must worry about Mabuza. He may be about to play his best card

“The president’s message was: ‘Ask your guy not to divide us.’ He still refused,” said the insider, “and insisted that he wanted to clear his name first.”

The person said that in typical Mabuza style, his action sought to catapult him as a leader occupying the moral high ground.

Mabuza’s spokesperson, Thami Ngwenya, declined to comment on how the interview with the integrity committee went.

A close aide said it was “difficult to tell what the outcome would be” but was quick to add that Mabuza had put forth a strong case in his defence.

Mabuza is believed to be confident that the committee did not have any strong evidence against him.

“The president’s message was: ‘Ask your guy not to divide us.’ He still refused and insisted that he wanted to clear his name first.”

Mabuza would also have been emboldened after Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane cleared him in two cases of maladministration dating back to his time as premier in Mpumalanga – including the provincial government’s event management contract for former president Nelson Mandela’s memorial service and the purchase of his official vehicles.

Mabuza’s letters to Magashule

City Press has seen copies of letters Mabuza sent to ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, in which he outlined his decision not to be sworn in as an MP on Wednesday.

“As you would know, we have throughout the campaign rallied our people around the call to grow South Africa, and for the renewal and rekindling of ethical leadership within the ANC and the state,” said Mabuza.

He said he was wary of being sworn in while a cloud remained over his head, following media reports that the integrity committee found him to be among the “problematic candidates on the organisation’s list of members to be deployed to serve in the National Assembly”.

“As leaders, we should be seen to stand by, and to support, the call to renew the ANC and its call for ethical leadership,” said Mabuza, adding that he “took the mandate given to the ANC in the recent elections with humility and seriousness”.

City Press has heard that Mabuza’s actions were a continuation of his “unity” campaign to renew the ANC – which had, over the years, come under criticism for losing its moral compass. He was also taking the unprecedented move to support efforts to cleanse the ANC of “foreign tendencies” that sought to erode what had previously galvanised society to rally behind the party.

The long-term game

Mabuza’s sympathisers said the saga around the integrity commission’s report may have provided Mabuza with the right excuse to leave government office and focus on building his power base in the ANC.Mabuza, according to three people close to him, did not want to be the country’s deputy president in the first place, after he boosted Ramaphosa’s ascendancy at the Nasrec elective conference in December 2017.

His wish was to remain at Luthuli House and do the ANC’s work – which, to those who know him, would have given him ample time to work on the ground. He would have then been able to build a strong national base to eventually succeed Ramaphosa as president.

Mabuza is known for being patient when it comes to planning for positions.

In Mpumalanga, he deputised two chairpersons – Ndaweni Mahlangu and Thabang Makwetla – without giving the slightest of hints that he had ambitions to take over the province.

He may be repeating the same script this time. But his decision last week caught even his close allies by surprise.

Mabuza is known for being patient when it comes to planning for positions.

In the lead-up to Nasrec, Mabuza advocated unity and said he was not going to accept any leadership position if the ANC was approaching the conference on factionalism.

This gambit worked for him because he ended up being a preferred candidate to be deputy president in both Ramaphosa’s and Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s slate.

Mabuza insider said that, at first, most people believed it was Ramaphosa who did not want to appoint Mabuza as his deputy.

“They were wrong. Mabuza is the one who has been digging in his heels about accepting the position,” he said.

A government insider said Mabuza was financially secure with the presidential pension benefits, so there were no pressing reasons to return to government.

However, said the person, if Mabuza was to shut the door on the government move, his plan would be to cede the position to someone who would gain him political influence, and Dlamini-Zuma might be the right candidate.

KwaZulu-Natal is the ANC’s biggest province in terms of membership, but it is not represented in the top six.

So, if Mabuza is seen to be giving up his position in favour of [KwaZulu-Natal born] Dlamini-Zuma, that would endear him to the provincial base in the next ANC conference.

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September 15 2019