South Africa
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OPINIONISTA: People and politics: In the naughty corner today but in somebody’s good books tomorrow

This week has been like no other. We saw former president Thabo Mbeki openly campaign for the ANC for the first time in years. Granted he has attended important ANC events such as the governing party’s centenary in 2012 and the manifesto launch in Tshwane last month. But to openly campaign and call on potential voters to support the governing party has not happened since he was recalled in September 2008.

But even more surprising was seeing former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on the campaign trail. She has just returned to South Africa after a successful stint as the United Nations deputy secretary-general and executive director of UN Women, based in New York.

One would have been forgiven for thinking that it was 2007 all over again.

Mbeki and Mlambo-Ngcuka had unsuccessfully contested the positions of president and deputy president, respectively – but Jacob Zuma’s slate won that conference in Polokwane.

Their fallout with the ANC leadership, at the time, was nothing short of dramatic. Suffice to say, neither completed their five-year terms in government.

A lot has changed since then. It is now Zuma’s turn to sulk.

With the events of this week addressed by both Mbeki and Mlambo-Ngcuka, it is clear that their fallout was with Zuma and not the ANC.

In the same week we saw former health minister Zweli Mkhize approach the Johannesburg High Court seeking to have the damning Special Investigating Unit (SIU) report on Digital Vibes set aside.

You may wonder what this has to do with Mbeki and Mlambo-Ngcuka campaigning for the ANC. I will come back to this later.

In his court papers, Mkhize says the SIU had acted in bad faith and sought to ambush him – by not revealing information related to some of the allegations against him.

Without denying the contents of the WhatsApp message to former health director-general Precious Matsoso, where he nudged her to finalise the Digital Vibes contract, Mkhize takes issue with the fact that he was not given prior warning or told of the existence of the WhatsApp exchange when he met with the SIU.

The former health minister then attacks some of the assertions made by the SIU in its report, where it argued that in awarding the controversial R150-million contract to Digital Vibes, the Health Department had gone against a Cabinet directive to have the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) lead the communication on Covid-19. Mkhize attaches a Cabinet memo which dispels this claim and also reveals that Cabinet actually did not trust GCIS to carry out this function. Ouch!

Mkhize also reveals that he and his high-flying son Dedani are not on good terms. This claim is made to bolster his argument that he did not know about the money that flowed from Digital Vibes via Tahera Mather to Dedani.

Perhaps he may have a point about the Cabinet’s view or decision to locate the communication around Covid-19 in the Health Department. But it will be tough for him to prove that the SIU acted with malice. Anyway, it is for the court to determine.

But there is a bigger issue at play. It is clear that Mkhize wants to cast doubt on the credibility of the SIU and discredit its report. If he does this successfully then he is well on his way to contest a position at the ANC’s 2022 elective conference. The ANC does not have a history of frowning upon those with a cloud hanging over their heads. It is understood that Mkhize does not believe that he will be criminally charged – something which would be a stumbling block to his ambitions. He is said to be eyeing the not-so-secure position of deputy president. David Mabuza is vulnerable in that role.

But he is not the only one who has set his sights on Mabuza’s position. Gwede Mantashe is said to believe that the deputy presidency of the ANC is a natural progression for him.

With KwaZulu-Natal still reeling from the humiliation of 2017, when it failed to secure a single position in the party’s Top Six, it will be hoping for a different outcome next year. Mkhize is counting on the support of his home province.

We may be talking of him as a former minister, but we should not rule Mkhize out politically.

None of us would have thought that it would be Zuma’s turn to sit in the naughty corner while Mbeki and Mlambo-Ngcuka openly campaigned for the ANC. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.