The idea that David Mabuza was guided by the “dictates of his conscience” when taking the decision to postpone taking his parliamentary position would make him a rarity in governing party politics, writes Mpumelelo Mkhabela.
The decision by Deputy President DD Mabuza
to postpone taking his position as an MP presents a fascinating challenge to
President Cyril Ramaphosa. His political savviness is being subjected to test.
Having had a discussion with Ramaphosa and
allowing him to take charge of publicly explaining the decision, Mabuza was
well within the requisite protocol that would make the president feel
comfortable and in control. At least insofar the short-term political
developments within the ANC, particularly in the top six, are concerned.
What could be Mabuza’s ultimate aim? There
are three possibilities. The first could be that Mabuza fears the concerns
expressed by the ANC’s integrity commission – that he is among those who have
undermined the party’s reputation – could be validated unless he spends time to
Taking the deputy president’s position with
a busy schedule could unwittingly invite official investigations into his
dealings and deprive him of the necessary time to clear himself. He could end
up either being confirmed guilty of wrongdoing or being seen to be using the
state to defend himself.
If Mabuza had this consideration in mind,
we might well be entering a new territory in which ethical considerations
rather than the rush to high office begin to determine political decision-making
among political leaders. And what a territory it would be, led by Mabuza about
whom a number of political observers don’t think highly except as a shrewd
political maneuverer in ANC politics.
could’ve taken up his seat
Mabuza could have chosen to respond to the
integrity commission while keeping his parliamentary seat, thus securing his
appointment as deputy president of the republic. In terms of the normal
political obfuscation to which we have become accustomed, there would have been
no adverse consequences for taking up his seat.
He also had the option of taking his seat but
requesting Ramaphosa to delay his appointment to the national executive. Either
Mabuza knows something about what the integrity commission has on him and would
like to clear the air – in which case he should be applauded – or he is
pursuing another political strategy.
The second scenario is that he knows the
integrity commission might have nothing concrete about him except adverse media
publicity. Unlike others in Cabinet and in Parliament, Mabuza was never linked
to state capture, whether through the Guptas or Bosasa.
If he knows nothing substantial will be
found against him, could there be another reason for postponing taking up a
seat in Parliament? The answer is that he might want to return with dramatic
effect, emboldened that he has been cleared. That would certainly give him
ethical gravitas from which he would gain political mileage.
of conscience or things material?
The idea that he was guided by the “dictates
of his conscience” when taking the decision to postpone taking his
parliamentary position would make him a rarity in governing party politics. No one
has ever resigned or refused to take up a position on account of dictates of
conscience. It’s unheard of.
The dictates of things material have
dominated political decision-making for far too long. In fact, Mabuza himself
has been criticised of being party to such politics. Prior to the 54th
elective conference of the ANC at Nasrec, he confessed to have played a part in
factional politics, which he urged fellow leaders to bring to an end. But this
was a safe confession about what had become standard practice.
Many in and outside the ANC are yet to be
convinced about Mabuza’s leadership. Public opinion regularly questions his
credibility and his abilities. If he bounces back after clearing his name, he
will make a huge political statement and potentially silence sceptics.
The third scenario is that he is not
enjoying good health. He once told the Sowetan newspaper he had been poisoned
by his enemies. Although he appears to have long recovered, he has not spoken
about his health or whether the poisoning had any a long-term effect in his
ability to be effective in public office. If it is a health scenario, he is not
obliged to publicly disclose it. He might quietly stay away and retire in his
capacity as deputy president of the republic with all the perks that come with it.
Whatever the valid scenario for Mabuza’s
temporary withdrawal from Parliament, Ramaphosa must respond. It would be
dangerous for Ramaphosa to appoint an overly ambitious deputy in Mabuza’s “place”.
Should Mabuza be ready to take up the post in the near future, Ramaphosa cannot
afford to reject him. He needs a place holder who understands he or she is a
The post-1994 history of succession battles
in the ANC does not favour the incumbent to determine his successor. Even with
his stature and moral weight, President Nelson Mandela failed to have his
preferred choice, which happened to be Ramaphosa, to succeed him. Once
President Thabo Mbeki succeeded Mandela, he too failed to manage the succession
plan towards his preferred outcome.
President Jacob Zuma, who should have known
better after two of the ANC’s strongest leaders in recent times failed to get
their preferred choices, tried in vain to have Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as his
successor. Ramaphosa clinched the leadership race instead.
The lesson is that Ramaphosa should tread
carefully when considering an appointment as deputy president. It is his
constitutional prerogative to choose from any of the 400 members of the
National Assembly. Politically, it’s not a free choice as it appears on paper.
Failing to exercise his discretion wisely might
open a disruptive leadership succession race too early on, either against
himself or Mabuza. Both prospects hold danger to political stability. There are
too many things to fix in the country. Fueling the flames of ANC politics can
undermine his administration’s promise to deliver much-needed governance and
– Mkhabela is a regular columnist for News24.
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