On December 20, the ANC will conclude its national elective conference by electing its 14th president in its 105 years of existence. There are eight potential candidates to replace President Jacob Zuma and while some of them will take the race down to the wire, others are rank outsiders. Independent Media’s political team will profile each of the candidates, in no particular order, in the run-up. This week we profile, Jeff Radebe.
Jeff Radebe is a seasoned politician, having started his career in office under the leadership of Nelson Mandela. Radebe is South Africa’s longest continuously serving cabinet member, and has been part of every national administration since 1994, serving under every post-apartheid president.
Minister of justice and constitutional development from 2009 to 2014, he has since served as minister in the presidency. Radebe was born in Cato Manor, where he lived until 1958 when his family was forcibly removed to KwaMashu.
He studied towards a law degree at the University of Zululand and secured an LLM in international law at the Karl Marx University in Leipzig in 1981.
Radebe joined the ANC in 1976 while a student. In 1977 he was deployed by the ANC to Mozambique and then Tanzania, where he worked as a journalist for a radio station in Dar es Salaam.
Radebe was arrested in 1986 and convicted under the Terrorism Act of the apartheid government. He was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment on Robben Island and released in 1990. He served as minister of public works under Mandela and as minister of public enterprises and minister of transport under Thabo Mbeki. On February 26, 2007, Radebe was appointed acting minister of health due to the ill health of Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
He is married to Bridgette Radebe, South Africa’s first black female mining entrepreneur and the sister of billionaire mining magnate Patrice Motsepe. Bridgette is the executive chairperson of Mmakau Mining and an independent non-executive director for Sappi. She was closely involved in developing the South African Mineral & Petroleum Resources Development Act and the Mining Charter. Businessperson of the Year in 2008, Bridgette defied repressive legislation to build her own successful mining group.
She is an economic activist, an agent of transformation and a pioneer of change who has played a key role in changing exclusionary mining legislation in South Africa, and pioneered the implementation of empowerment mining models in Africa and internationally. Today Mmakau Mining has equity in platinum mines, coal, chrome and gold as well as in Shaft Sinkers, a company that specialises in shaft sinking, mining construction and development worldwide.
They have two children, son Vukani and daughter Malaika.
Radical economic transformation
Radebe has said economic freedom is the biggest problem most black people still face in South Africa. He maintains the economy is in the hands of a few white people, mainly men. Radebe has said the "national democratic revolution" provided democratic and political freedom but the next step is to transform the economy so it can be in the hands of the majority.
He has said the inability to radically transform the economy to benefit the majority has hampered growth, increased inequality and maintained the marginalisation of the majority.
Radebe has spoken out about the ANC’s internal challenges, the social distance between leaders and members, widespread corruption, poor performance in government and the abuse of organisational processes for personal gain. He has said these factors would contribute to the ANC’s demise if left unattended.
To his credit, Radebe had apologised unreservedly for exchanging explicit text and e-mail messages with an employee in the government’s communications agency. Independent Media reported that Radebe had exchanged several improper text messages and e-mails with a government communication and information system photographer, 29-year-old Siyasanga Mbambani.
In May Radebe said: “I sincerely regret engaging in the text and e-mail conversations, which are improper for a married man.
“However, beyond those exchanges, there was never a relationship and the communication was never acrimonious.”
He added: “I apologise for the embarrassment caused to Ms Mbambani, to my wife, my family, all South Africans and my movement, the ANC. I should have known better and I take full responsibility for my actions.”
The scandal rocked Radebe but he appeared to show genuine remorse. The revelations were contrary to the largely untainted image he’ d built in an illustrious career in the government.
Role in previous elective conferences
In 2007 in Polokwane, Radebe was instrumental in helping the ANC review progress in preparation for the National Development Plan. This included prioritising the provision of front-line services to bridge the gap between government and broader society by listening and responding to citizen feedback.
Radebe also played a vital role in ensuring KwaZulu-Natal was behind Jacob Zuma and it was through his behind-the-scenes work that Zuma was catapulted to power.
Five years later, in Mangaung, Radebe’s reputation as a seasoned politician had grown in leaps and bounds. His influence extended to issues around the economy. Radebe spoke of the need for a paradigm shift on socio-economic transformation. He was also at the forefront in discussions on nationalisation in the evolution of the National Development Plan.
* Independent Media will profile each of the candidates in the run up to the elective conference in December. Profiles will be published every Sunday in no particular order. Last week we profiled Zweli Mkhize.