ANC national chairwoman and National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete in an interview with ANA. Photo: ANA/Nosipiwo Manona
Port Elizabeth – There is no campaigning under way for the African National Congress presidency position ahead of the party's elective conference in December, according to ANC chairwoman and National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete.

“There is no [leadership] race taking place in the ANC,” she told the African News Agency (ANA) in an interview in Port Elizabeth this weekend. 

“The party has expressed itself very clear earlier in the year to say there is no race, there is no campaign,” she insisted. "It therefore is not expected that ANC cadres should be engaging in activities that are campaign inclined.” 

She said people might be making statements in response to certain issues and might possibly be quoted out of context. “The statements they are saying may not necessarily be meaning they are campaigning.” 

Their audiences might listen to them and take them "anyhow", as expected of a "silly season", Mbete said. 

For some time now it has been fairly obvious that President Jacob Zuma is endorsing his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed him as ANC president. Mbete herself is believed to harbour ANC presidency ambitions. 

During the interview with ANA, Mbete would not be drawn on whether Dlamini-Zuma was the best female candidate the ANC had to offer. “I am not willing to answer any question that is about assessment of any individual in relation to what you refer as candidacy or a race for succession in the ANC. Please wait for us [until] that time has come; once that time has come we will have all the time to comment in all the spaces and platforms unreservedly.” 

Mbete also declined to confirm or deny that she might contest the ANC presidency. "You must not force us to answer these questions; we are not allowed to answer,” she said. “Anybody engaging in campaigns will be viewed as unofficial, can be viewed as defiantly breaking the rules of the ANC. It can lead to disciplinary action, provided it is proved to be campaigning,” she said. 

Asked about the influence of the wealthy, politically connected Gupta family, Mbete said: “I have never been to Saxonwold [the Gupta family compound in Johannesburg]. I just remember one of the Gupta brothers in Luthuli House just making a general invitation. 'You must come home, the old lady cooks some nice curry', he said, but I’ve never been to their home,” she said. 

Asked whether there was any specific reasons why she had never been to the Gupta family home, she said her time was taken up by her work and her family. "I’m running around between pursuing deployment matters, Parliament, and [ANC headquarters] Luthuli House; my hands are literally full and then of course I’ve got family responsibilities now.” 

She was not aware of any ties between the Guptas and the ANC as an organisation. “Of course, personal friendships with various ANC people, ministers and individuals, can exist. These do not translate to relations with the ANC formally and that family.” 

On state capture and the alleged role of the Gupta family in this, Mbete said: “It really begs the question of whether that’s the key problem we have as South Africa. I think the kind of phenomenon that’s referred to about what’s called capture is something we need to have the maturity to unpack. 

“We need to define and describe where the problems lie; to pretend that this particular family is the beginning of our economic problems is really going to be dishonest,” she said. 

On calls for Zuma to step down, Mbete said the calls could not "conclusively" be taken as the will of the nation. 

“How do we know that we can truly say that this is a call of the nation?” she asked. “A few of us [making a] loud enough noise to capture a lot of attention, that doesn’t necessarily amount to a national call. We have never conducted a referendum on the basis of what we can now say the nation is definitely of this view. 

“The ANC, before we go to the policy conference, will engage in a consultative process about general issues of concern as brought to our attention. This will inform us on the issues in some sectors and groupings who have raised issued about the leader of the ANC. 

"2017 is a very important year for the ANC. I think it will be very wrong of us to disrupt the official steps that take us to electing a new leadership collective. We have agreed with our veterans and stalwarts that we will have two days of consultation just before stepping into the policy conference,” she said.