Gwede Mantashe’s ten years as secretary general of the ANC was defined by ill-disciplined members who didn’t follow the party rules, collective responsibility and a tumultuous relationship with President Jacob Zuma, he said on Monday.
Mantashe’s biggest headache, however, was dealing with party members who launched court action against the mother body without first consulting leaders, he said in his final address as the chief administrator.
Mantashe was nominated for the position of national chairperson at the elective conference at the Nasrec centre in Johannesburg, and on Monday addressed journalists for the last time as secretary general.
In a wide-ranging question-and-answer session about the ANC’s future and his relationship with President Jacob Zuma, Mantashe remained true to form, dodging difficult questions and refusing to reveal any detail of how his relationship with the president broke down.
“Don’t compile a diary of disagreements. We have come to this conference as outgoing leaders of the ANC, both myself and President Zuma,” Mantashe fired off at a journalist when asked how his relationship with Zuma deteriorated to strictly professional engagements.
“As we work, it’s not a personal relationship, it’s a professional relationship.
You try to keep it at that level because if you don’t you are likely to make more mistakes trying to appease each other on a personal level,” he said.
“You can have all the problems with President Zuma, but he will not have a problem in talking to the masses of the people. That’s a rare gift, sometimes you can be an intellectual and lose that aspect. It’s very critical,” he added, refusing to be drawn into criticising Zuma.
His remarks were a complete about turn from his comment to the City Press newspaper, where the ANC secretary explained in detail how he only communicates with Zuma on ANC matters, despite a long, friendly history of working with him.
Mantashe accepted personal responsibility for the decline in discipline among ANC members and the increased tensions between competing factions, but stressed that collective leadership had to shoulder most of the blame.
“I’m serving in a team, so I also take personal responsibility for anything and any failure that happens in that team. Every leader brings personal attributes to the collective. Your personal activism as an individual should have helped you contribute more. So I’ll take that blame,” Mantashe said.
The former ANC secretary general also had advice for his replacement, saying that his office needs to frequently interact with journalists. He explained that the secretariat was not only tasked with administrative duties, but also with responding on behalf of the entire organisation to the public.
“I said sometimes if a journalist writes an incorrect story, call them and ask them about it. It’s important to engage with the media at all times,” he said.
As the for the future, Mantashe was well aware that the national chairperson’s position is not full time within the ANC, leaving him with more free time. But Mantashe will most likely stay out of the government, he said, describing himself as a party political person.
“When I step out of that ANC conference I will be unemployed. So if you’re looking for an editor, I’m available,” he joked.