02/11/2017 06:05 SAST | Updated 02/11/2017 07:30 SAST

Zweli Mkhize: The ANC Man With The Golden Unity Ticket

He said presidential candidates must prepare to lead, prepare to be led, or prepare to lead with others.

Presidential hopeful Zweli Mkhize stuck to the ANC script while being grilled during a live interview on Wednesday, carefully dodging around some direct questions posed by veteran journalist, Karima Brown.

The party's treasurer-general kept to his characteristically cool demeanor, habitually resisting prompts to denounce and undermine the ANC or any of his comrades.

But he still got his message across: unity to December and beyond.

During a live townhall discussion with Talk Radio 702 hosted by Brown, Mkhize was probed on his strategy to bring warring factions together, on his turnaround plan for the economy and his line of attack on corruption in government if he were to be president.

He started his opening address by detailing his curriculum vitae in the ANC, saying how his 39 years in the party and the experience he has gained from them favours his candidacy.

And what sets him apart from his six opponents?

He says the answer is in his ability to unify the organisation, to focus on the creation of a capable state and the building of the economy.

But this journalist asked him a direct question. Systematically, step by step, how would he go about bringing together a party which faces a reality where die hard supporters use every avenue, including the courts, to secure their preferred candidate?

Surely, if their candidate ends up on the losing end, more division will be sewn?

His answer initially focused on an ideological objective rather than a methodical process.

"You start by affirming the fact that the ANC is built on the foundations of unity. It remains the rock upon which the ANC was founded. Therefore, if there is no unity, there is a huge threat to the ANC," he said.

"It is about all the members. This message should be coming from all the leaders of the ANC at all times. Especially now. The way to go about it is to talk about it. The way to unite the ANC is to create a leadership that is inclusive, that does not exclude anyone, that does not base itself on a list that excludes others".

Brown reiterated the question, asking how he plans to do so. Mkhize switched up the tempo immediately.

He said presidential candidates must prepare to lead, prepare to be led, or prepare to lead with others.

"A lot of engagements must happen between now and the [ANC national conference]. It must be on the basis of what is best for the ANC under the circumstances. We must continue to respect each other, whether we have won or lost," he said.

He said the factional battles in KwaZulu-Natal, the province he led five years ago, erupted only after his departure to Luthuli House.

Mkhize dodged Brown's questions on whether he believed President Jacob Zuma should step down, on whether he was satisfied with Mineral Resource Minister Mosebenzi Zwane's appointment and whether he believed Zuma's rape accuser, Fezekile "Khwezi" Kuzwayo, was indeed raped by the president.

He answered, but there were no simple yesses and nos.

But that is what we have come to expect from Mkhize -- the ANC man who toes the party line, going about his business without drawing too much attention to himself. This distinguishing feature was also reflected by the atmosphere of the studio.

Weeks ago, when the Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu was a guest on the same show, it was an extravagant event. She brought her own camera crew and equipment, each chair was dressed in her campaign T-shirt and banners displaying her face alongside her token catchphrase "It's A Must" decorated the room.

Mkhize, on the other hand, entered with his campaign team and a few bodyguards. A few T-shirts were handed to the crowd -- who were already dressed in suits and dresses (Sisulu's audience comprised mostly young female students) -- and Mkhize took his seat.

Even when probed about the economy, he denied the ANC failed in its mission in carrying out the National Development Plan.

"We have not failed, a mistake you made is to pretend that nothing has happened in 23 years...cYou think 23 years is a long time, it is not... Challenges come from an inability to deal with and tamper with the structure of the economy," he said.

Asked if he would fire corrupt members if he were president of the ANC, Mkhize again spoke up the party.

"It's a sad perception to think the entire ANC is corrupt. Members want to see the label of corruption not being associated with the ANC. I believe there is a good base of where to start. Asking people to step aside until investigations are done is very important," he said.

"We need a mechanism that monitors the conduct of people, where when there are reports, we act on them immediately, investigate and act quickly. You need guts to be able to take firm decisions."

Do you have those guts? "I do".

Whether Mkhize as ANC president will have the guts to crack down on those accused of corruption, including Zuma, remains to be seen. But what is clear from the get go is that Mkhize is setting himself up -- or has already successfully done so -- to be a candidate entrenched in the party's traditional values.

And if this dark horse has a chance at the Number One spot, that will be his ticket.

IN PICTURE: Zweli Mkhize At #702TownHall