Almost 10 years since the ANC “recalled” Ebrahim Rasool as premier of the Western Cape, he is back to spearhead the party’s elections campaign in the only province where it is not in government.
“After I spoke to Fikile Mbalula on Friday night and told my wife, my mother, my sister and my daughter on the phone, they all asked me, ‘Are you crazy’?”
He said their reaction was related to the fact that he has been out of active politics for almost a decade, and had “this good, peaceful uncontested space in your life”.
“But the point is you can’t say no. There is something that tempts you back, especially when the political conditions are completely different,” he told City Press.
Rasool’s stint as Western Cape premier came to an abrupt end in July 2008, just months before his term ended. He had been a supporter of president Thabo Mbeki’s third term at the watershed Polokwane national conference of the ANC in 2007. He was also involved in a destructive factional battle with the then provincial executive committee led by James Ngculu (chairperson), with Mcebisi Skwatsha, Rasool’s biggest rival, as its secretary.
Speaking to City Press this week, Rasool claimed he has no hang-ups about his recall from office. He did not have kind words for former president Jacob Zuma, under whose leadership he was removed.
Zuma appointed Rasool as South Africa’s ambassador to the US in 2010, where Rasool spent five years in that office. For the past three years, he has been focusing on his World for All Foundation and his talks about the South African model of dealing with discrimination and building coalitions.
“It was the best 10 years not to be in government. You are not tainted by what happened in government, including state capture and defending the indefensible. It was the best thing that happened to me,” he said about the hiatus from local politics.
So why come back now?
Rasool is hoping to exploit the “enthusiasm, optimism and hope” which he says the election of Cyril Ramaphosa has brought to the country, and “the crisis” in the DA which he claims has reached dangerous levels for citizens.
“People want to be part of the healing of the nation, the renewal of the ANC, the prosperity that can come for the country. That becomes one of the major temptations for why you want to bring that Ramaphoria into the Western Cape.
“Secondly, the crisis in the DA is reaching dangerous levels for citizens. It has exposed the myth of a stable party and the myth that, where they govern, they are corruption-free and better in service delivery,” said Rasool.
“Between those two trajectories, I thought let’s give it a shot.”
Rasool was clear he is not giving it a shot because he thinks the ANC is in a position to win the Western Cape, but he is hoping to win the trust of the electorate and re-establish nonracialism in the Western Cape. “We had a setback for nonracialism, not only in the Western Cape but nationally. That’s the tragedy of the Zuma decade.”
The ANC in the Western Cape has become, by and large, an African organisation and has retreated into its African base, according to Rasool. “That is difficult to digest if you fought for nonracialism all your life.”
Rasool denied his appointment has anything to do with his race in a province where the coloured community is a majority.
“I am not here to respond to the coloured question. If anything, the Western Cape needs to respond to the national question: How do the various communities of the Western Cape form a common and equal citizenry? That is the challenge.
“It is not about throwing for a particular community. That is not where we are. We tried the coloured question in 1994. It failed.”
He claimed to be unaware of attempts by the ANC to lure embattled Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille to the ANC.
Rasool will hark back to his record in government as he attempts to pull the Western Cape ANC from its political and electoral ill health. The party’s support is currently at a “disgraceful” 26%.
“When I was premier we worked with all communities to build the economy to 5.8% GDP growth, and what is it now? We brought investment in call centres and in business process. We built a film studio and you accused me of corruption, but now major films are being shot there.”
Rasool says it is disappointing the media and commentators have rehashed the brown envelope scandal which, according to some, contributed to his dismissal 10 years ago.
“At personal level it is disappointing, but at political level, none can say ‘you messed up the economy, you stole welfare money, you’ve got unfinished hospitals’. What they are trying to say is ‘you have been involved in buying journalists’, but they had 10 years to investigate this. I’ve always told them if you have proof, go to the police station.”