As the divisions in the ANC and in the Cabinet have spread, President Jacob Zuma has grown closer and closer to Intelligence Minister David Mahlobo, who now occupies the role of a de facto prime minister.
Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa have utterly parallel ideas on how to run the state, while the president is punting Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to take over from him as party president. This act of political favouritism has caused an icy tension between the two men. Last week, Dlamini-Zuma was sworn in as an ANC MP, ahead of a rumoured Cabinet reshuffle to induct her into the executive.
In this atmosphere, he has turned to Mahlobo as his confidante and right-hand man.
Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe opposes state capture and has publicly criticised Zuma's continued closeness to the Gupta family.
In addition, Zuma is at odds with his SA Communist Party allies in Cabinet who have publicly called for him to step down and therefore have become an enemy within.
In this atmosphere, he has turned to Mahlobo as his confidante and right-hand man. Mahlobo accompanies Zuma on most trips and he was with him at the UN General Assembly again this week.
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Mahlobo has a taste for interesting friends in business: the Qatar-based TV channel Al-Jazeera last year blew the lid on his friendship with alleged Rhino-poaching kingpin Guan Jiang Guang.
At the weekend, The Sunday Times reported that Mahlobo had made the introductions between the Russian gas company, Rosgeo, and the colourful business pair Kenny Kunene and Gayton McKenzie.
Earlier this month, Rosgeo inked a R5.3-billion deal with PetroSA for gas exploration off the southern coast to feed the gas to liquids refinery at Mossel Bay at the recent Brics summit in Xiamen, China. Kunene and McKenzie were introduced to the Russian executives as the local partners in the deal, according to The Sunday Times. Kunene and McKenzie are hucksters and well-known ex-convicts who have owned nightclubs, who enjoy sushi, started a political party called the Patriotic Alliance and are friends with Zuma.
Kunene's website, Weekly Exposé, which was registered by an employee of the Gupta family, has aired details of the women with whom Ramaphosa had allegedly had extramarital affairs.
Mahlobo has a taste for interesting friends in business: the Qatar-based TV channel Al-Jazeera last year blew the lid on his friendship with alleged Rhino-poaching kingpin Guan Jiang Guang. Images of Mahlobo canoodling with staff at Guan's massage parlour in Mbombela briefly went viral, but the Hawks have put the investigation on ice as the rhino man has gone AWOL.
Mahlobo has been a member of the ANC NEC since 2012 and knows Zuma from his time as a young activist in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
A former head of intelligence, who requested anonymity, says economic diplomacy where Cabinet members support local businesses is common, but it is highly unusual for introductions to be made by intelligence ministers. "As a minister of intelligence, you don't get involved in business. It's shocking," he said, adding, "What national security imperative was being pursued to make him get involved?"
Zuma was ANC head of intelligence for many years and feels comfortable in the security world. Mahlobo is a newcomer to Intelligence and was appointed to the Cabinet from Parliament in 2014. Since then his rise has been spectacular.
At 45 years old, Mahlobo is among the Young Turks Zuma promoted into the national executive. The son of a chief hails from Mpumalanga and has served in the ANC in many capacities after its unbanning. He has been a member of the ANC NEC since 2012 and knows Zuma from his time as a young activist in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
The Zuma-Mahlobo bromance . . . the year that was