The minister of public enterprises is ranked third on the ANC list and heads its election campaign, writes Fiona Forde.
Is Malusi Gigaba a political prince out to claim the coveted crown? If he is, he is being discreet about it. “The ANC has given this country many excellent leaders and my generation and I are not there yet,” was his careful response just days after he was ranked third on the ANC’s list of parliamentary nominees.
Still, his rise over the past few years has been effortless, both within the party and in public office, and there is every reason to believe his profile will continue to grow.
He was a three-time president of the ANC Youth League between 1996 and 2002, has been a member of the national executive committee (NEC) of the ANC for 12 years and is now on the national working committee.
In the run-up to the 2012 Mangaung conference, he was nominated by a few branches to join the “top six”. Though he didn’t make it, his popularity among party members has not waned.
He became an MP in 1999 at the age of 28 and in 2004 was appointed deputy minister of home affairs, a position he held until 2010 when he became the new public enterprises minister in one of President Jacob Zuma’s most radical cabinet reshuffles.
That move surprised many. Gigaba was only 38 at the time and it was felt he was too young and inexperienced for what is arguably one of the most critical portfolios.
He was also regarded as something of a Zuma lackey, having made a careful jump from Thabo Mbeki’s camp when the tide began to turn.
But Gigaba proved his critics wrong. Not only has he grown into his position as minister, his popularity among the party’s branches appears to be independent of factionalism.
Asked how he felt about being number three on the party’s list, he said: “I was shocked, but I was humbled. Those are the outcomes of the popular opinions of the branches, which nominate independently and without influence or lobbying.”
As to when he got a whiff of his ranking, he says it was at a meeting during the national list conference in January.
“The list was flashed on to the screen for a moment. That’s when I saw my name. But it didn’t mean much to me as I didn’t know if it was a sample list or the real list.”
At the conference in Mangaung he was voted “number two” on the 80-member NEC by the delegates, a ranking he also didn’t expect.
“Again, I was surprised. So much so that when the first name was called out (Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma), I was chatting with some comrades and didn’t hear my name called.
“I just sat there, continuing to chat, until people around me started saying ‘Your name has been called’, because I had to go to the podium and they were waiting for me. I was surprised then. And I’m very surprised now as well.”
As to what it means: “Members of the ANC trust you and the degree of that trust is enormous. And you have a responsibility to fulfil that trust. It’s no small thing. You are expected to serve the nation on behalf of the movement.”
But Gigaba is not dizzied by his popularity.
“I try not to read too much into this. That would be an unnecessary distraction.”
He said the ANC’s list was a good one. “It represents change and continuity. There are those who have been around the institution for long. There are those coming in for the first time, bringing with them an element of ‘newness’, something fresh – and these include young MP candidates who will represent the youth perspectives.
“There are those making a return after a stint outside (such as Baleka Mbete and Tito Mboweni). And there are those who are being redeployed from the provincial legislatures who bring experience and provincial perspectives to the institution.”
On the question of the importance of having younger people represented, Gigaba said: “It is very important. South African society and politics are getting younger and that kind of mentality needs to be settling in, even though it’s always critical for the ANC to balance young and old, as this is also a conservative society.”
The ANC’s list has evoked criticism for including some “tainted” politicians, such as axed communications minister Dina Pule.
Gigaba said: “Remember that this list is a product of branch nominations and the controversial names you refer to have been publicly reprimanded; some have apologised and been demoted. Their nomination doesn’t mean they are going to be ministers. That is at the president’s discretion.”
He ducked a question about whether he was disappointed to see people like Pule on the list, saying: “I’m not responsible for that list. This was an independent process. It is not for me to be disappointed by any comrade’s nomination, much as it is not for anyone to be disappointed by my nomination.”
Another of Gigaba’s party titles is elections campaign head, a position he took over late last year from Ngoako Ramathlodi.
“I would have been a lot happier if I had been appointed earlier because it would have given me time to do certain things. I got in when the campaign was already running and structures were established.”
He is careful to add that what he inherited was “an effective and unassailable machinery”.
As elections campaign head, Gigaba is expected to run the campaign, co-ordinate it and lead it. His right-hand man is Amos Masondo, former mayor of Joburg and a dab hand at campaigns (he held Gigaba’s position in 2004).
Joining them in the core campaign team are Nomvula Mokonyane, Bathabile Dlamini, Andries Nel, Lindiwe Zulu and Obed Bapela.
And the big questions – how would he rate the ANC’s chances in these elections? “We are looking for an overwhelming majority. We don’t put a figure to it.”
Some have predicted the party will drop below the 60 percent margin, but Gigaba expressed confidence that his party would retain an overwhelming majority, saying: “There’s no doubt about it.”
What could stand in the way of that?
“The ANC itself.”
“Maybe. But, above all, (it will be) if our organisational and mobilisation machinery begins to crack and to falter. We are our own biggest risk.”
Could the pending public protector’s report on Nkandla have an impact?
“Nkandla has been dealt with. It’s not anything new. We’ve always made the point that we’ve been suspicious about the delay in the report because it’s meant to influence the outcome of the elections. And the leakages for us were extremely unfortunate.
“They were meant to shape public opinion. In our view, we separate the necessary security upgrades at the residence of the president and wrongdoing by people who managed that project. So we have said legal action must be taken against the wrongdoers, whether they are officials or politicians.”
Is Cosatu a benefit or bane of this election?
“Our relationship with Cosatu, as a result of the challenges they face, has become stronger because we have genuinely been trying to help them without imposing what they need to do. Cosatu knows what must be done to ensure the ANC’s mandate is renewed, and they also understand why this must be done.”
What about Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu’s suspended general secretary?
“An individual is incapable of influencing the ANC or harming it. Many better men have tried and failed. I see no reason for an exception to this rule.”
Of the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa), he said: “Members of Numsa are not a problem; it’s the pronouncement of Numsa leadership that’s a problem. But they don’t worry us. Workers know the ANC is their political home and most reliable ally.”
Recent internal polls have suggested the ANC is facing a serious challenge in Gauteng, but Gigaba dismissed reports about this as “pure sensation”.
“The challenge in Gauteng will be overcome in the campaign. You poll the situation in the country ahead of the campaign to gauge public opinion, identify sensitive and controversial issues and then begin to engage them,” he said.
“We are polling the country now. It gives us a sense of the weak points and where to redirect ourselves.”