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The Capture Of Gwede Mantashe

The long-serving secretary general of the ANC has tried -- but failed -- to modernise the party. He's caught in a vortex of state capture and inertia.

03/07/2017 16:04 SAST | Updated 05/07/2017 15:44 SAST

The office of the secretary general of the African National Congress (ANC) is a powerful one.

Nestled in a corner of the sixth floor of Luthuli House, in the middle of Johannesburg, it provides a vantage point of all the activities in the party, from branch level through provincial executives and caucuses right up to the presidency.

The secretary general runs the party and, for all intents and purposes, is its chief executive officer. His office ensures the smooth running of conferences such as the one being held at Nasrec this week. It is his authority that proves the final arbiter in most internal disputes and it is the SG, the moniker he goes by, that guides the deployment of ANC members in government and elsewhere.

When Mantashe took over from Kgalema Motlanthe at Polokwane in 2007 he inherited a party riven by division, an organisation in which rent-seekers (those that exploit state resources for narrow purposes) had muscled out traditional party values and a movement in which the manipulation of branch members and conference delegates was starting to skew leadership on all levels.

A decade on, nothing has changed.

Mantashe, like many of his colleagues, has been caught up in the powerful vortex of state capture and inertia. He is unable to escape the gravitational pull of party loyalty and has become a major force in the continuing drift of the once proud liberation movement. He will argue otherwise, but evidence suggests there is no real political will to use the powerful office he occupies to drive change. He has become part of the state of dysfunction in the ANC.

When Mcebisi Jonas, the deputy minister of finance, made the bombshell revelations last year that he was goaded into meeting the Guptas, President Jacob Zuma's closest allies, and offered the top job at the national treasury, Mantashe reacted with disgust. He announced an investigation by his office and anybody information was invited to present it to him.

Nothing came of it.

He reacted with similar shock and disbelief when Zuma appeased his allies in Saxonwold and removed Pravin Gordhan as minister of finance in March, famously telling Radio 702's Xolani Gwala the morning after that the party wasn't consulted about the decision.

"I can't use the word 'consulted', the ANC was informed. We were given a list that was complete. I felt like this list had been developed somewhere else and given to us to legitimise ... I am very uncomfortable, because ... ministers who did not perform were left untouched. He (Zuma) knows we are unhappy. He knows," Mantashe said.

A couple of days later he was forced to apologise for speaking out of turn and voicing his real concerns. But he did, loyal party man that he is.

And at the policy conference at Nasrec, entering its fifth day on Tuesday, he was again struggling to come to terms with the reality that is the ANC under his watch. He tabled a 10-page report diagnosing the problems in the party, an effort at an honest appraisal of the state of play.

But although he identified many of the same ills Motlanthe highlighted in 2007 – decline in the quality of branches and membership, divisions, discipline – he went off on a tangent about the "colour revolutions" of the Arab Spring and Eastern Europe, warning that the party should "analyse the characteristics" of marches by movements such as #FeesMustFall and #ZumaMustFall.

The "motive forces" behind these movements want to engineer regime change and although many of the people who took part in them have legitimate concerns, the ANC should be aware of Western machinations to enable them.

He decries the fact that the party fails to be solution-oriented, but fails to offer the same when identifying state capture and the Guptas as one of the party's greatest challenges.

Mantashe, the farmer from Cala in the Eastern Cape and the scourge of mining bosses in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is unable and seemingly unwilling to take his party by the scruff of the neck and rein it in.

He did nothing about Jonas, he was forced to capitulate to Zuma and cannot say what the ANC needs to do about state capture.

The SG's office is a powerful one. Somebody needs to put it to use.