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In the precarious leadership of the ANC’s new Deputy President, Paul Mashatile, a troubling narrative unfolds. From his provincial roots in Gauteng to his recent national prominence, questions arise about his luxurious lifestyle funded by business interests linked to government contracts. Dubious deals, including loans to family-run companies, cast a shadow on his integrity. Moreover, as the Gauteng ANC faces impending electoral losses and urban decay, Mashatile’s lack of a national Struggle history and potential media revelations may make him the ANC’s least popular leader yet.
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The Mashatile Problem
By RW Johnson
The ANC seems to be sleep-walking into trouble in the person of its new Deputy President, Paul Mashatile. A glance at Mashatile’s biography shows that he is a Gauteng boy through and through – a member of the “Alex mafia” no less. His Is a fairly standard activist story: UDF from a young age, a member of COSAS, detained for a while, an interrupted education, an organiser for both the ANC and SACP and by April 1994 both a member of the Gauteng provincial legislature and Secretary of the Gauteng ANC. Since 1994 he has occupied many different roles within the Gauteng ANC.
Only in 2017 did Mashatile rise to national prominence. Although previously a junior minister under Zuma, he was seen as a solidly reformist voice behind Ramaphosa. Until, that is, he fell in with the canny boss of Mpumalanga, David Mabuza. Mabuza was bent on his own game and his sheer shrewdness delighted Mashatile, rather to the annoyance of the Gauteng delegation. In fact, as we know, Zuma was double-crossed, Mabuza became Deputy-President and Mashatile became Treasurer-General.
There are several different problems around Mashatile. One is that he has apparently been living a life of great luxury in various upmarket houses paid for by Gauteng business people who have benefited from government contracts. One of these is Edwin Sodi who, together with the disgraced Ace Magashule, is facing trial for fraud and corruption in connection with a R255 million Free State asbestos tender. Secondly, he claimed to own the R37 million mansion he was living in in Waterfall, as well as another house in Kelvin and a large plot of land in Joburg, in addition to his exclusive use of OR Tambo House in Bryntirion Estate, a luxury government-owned development.
Mashatile claimed he needed to live in the Waterfall mansion for security reasons (threats from a former girl friend). This was laughed to scorn by his opponents who pointed out that he had a large security detail as Deputy President – indeed, it was soon much in evidence, beating up passing motorists – classic “blue light bully” behaviour. Then it emerged that actually the Waterfall house belonged to Mashatile’s son and son-in-law, who ran a firm called Legacy properties. Somewhat suspiciously, at a time when Mashatile was a Gauteng MEC, these two had received four loans from the Gauteng government – a classic sweetheart deal. These loans had been extended so that they could build student accommodation but in fact they had made no move at all to build any such accommodation. The whole thing didn’t smell very good.
Mashatile seemed startled by the negative publicity these revelations generated. He gave the impression that he was only too used to living in such a manner and that this was normal enough for a well=placed Gauteng politician. The fact is that Mashatile has lived well from the Gauteng public purse for thirty years and it is world in which the award of contracts, tenders and building permissions routinely takes place with back-handers for those who facilitate them. That seems very much to be Mashatile’s comfort zone. But as Deputy President (and, presumably, as future President) he will attract a very different sort of scrutiny and after the antics of Zuma and the Guptas public patience is likely to be limited.
A second point, still not widely recognised, is that the Gauteng ANC, which Mashatile personifies, is soon going to be seen as the most disastrous and culpable group in the country. For a start, the ANC looks poised to lose Gauteng and the example of Cape Town suggests that once the ANC loses its footing in an urban environment, there is no way back. But secondly, Johannesburg and Gauteng more widely, are clearly heading for a huge implosion. Disastrously poor management of its electricity and water and appalling neglect of maintenance of its infrastructure has produced urban decay on a massive scale. The area is losing people, capital and businesses to the Western Cape – and this seems bound to continue. As it sinks in that the Gauteng ANC has destroyed Africa’s most developed city it will surely be regarded with ignominy, especially since that group will by then be cast as hopeless losers.
Finally, until now all of South Africa’s ANC Presidents – Mandela, Mbeki, Zuma and Ramaphosa – became prominent as a result of their careers in the Struggle. This not only gave them large national (and international) reputations but it lifted them out of being merely local or provincial figures. Moreover, it gave them personal followings which greatly added to the ANC’s electoral appeal. But that generation’s race is now run.
Mashatile is, by contrast, a man with no particular Struggle history to distinguish him and his entire career has been provincial. He is not even much known outside Gauteng. Almost certainly he has no personal following which will be of any help to the ANC and the fact of the ANC losing Gauteng will merely rub that in. If, on top of that, the media continues to reveal unsavoury details of Mashatile’s personal and financial affairs the chances are that Mashatile will be the least popular and weakest leader that the ANC has ever had.
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