THE IDEA of “President Paul Mashatile" suddenly looks more like a potential nightmare than an attractive option after Cyril Ramaphosa's years of plodding.
Not only is an ANC-EFF coalition under Mashatile a real possibility, but it also appears he has quite a few Zuma tendencies in his relationships with wealthy tenderpreneurs.
After a lengthy investigation, News24 reported on Monday that Mashatile leads an extravagant life of luxury thanks to his friendships with South African oligarchs such as Edwin Sodi and Ndavhe Mareda. Both thrive on business they do with the state.
According to News24, Mashatile makes full use of these multimillionaires' luxurious homes on Cape Town's upmarket Atlantic seaboard, where Ramaphosa also has a mansion.
The reporting confirms rumours from recent years that Mashatile lives well beyond his official income and spends large sums on his female companions and their children.
News24 promised that Monday's report is just the first in a series about Mashatile's conduct.
Sodi is facing corruption charges related to the R255 million tender for the removal of asbestos roofs in the Free State.
Chief Justice Raymond Zondo found in his state capture report that Sodi spent large sums to gain access to key people in provincial and national governments and build relationships with them.
Mareda, chair of the Makole Group, is a mining and property magnate. He recently secured a major coal contract with Eskom.
Mashatile responded two days after the News24 reports through his spokesperson, Vukani Mde, strongly denying that he had engaged in corruption or unethical behaviour.
However, Mde did not deny Mashatile's connections with, among others, Sodi and Mareda: “Naturally, some of the people he has interacted with throughout that long time have become close personal associates. There is nothing wrong or unusual about this, and the attempt to scandalise such associations is unfortunate."
Mashatile (61) has never been anything other than an activist and a politician. His only real experience of government was when he was Gauteng's MEC for finance between 2004 and 2008, and premier for less than a year. He was Jacob Zuma's arts and culture minister between 2010 and 2014, although he was never part of the Zuma inner circle.
But he is one of the ANC's most talented political operators and is known as the don of the Alex Mafia, a group of influential ANC figures who grew up with him in Alexandra, Johannesburg. Some of them are advisers in his vice-presidential office.
Seasoned political writer Carol Paton recently wrote about Mashatile: “As a central figure in Gauteng's ANC politics for the past 30 years, Mashatile's most outstanding quality has been one of a very capable backroom operator and deal maker, rather than a charismatic leader."
Mashatile has a long reputation as a big spender. In 2006, for example, as MEC, he paid more than R96,000 and two months later R108,000 for meals with colleagues at a fancy restaurant in Sandton using his official credit card.
According to his friends and colleagues, he is a very ambitious man. He made his move last year when he stood against two Ramaphosa insiders, Ronald Lamola and Oscar Mabuyane, and won the ANC's deputy presidency at its elective conference.
Something else Mashatile has in common with Zuma is that no one really knows what he stands for, what his political ideology and vision for the economy are.
But it is clear that the ANC in Gauteng, where he reigns supreme, is moving closer to the EFF, collaborating in three metros. This suggests Mashatile could favour a coalition with the EFF next year if the ANC needs a partner to govern, nationally and in Gauteng.
If the expelled secretary-general of the ANC, Ace Magashule, joins the EFF in the coming days and takes a bunch of RET (Radical Economic Transformation) people with him, the EFF could get closer to 20% of the votes next year than 10%.
It is fitting to scrutinise Mashatile now because it is by no means certain Ramaphosa will be president for another five years after 2024 — there is even speculation in ANC circles that he will step down next year.
As we have written here before, Ramaphosa has clearly lost his appetite for his position and is becoming less involved in his government's daily tasks.
If the Hawks' investigation into the Phala Phala scandal turns out unfavourably for him, he might just use it as an excuse to resign and spend his time between his Ankole cattle in Limpopo and the splendid view of the sea from his deck in Fresnaye.
Cyril is gatvol.
On top of all this, Ramaphosa is faced with a Gwede problem. Gwede Mantashe is the chairperson of the ANC, minister of mineral resources & energy, and the man behind Ramaphosa's survival in the Phala Phala fallout.
Mantashe, Mr Coal, has previously challenged his president's authority over his portfolio and the transition to renewable energy. But last week, he blatantly ignored Ramaphosa's instruction to sign a memorandum of understanding on energy with the prime ministers of Denmark and the Netherlands. The minister of international relations & cooperation, Naledi Pandor, had to sign it instead.
Mantashe's strange and undiplomatic remarks last week about the government of Lesotho and the illegal miners from that country are another indication that he believes he can do as he pleases.
If Ramaphosa loses the political cover that Mantashe provides for him, his position in the ANC will significantly weaken and possibly open doors for Mashatile.
But Mantashe reportedly doesn't have much affinity for Mashatile either. Mantashe might have his eye on the presidency if Ramaphosa resigns soon.
If any of these candidates had just lived up to the promise of a better-governed South Africa, one could say, “sit back and enjoy the show, here comes an interesting drama".
♦ VWB ♦
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