David Mabuza: from dirty politician to ANC kingmaker

SKUKUZA, SOUTH AFRICA - MAY 22: President Jacob Zuma has a moment of laughter with the Mpumalanga Premier; David Mabuza during the Kruger National Park land claims settlement ceremony on May 22, 2016 in Skukuza, South Africa. Six families were compensated for their Kruger National Park land claims. (Photo by Gallo Images / Beeld / Theana Breugem)

Forget about Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and her questionable character.

It now looks increasingly likely that a man who has been accused of masterminding the assassination of his political opponents, large-scale plundering of public funds, attempts to bribe journalists, and stashing away millions of undeclared rands at his farm will be elected ANC deputy president when the party meets in Johannesburg in two weeks’ time to vote for new leaders.

How did it happen that one of the dirtiest politicians in the history of the ANC has officially become the kingmaker for who will lead the ANC, and possibly South Africa, for the next decade?

The fact that Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza holds the keys to whether Dlamini-Zuma or Cyril Ramaphosa will emerge triumphant as ANC leader from the gruelling Nasrec conference proves just how low the bar has sunk for a party that was once a proud liberation movement.

Let’s be clear: Mabuza has never been convicted of a crime in a court of law. But his tenure as Mpumalanga ANC chair and premier since 2009 has been one humongous orgy of plunder and illegality, according to journalists, comrades and foes who have bore witness to the capture of the province by Mabuza and his allies over the years.

City Press’ excellent Mpumalanga reporter Sizwe Sama Yende recently published an entire book on Mabuza’s disastrous reign, titled Eerie Assignment.

It is downright frightening to think that he may become the second-most powerful man in the ANC. The thought of Mabuza as the country’s deputy president makes junk status look like a compliment, but the prospects of a Dlamini-Zuma/Mabuza-led ANC winning the national election in 2019 must be very slim.

Sama Yende and City Press editor Mondli Makhanya authoritatively reported on Sunday that Mabuza is now officially the kingmaker and that neither Dlamini-Zuma, nor Ramaphosa can win without his support.

With almost all the provincial branch nominations having been declared, it is clear that no candidate will make a clean sweep. It’s a 50/50 race and any prediction that Ramaphosa’s got it sewn up is naively premature.

Dlamini-Zuma will take most of KwaZulu-Natal, which will take her tally past Ramaphosa, but not over the finish line. And that’s why Mpumalanga’s 736 delegates become critical.

A candidate called “Unity” received the most nominations from Mabuza’s province. Dlamini-Zuma came second and Ramaphosa third.

It is known that Mabuza distanced himself from the so-called Premier League, who are spearheading Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign, earlier this year. With Mkhize, they became the poster boys for the “Unity” ticket, which proposes no contestation for the top 6 positions in the ANC.

But Mkhize hasn’t garnered enough nominations for the top job to see him through. Late horse-trading is ongoing – there are suggestions that Gauteng ANC chair Paul Mashatile may be accommodated on the Dlamini-Zuma/Mabuza slate – but at this stage it seems unlikely that Dlamini-Zuma or Rampahosa will capitulate.

In that case, Mabuza told City Press, he will throw in his lot with one of the camps, and that camp is likely to be Dlamini-Zuma’s. If the “Unity” voters go her way, she is likely to emerge victorious from Nasrec.

Mabuza has been critical of Ramaphosa’s decision to announce his running partner (Naledi Pandor) a few weeks ago, and has made it clear that he will rather negotiate a deal with Dlamini-Zuma.

He has always been Dlamini-Zuma’s candidate for deputy president and she would be amenable to his demands if it means winning.

What would these demands be?

It’s an open secret that IT-businessman Robert Gumede is campaigning hard for Mabuza (at some stage there was even talk of nominating the rogue premier for ANC president). Gumede is no fan of Dlamini-Zuma, who had kicked-out his IT company Gijima from home affairs when she was minister at the time.

Gumede and Mabuza are also rumoured to be unfriendly with the Gupta family, who is pushing hard for Dlamini-Zuma to be the candidate for “radical economic transformation” Zupta-style.

Although Mabuza hitched a ride on the Guptas’ private plane to Moscow last year to receive treatment after being poisoned in South Africa (the parallels with President Jacob Zuma’s poisoning episode is astounding), he is apparently no longer a fan of the family from Saxonwold and will push for Dlamini-Zuma to break ties with them.

This means if she wins, Dlamini-Zuma will spend a lot of time navigating between the different interest groups behind her throne, who would want their share of the fiscal cake. The kingmaker will be entitled to a large slice.

Sama Yende interviewed a former Mpumalanga MEC for a profile on Mabuza last year, who said of him: “He’s just paranoid and narcissistic. Everything is about himself. He’s like a child who catches a fly, clips its wings and lets it walk. No comrade has been empowered by him because he gives and he takes. But he has a sweet charm. There’s a time when he charmed and made me drop my guard, and that’s when he’s dangerous.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

– Basson is editor-in-chief of News24. Follow him on Twitter: @AdriaanBasson

(Photo credit: Gallo Images / Beeld / Theana Breugem)