In mostly lighthearted final media briefing, Gwede Mantashe remained immovable
The ANC secretary-general told the incoming leadership: ‘When you throw your hands in the air when there problems you [give] yourself a luxury you don’t have. Confront the issue and engage, have intense meetings
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe’s last media briefing in that role captured his personality perfectly: lighthearted, and as immovable as ever.
Mantashe’s 10 years running the party from Luthuli House have been messy and sometimes downright frustrating for him. But bidding him farewell in that post is bittersweet for many a journalist.
His frank assessment of the problems in the ANC was matched in equal part by a fierce defence of the organisation, often to his own detriment.
During the briefing at the ANC conference on Monday, he spoke about the natural trajectory of an organisation — how it grows, peaks, matures, stagnates and either dies or is revived.
While it has been argued that the ANC has served its purpose and is currently stagnant at best, or worse, dead, Mantashe was upbeat, saying the party remained a “trailblazer and leader of society”.
Both party members and citizens in general are keenly aware that while this may once have been the case, the ANC’s grip is slipping. Mantashe described a question about the ANC’s electoral decline and its prospects in the upcoming 2019 national elections as “strange”.
“Do you want us to come to you and say the ANC is finished now and 2019 it won’t be around? How can you expect us to say that? Where we have lost ground we have to work to regain. We are working for regaining the lost ground …. We want to be a strong ANC. We can’t have doubts about 2019; we have to work to improve and increase our support.”
The ANC could not afford to be relegated to a rural party, he said.
One reality about Mantashe’s tenure is the clear erosion of his trust in President Jacob Zuma, which was never articulated but has lurked beneath the surface, particularly over the last five years.
At the briefing, Mantashe quipped that he did not keep a diary of his relationship with Zuma. “We don’t keep diaries of disagreements,” he said.
However, one clear disagreement is state capture, which Zuma has dismissed..
“That issue is one that continues to divide us but it imposes responsibility on the leadership of the ANC to find a common ground. It exists. It is debated in society and the ANC can’t seen to be flat-footed on the matter,” Mantashe said.
Perhaps Mantashe will share the details of the decline in their relationship in a tell-all book, which he said could get off the ground in 2018. He jokingly asked journalists to apply for the job of writing it — making it clear that “ideological outlook” would be a factor in the selection process.
While Mantashe’s final interaction with the media was pleasant, the last decade has been rough. His legacy is set to be a checkered one. But perhaps no secretary-general of the ANC has had to put out as many fires caused by none other than the president of the party.
Here is a list of Mantashe’s most memorable quotes from his final engagement with the media.
On the ANC’s future towards the 2019 general elections, Mantashe said: “We can’t have doubts about 2019, we have to work to improve and increase our support … we want a better ANC, because a better ANC is good for the country.”
Mantashe said even investors were talking about the ANC and the outcome of the conference because it would affect the rand. “This means the ANC is recognised as a trailblazer and leader of society.”
On state capture, Mantashe said: “That issue, it’s one that continues to divide us but it imposes a responsibility on the leadership of ANC to find a common ground.”
On the debate about ANC MPs voting with their conscience in the motion of no confidence against Zuma, Mantashe said: “This was a mischievous debate …. No organisation is a gathering of free agents.”
On his relationship with Zuma, Mantashe said they had a professional relationship not a personal one. “If you don’t keep it like that you will make more mistakes,” he said.
Mantashe was asked when his relationship with Zuma broke down, and he responded: “It assumes leaders of the ANC keep diaries about their relationships. We don’t do that. I can’t say at this point that there was a breakdown.”
Delegates at the conference on Sunday debated whether they should be allowed to take a list of national executive committee (NEC) nominees into the voting box. Mantashe is one of the people against this: “That is slate politics in action. I hope [the] majority of delegates will not do that. Go vote for comrades that will add value.”
On members of the ANC taking the party to court ahead of the conference, Mantashe said: “If you don’t resolve their problems, they can go to court … sometimes it is us who frustrate them to take us to court.”
Mantashe left a message for the incoming leadership: “Lesson to the new leadership: when you throw your hands in the air when there problems you [give] yourself a luxury you don’t have. Confront the issue and engage, have intense meetings.”
Ending off the briefing, Mantashe said: “Thank you very much, goodbye, go well. After I step out of that conference, I will be unemployed. If you want an editor, I am available.”