In the up run to the December 2017 elective conference where both ANC and South African political leadership will be decided, I have taken it upon myself to look at the possible candidates for ANC presidency. In our first two installments we dealt with Cyril Ramaphosa and Lindiwe Sisulu. Today we are turning our attention to Matthews Phosa, who has lifted his hand unreservedly and made his intentions known. When others still attempt diplomacy on being nominated or campaigning, Phosa accepted nomination in April 2017. The ANC Ward 52, at the Langa Sports complex in Cape Town, nominated him.
Who is Matthews Phosa?
Matthews Phosa is 64 years old. He is a former ANC NEC member, debut premier of Mpumalanga and ultimately the former Treasurer General of the ANC. We will look at his campaign, his strategy, his utterances, and his chances of making it to the summit of ANC.
Phosa, the attorney by profession and originally from Mpumalanga, has consistently been around from the days of Mbeki’s election. When I argue “around”, I am saying he was always in contention for both wrong or right reasons.
BEE entrepreneur, poet, friendly to Afrikaans ‘whites’ and in the time of Malema as ANCYL leader shared a very close association the Youth League. Said to be an avuncular personality, he also played his role in the removal of Mbeki. He was duly rewarded to serve as the Treasurer General of the ANC at Polokwane. He in this season purports an interesting but strange fellow.
His Campaign and Message
Phosa’s personal campaign has red-carded the current ANC leadership in its totality, with extra focus on the ANC and SA president. His campaign therefore is built around presidential leadership.
His message is the ANC, and by extension SA, needs new political leadership. His answer for that leadership quest is himself. This underscores that like Tokyo Sexwale in 2012, he is on a solo mission, something that simply will never work in the ANC.
His strategy is perhaps now vintage Phosa style, seeking a means to divide and capitalise. In this season he is building on dividing the ANC leadership and its people while he hopes to walk away with the spoils as the messianic figure.
His campaign is less informed by substance or due critical consideration that will advance the cause of the people, but by an underlying sentiment of leadership crisis in the ANC in which his personality – from where he stands -remains the irrevocable, if not natural answer.
His campaign lacks a justified cause once it is stripped from the sentiment and the often-misunderstood role of ANC president and SA President.
The contrarian and divisive former ANC top six Member
To argue Phosa became the most contradicting former top six member of the ANC leadership in recent times is not far-fetched. His contrarian stance stems from the uprun to the Mangaung Conference when he served as Treasurer General. Back then it appeared he was the opposite of leadership in which he attempted to be the guardian of the errant youth league clearly with undeniable political intent for his personal gain.
Furthermore, he remains divisive as the first former leader that openly attacks the sitting leadership with scant regard for the importance of ANC respect.
At some stage his vituperative attacks on the serving leadership had Secretary General of the ANC Gwede Mantashe in August 2016 responding that Phosa had a case of sour grapes and suffered of entitlement, meaning he assumed he was going to be president and was deserving of it, when the ANC thought otherwise. Mantashe laid into him and said, “He was part of Jacob Zuma’s national executive committee and he decided to form something that contested (against Zuma). He wanted to be the deputy president and did not win – by implication, what it means is unless it is him who leads the ANC, there is no ANC”.
This mouthful confirms the summary of why Phosa may be lifting his hand in this season. It also confirms how far the boundaries have been drawn.
Phosa accused of interfering in Mpumalanga leadership
Phosa, it appears, has always capitalised on the division of power in the ANC as a means to exert his weight and control over others or in relation to others. This on the surface is not a bad strategy with personal advancement as an aim because where one’s power in a political and organisational context is supreme to others, space exists for abuse of such power. However, this leaves one as less trusted to follow through and alerts others of a self-centered pursuit in which the organisation is not important.
The divisive streak of Phosa as a means to rule was shown in his home province where it appeared he never allowed new leadership to function, but always interfered to have a form of a base.
He finally lost his long-standing grip on Mpumalanga. Phosa no longer rules this province that second to KwaZulu-Natal experienced the brunt of the most vicious political killings. Today Phosa has no clear-cut, easily defendable constituency to carry him further.
What does not work for Phosa’s campaign?
To become president of the Republic of South Africa you must first become president of the ANC if the past elections are used as the base. Phosa simply has no real appetite to lead the ANC; he has his eye, like so many, on the coveted Mahlamba Ndlopfu residence more than Luthuli House. It is here that a vital miscalculation for many contenders to high office is made.
If we move from the postulated premise that Phosa is on a solo mission to high office it has to be substantiated by his lack of support by those who have a say in ANC leadership:
His own past leadership record is not without blemish:
- Phosa’s success in running ANC money affairs, whilst no corruption, was found does not inspire much. Provinces remain responsible for their own management of ANC funds yet under his national treasury leadership provinces such as Limpopo had virtually gone bankrupt in organisational context.
- The ambivalence of the role of the ANC with the Chancellor House investment debacle and its Hitachi connection as a ghost is still simmering. Let us not forget how the then-Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe had to entertain that same question in parliament.
- Phosa it can be argued proved indifferent on the performance of provinces on their money matters and failed to visibly lead from the front in sanctioning or reprimanding those in error. A sense of visionary leadership is warranted in a society when corruption proves stubborn and endemic and is associated with ANC governance per se.
- It would have helped to have a Treasurer General who leads the charge on assisting ANC leadership at all levels in their finances, not withholding the rightful rebuke when and where necessary. Phosa as Treasurer General lacked the wherewithal to address the challenges of the provinces in calling those to book, instead he turned a blind eye, determined to focus rather on the youth league and mother body’s semblance of factions and political squabbles rather than his mandated assignment.
- Phosa as Treasurer General initially stirred much controversy on the Chancellor House finances. It appeared the proverbial ‘new broom’ then was out to prove those who were there before were less sensitive to a clean administration. It sounded as if he was mooting for an official probe. In the end nothing much came from this initial new broom sweeps. Perhaps with this move he alienated himself from many who understand how the ANC makes it money.
Phosa lacks support:
- The ANCYL under Collen Maine is not at all supportive of Phosa, whom it regards as divisive character that even assisted destroying the youth league.
- The women’s league will not support his candidacy for either number one or number two (president and deputy president).
- Phosa cannot count on provincial support for his candidacy. He is known as divisive and has shown no regard for provincial leadership, starting with his home province.
- A Phosa candidacy cannot count on labour or a workers sector that also sees Phosa as a reflection of white, in particular Afrikaner capital, therefore a possible economic enemy. He has never had strong or durable ties to this constituency.
- Phosa represents a group of BEE empowered political personalities that have become the meridian of wealth attaining, the same that the new economic redress debate condemns for its minuscule and lop-sided praxis.
- Phosa cannot count on the SACP, despite the fact that the SACP in this season may have serious challenges with the sitting president. It will not support Phosa – he is almost never seen or invited to address its conferences, a possible indication that they quarantined him a long time ago.
- Phosa cannot count on the dwindling former Mbeki loyalists who are in the ANC; these will remember his active role in the recall.
- Phosa has to contend with much more serious candidates in the form of both Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who have constituencies that have already confirmed their support.
In the end, I hold that Mathews Phosa overtly wages an open, unnecessary war campaign for presidency in his own name. He has no true support for his solo mission. He continues to be divisive, a now confirmed trademark of the individual. His campaign adopts the sentiment of a Tokyo Sexwale in 2012, a lone ranger as if in an American system. We may only speculate as to the role of Afrikaans capital in a Phosa campaign?
This solo flight appears to be going nowhere and at best may just give us something to comment on for now. Phosa is no serious contender and he knows that, but refuses to accept it.
Let Phosa contest. Every one of us needs a mirror so we may be like Mamphela Ramphele and once and for all realise how insignificant we really are.
I am afraid it will need more than Afrikaans (my first language) poetry and the indebted love of Afrikaans capital to lead the ANC and South Africa.
Clyde N.S. Ramalaine