Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Power and Succession

Richard Calland of Idasa has a new book out called Anatomy of Power in South Africa. The latest edition of the Mail and Guardian has an extract. According to Calland the six most powerful people in South Africa in descending order are Thabo Mbeki, Joel Netshitenzhe, Trevor Manuel, Alec Erwin, Mojanku Gumbi, and Essop Pahad. Mojanku Gumbi is Mbeki’s legal advisor and is said to be perhaps the single most influential person, although her power is far less extensive than South Africa’s second most powerful man Joel Netshitenzhe. Essop Pahad’s influence is said to be waning, I have heard this from many other sources as well, but he still remains a substantial voice on key political choices. Manuel and Erwin are said to be more powerful than Pahad.

“Manuel heads the “government within a government”, the one department whose capacity far exceeds any other, and which is capable of exerting the power it holds. Erwin continues to hold a key portfolio in Cabinet, but his influence lies in the axis with Manuel and the fact that he has been centrally involved in every major policy decision taken by government since 1994.”


Joel Netshitenzhe, I find particularly interesting. Officially he is head of GCIS, government communications – basically responsible for the messages and the public face that the ANC government wants to portray. It is a powerful office that falls under the presidency and is basically the interface between the president and the government, and the media and the public. His GCIS position means that he is allowed to sit in on all cabinet meetings, he is also a member of the ANC’s NEC. Unofficially Netshitenzhe is thought to be a powerful and influential political advisor to Mbeki. In fact, there are many who are of the opinion that it’s actually Joel who runs the country while Mbeki focuses on his African agenda. At one point he was offered the deputy presidency of the ANC but he wasn’t interested preferring to work behind the scenes, and so Zuma became the compromise candidate. There was also talk at one stage of him getting a post as a special minister in the president’s office but he wasn’t interested in that either.

Mbeki has increased the size of the presidency since he came into power. He has been called a technocrat and a micromanager, and it certainly seems that over the past year he has even further increased the presidency’s role in terms of coordination of government programmes and chivvying departments along in their work. I think the presidency must have been the catalyst behind Project Consolidate (an integrated strategy to improve local government and hence service delivery), and certainly the presidency must have been the driving force behind the new programme of Political Champions (ministerial oversight of key municipal nodes identified for special government attention). The Political Champions programme is quite an interesting one and I’ll try blog more about that later.

Mbeki has had his failures, no-one understands his contrary stance towards Zimbabwe and HIV/Aids. He hasn’t done enough to combat crime and corruption. He has been accused of undermining the democratic process by his profound lack of tolerance towards his critics. However he has been strong in driving economic growth and development. He has also been strong in his attempts to provide service delivery and reverse the structural inequalities of apartheid. There are some who say he hasn’t done enough in this regard, and I agree with this assessment but I believe that Mbeki feels strongly about fixing the service delivery situation and is attempting to fast track the process from the presidency downwards. I think that Joel Netshitenzhe is closely involved in this process and I would by far see Netshitenzhe as our next president than Jacob Zuma.

Zuma has been tainted by allegations of corruption, he has probably been distracted from his political work over past years by his financial troubles and involvement in various scandals and many of his political commitments have involved his role as a peace negotiator in Burundi and the DRC and making speeches at rallies and conferences. He does however have huge populist appeal with ordinary people, Cosatu and the young lions. Netshitenzhe is far more hands on and involved in the running of the country and according to the Sunday Times, he is said to be “humble and modest”, and a good political strategist. He is also considered to be one of the top ANC intellectuals. The problem is, so far he has shown no sign of wanting to gain high office. I hope he changes his mind, because when I look at the various names that have been speculated upon as possible successors to Mbeki, Netshitenzhe has my vote.

4 Comments:

At 6:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I quite agree with the view that Joel is a top intellectual with unequalled strategic acumen and instinct - paralleled only by Mbeki himself. He possesses rare analytical skills that are unmatched in many quarters.

He has the requisite attributes and mental/emotional stamina required at that level. However, he has three major shortcomings:

1. He is widely perceived as a Mbeki ally having served under Mbeki for many years including prior to liberation.

2. He lacks a personal populist following and mass appeal like Zuma.

3. He is non-Nguni, being Venda, a minority grouping.

Although officially the third point is not valid but those who really know, will acknowledge that African politics is inseparable from ethnocentric inclinations.

Overally he would make a great President if the 3 points above are not allowed to interfere with the selection process.

 
At 3:49 PM, Blogger Rendani Ramabulana said...

Joel Netshitenzhe is a great leader with rare and unmatched analytical skills. His intelligence and business acumen are excellently demonstrated. But his major shortcomings are,among other things, his lack of eloquency in speech and that he prefers to work behind the scenes. At some point he was offered a position of deputy presidency of the ANC and declined because he preferred to work behind the scenes. Most of Mbeki's success is attributed to Netshitenzhe.
Ramabulana RE

 
At 10:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I quite agree with the above mentioned qualities of Cde Joel. But the reality on the ground is that his lack of mass appeal will result in him being criticised unnecessarily with no buffer or someone who could back him up, as is the case with Zuma. When Zuma plunder, his aides quickly cover for him.

Secondly, Cde Joel has been at loggerheads with the alliance partners because of his inclination to justify the so-called 1996 class project. In his justification, Cde Joel uses Marxism to justify the strategic overturn by government with regard to economic policy. This has rendered his standing in the eyes of the alliance very much distorted with the SACP calling for his head.

Though he is in the inner circles of power, his rather aloofness character will play against him.

 
At 10:18 PM, Anonymous Ndopu Lekhenge said...

I quite agree with the above mentioned qualities of Cde Joel. But the reality on the ground is that his lack of mass appeal will result in him being criticised unnecessarily with no buffer or someone who could back him up, as is the case with Zuma. When Zuma plunder, his aides quickly cover for him.

Secondly, Cde Joel has been at loggerheads with the alliance partners because of his inclination to justify the so-called 1996 class project. In his justification, Cde Joel uses Marxism to justify the strategic overturn by government with regard to economic policy. This has rendered his standing in the eyes of the alliance very much distorted with the SACP calling for his head.

Though he is in the inner circles of power, his rather aloofness character will play against him.

 

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