“I am not suspended. I took extended leave and on Monday I am back in office.”
ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe hurries to get these words off his chest right at the start of the interview at his office in Randburg on Friday.
His own party has agreed with him, albeit reluctantly. It stated briefly in a last-minute response to City Press’ detailed questions that Mabe “was never suspended; he was on leave”.
On his first day back in office today, Mabe will take part in the scheduled special national executive committee meeting of the ANC.
But he is not entirely off the hook yet as his sexual harassment accuser, Kgoerano Kekana, has opened a police case.
Mabe has also lodged a fraud case against Kekana relating to the “false” academic qualifications on her CV.
The situation has left the ANC in limbo, according to Luthuli House insiders, which explains why the party dilly-dallied before providing clarity on Mabe’s status.
“It is a symptom of the prevailing confusion in the party’s overcrowded communications department,” City Press has heard.
This spells trouble for the governing party as the department has a critical line function to send out clear messaging, especially in an election year.
The apparent turf war for the control of the department is unlikely to ease with the return of Mabe, who, some have murmured, was underperforming.
The alleged underperformance led to the ANC’s decision in August to bring back former spokespersons Zizi Kodwa and Jackson Mthembu, as well as government communicator Phelisa Nkomo and student activist Fasiha Hassan to sharpen its communication strategy ahead of the May 8 general elections.
The changes, allegedly done in Mabe’s absence, were attributed to ANC head of elections Fikile Mbalula.
But Mbalula’s team has hardly been seen or heard from, and the ANC refuses to provide clarity, only saying that the issues “relate mostly to internal matters of the organisation”.
The party was also tongue-tied on the role of three managers – in communications, in media relations and on the elections team.
“We will not discuss internal and human resources matters of the ANC in the media,” said Dakota Legoete, who in some media statements is referred to as acting national spokesperson and in others as national spokesperson – which is Mabe’s position.
After City Press’ questions, national elections communications manager Lerato Monethi has also dropped the word “manager” from her title in statements sent out on social media.
Mabe neither denies nor agrees that some of these changes were imposed on him, saying instead that he “abides by the directives of the organisation”.
He says the ANC is dynamic and fluid in its operations, and that strategic changes will always happen as and when necessary.
“At the end of the day, it is about making sure that the party has a better chance in the battle of ideas.
“We speak here about many voices but one message,” he says.
Mabe adds that he welcomes criticism, even though it may not always be constructive.
But, he says, “it is important to confront each other face to face because anything other than that is sheer gossip and it does not build”.
Mabe says he came into the post just over a year ago during a torrid time, when the ANC was debating the future of former president Jacob Zuma and he had to hit the ground running.
Among the people who showed him the ropes, Mabe mentioned presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko, who was the ANC’s communications manager at the time.