Amidst increasing concern about ANC political battles playing out in the military, it has now emerged that Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has been lobbied to run for ANC chairperson at its next elective conference.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is said to be considering throwing her hat into the ring for a position on the ANC’s top six ahead of that party’s 2022 conference. Two sources close to the Department of Defence have claimed that she has been lobbied by supporters of Deputy President David Mabuza to run for ANC chairperson and go head to head with the incumbent, Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe, should he be nominated to run for a second term.
The 63-year-old former ANC Women’s League president still has support in the league, which she is likely to be able to count on during an elective battle. She is said to have a favourable relationship with the incumbent, Bathabile Dlamini. Mapisa-Nqakula would also bring more gender balance to the top six, which currently consists of five men and a female deputy secretary-general, Jessie Duarte. Mantashe’s predecessor, Baleka Mbete, previously served with Duarte as one of two women in the top six leadership.
It is, however, not quite clear as yet where Mapisa-Nqakula’s regional support base would be, even though her lobbyists view her as an Eastern Cape candidate. Mapisa-Nqakula hails from East London, but has been working outside the Eastern Cape for at least the past two decades. Mantashe himself has been based outside the province for a considerable time as well, but still maintains strong ties to Cala, where he is from, partly through agriculture.
There is also talk that Mapisa-Nqakula might look to ANC alliance partners Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP) for support. Her husband, Charles Nqakula, is an SACP veteran, and a commentator speculated that she could use him to lobby for the party to support her.
Mapisa-Nqakula has served on the executive for at least 18 years, starting as deputy minister of home affairs in 2002 under Thabo Mbeki, and later serving in the home affairs portfolio. Despite being the only ANC MP not to have voted in favour of a resolution that gave effect to Mbeki’s resignation as president in 2008, Mapisa-Nqakula was retained by Jacob Zuma, who moved her to the defence portfolio, where she was reappointed by Ramaphosa in 2018. Mapisa-Nqakula has been on the ANC’s National Executive Committee since 2007.
Lobbying for ANC leadership positions usually starts at around the time of the party’s National General Council, which takes place every five years in between conferences. Due to the large number of branch delegates attending – usually around 4,000 to 5,000 – it’s become a useful tool for the different party factions to gauge their support ahead of lobbying candidates for the elective conference.
Regional leaders in the Eastern Cape have, however, denied knowledge of Mapisa-Nqakula’s ambitions, with at least one saying it’s too early to have such discussions. He also said provinces can’t merely support a candidate just because they are from that province.
“She is not material for the top six,” he said. “The other mistake they make is that of approaching conferences from a tribal angle. The fact that you were born in the Eastern Cape and it happens that you speak a regional language, that doesn’t mean automatic nomination.”
The lobbying of Mapisa-Nqakula late last month is significant against the backdrop of a recent statement by South African National Defence Force chief General Solly Shoke condemning a meeting called by retired General Maomela “Mojo” Motau to discuss political issues affecting the ANC. This was followed by Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’ (MKMVA) leader Kebby Maphatsoe calling, on a sound clip that went viral, on MKMVA members to take up arms, in the same breath claiming that Ramaphosa had not made good on the party’s 2017 conference resolutions.
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Military analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman said Mapisa-Nqakula’s silence on Maphatsoe’s recent pronouncements was disappointing. He added, however, that members of the defence force, including former MK officers, are not heavily politicised. “Most [former MK officers] are now soldiers and have a dim view of politicians,” he said.
Heitman, however, added that the military should not become “part of any party political manoeuvring” because that could raise the possibility of a coup. DM