Why Phosa, the dark horse’s one legged ‘campaign’ for Mangaung won’t cut it!!

 – the Youth League as single divisible constituency is not enough for  a Mangaung, confidence –

The ANC conference of Mangaung organised for December 2012 is seen by some as an expected repeat of Polokwane, whilst others argue nothing will come of the much promised “Mangaung of Revenge”. In the up run to this elective conference where both ANC and SA political leadership is decided, I have taken it upon myself to look at the possible candidates for ANC presidency. In my first instalment of such assessment I dealt with Tokyo Sexwale, who perhaps is the most vocal and overt candidate judging by his media presence and utterances.

This article looks at Matthews Phosa, current serving Treasurer General of the ANC  and widely dubbed the dark horse for such position.

We will look at his campaign, his strategy, his utterances and his chances to make it to the summit of ANC presidency.

Phosa, the attorney by profession originally from what is called Mpumalanga, has consistently been around from the days of Mbeki’s election. When I argue around I am saying he was always in contention for wrong or right reasons. The former premier of Mpumalanga with back then a very close association of the ANCYL, BEE entrepreneur, poet, friendly to Afrikaner-Whites and in some way avuncular personality has played his role in the removal of Mbeki. He was duly rewarded to serve as  the Treasurer General of the ANC at Polokwane,  yet he purports an interesting but strange fellow.

We will attempt to look at Phosa’s personal campaign and what it communicates to argue why he should or would not make it.

1. To argue Phosa is on presidential campaigning pursuit can easily be shot down as bathroom analysis, because on the cuff it appears there is no visible campaigning on his part. This proves even more obdurate when you compare him with for example a Sexwale and Motlanthe. I hold those who argue Phosa is not campaigning or in the run fails to closely examine him historically and more recently in ANCYL trouble with its mother body.

2.   Phosa has perhaps become the most controversial Top 6 position holder of the ANC leadership in recent times. Controversial because it appears at most of the time when it concerns the Youth League, he proves less discerning and somewhat blind in his support for them. He also is always cited as representative of that which constitutes the opposite of what is defined as current ANC leadership, at least in the eyes of the Youth League. Phosa with a razor sharp mind, it must be expected will prove wise to analyse the various angles of the Youth League saga, yet it appears his support is blinded by something else.

3. Phosa appears held immured by a historic position of using ANCYL members to wage ones campaign.  Those who know will attest the role the ANCYL has played in the selection of ANC leadership in pre and post apartheid context. Such role played has wrongly allowed them to claim an entitlement of ‘kingmaker-status’. We need not seek far and wide to know that often when the Youth League leaders around 20007/2008  barked out their passionate hate for Mbeki in the up run to Polokwane, it was said these are echoing the sentiments of among others the likes of a Phosa, who consistently had shared a good relationship with the YL, and equally understood the role of the youth league in organisational elections.

4. Yet this blind support for the Youth League, as controversial as it may seem, is firstly not as selfless and caring as it may be projected, but stands in a historically powerful vortex of its own. I shall argue this support of the Youth League has a specific agenda on the part of Phosa. The reason for Phosa’s support of the Youth is truly in typical political sense self -centred and immanent in seeing this as his only true constituency to attempt his hand at higher office. I am trying to argue that Phosa lost his long standing grip on a very vital Mpumalanga Province. This province who second to Kwa Zulu Natal experienced the brunt of  the most vicious killings of political members was once ruled by Matthew Phosa. Today Phosa has no clear-cut easily defendable constituency to carry him further.  It becomes imperative for him to identify with the Youth League as a base, yet the youth league has a loyalty to more than one if not all contenders against the incumbent.

5.  Phosa it can be argued has proven to endorse the factionalist agenda in which the tension between mother body and its youth league constitutes the opposing factors and is exacerbated. To argue that is not to prove mendacious or  an ad-hominem contention. Phosa’s association with the Youth League even in spaces and places where it erred not reprimanding them but choosing to raise a proverbial battle axe stance for them, has given the us – and-them perpetuated by the Youth League a much needed senior member impetus. Particularly because at different times he preferred to blindly side with the Youth League. He also could not separate his passion for the youth league from the controversial Limpopo ANC leadership who is closely associated with the now expelled former ANCYL leader. If the Youth League can claim a support in the Top 6, such support is made self-evident in Phosa.

6.  Yet in defence of Phosa he  has seldom if at any time advanced himself as the answer,  unlike Sexwale who is  literally begging to be nominated as the preferred candidate,  he plays the traditional  internal game where he tests powers so as to determine what say and role he can have in a making others  rise or fall. He follows the standard lobbying and canvassing of ideas in organisational context for which the ANC is known and proven acceptable. He understands the context of the ANC electioneering processes and principles clearly and attempts to honour such.

7. Yet Phosa has shown himself an ambivalent character in speech, when he oft would in the last 2 years in particular speak at Youth League gatherings. His statements particularly in Limpopo on many occasions seldom build the ANC but proved to divide it more. One would expect that as Top 6 leader there ought to be a sense of responsibility to prove less divisive. Judging Phosa’s utterances at Limpopo confirms this subliminal message of defiance against the incumbent leadership and secretary general actions on the youth and the provincial leadership with the national government section 100 intervention. He it appears blurrs the ANC and Governmental issues at play in particular the Limpopo province.

8.  Phosa, it appears thrives on the division of power in the ANC as a means to exert his weight and control over others or in relation to others. This is not a bad strategy because where ones power in political and organisational context is supreme to others, space exists for abuse of such power.

9. His campaign if one may call it such is less informed by substance or critical consideration but an underlying sentiment and such is only immanent in youth dissatisfaction. When one postulates his campaign is less informed by substance but sentiment, it is because there is no fundamental issue yet raised by him that proves tangibly opposite to current ANC policy, programme in which the existing leader of the ANC can be said proves naked. His campaign therefore lacks a justified cause once it is stripped from the sentiment and the often misunderstood role of ANC president and SA president.

10. A Phosa candidacy in my assessment simply cannot count on the strong Labour or workers sector that also see Phosa  like Sexwale as a reflection of white capital, therefore a possible economic enemy. Phosa represents a group of BEE empowered political personalities that has become the meridian of wealth attaining, the same that the new economic redress debate condemns for its minuscule and lop-sided praxis.

11. Phosa cannot count on the SACP, who oft is regarded as a critical constituency not for its  numbers but for political thought and policy direction. It is common cause that under a Zuma leadership the ANC is perceived much more aligned to the SACP, who already has endorsed its candidate for another term. Phosa is almost never seen or invited to address its conferences, a possible indication that they have quarantined him a long time ago.

12. Phosa equal to Sexwale cannot count on the former Mbeki constituency in the ANC; these will remember his active role in the recall of what is oft referred to as the intellectual paragon of modern day ANC leadership. It is not difficult to argue this paragon status of Mbeki, if the endless articles and bemoaning of the death of intellectual greatness of leadership as communicated by Xolela Mangcu is used a base.  Yet that is a topic for another day.  Those who know will tell of the frosty relations Phosa has consistently shared with Mbeki. This relationship never healed despite the death of the late Mr. Fixit, Steve Tshwete who as police minister then was tasked to investigate Phosa, Ramaphosa and Sexwale as those fingered to seek the overthrow of Mbeki. This constituency will in my assessment easily find a home with the Motlanthe campaign who in some circles is perceived matured, less entrapped and a bridge-builder.

13. Phosa’s success in running ANC money affairs  whilst no corruption was found does not inspire much. Provinces remain responsible for their own management of ANC funds yet  under his national treasurership provinces such as Limpopo has virtually gone bankrupt in organisational  context. The ambivalence of the role of the ANC with the Chancellor House investment debacle and its Hitachi connection as a ghost is still simmering, for as recent as a few months ago Deputy President Motlanthe had to entertain that same question again in parliament.  Phosa it can be argued proved indifferent on the performance of provinces on their money matters and failed to visibly lead from the front in sanctioning or reprimanding those in error. A sense of visionary leadership is warranted in a society when corruption proves stubborn and endemic and is associated with ANC governance per se. It would have helped to have a treasurer general who leads the charge on assisting ANC leadership at all levels in their finances, not withholding the rightful rebuke when and where necessary

14. a. Phosa as Treasurer General initially stirred much controversy on the Chancellor House finances. It appeared the proverbial ‘new broom’ then was out to prove those who were there before as less sensitive to a clean administration. It sounded as if he was mooting for an official  probe. In the end nothing much came from this initial new broom sweeps. Perhaps with this move he alienated himself from many who understand how the ANC makes it money.

14. b. Phosa as Treasurer General lacked the wherewithal to address the challenges of the Province in calling those to book, instead he turned a blind eye, determined to focus rather on the YL and Mother Body semblance of factions and political squabbles than his mandated assignment.

15. Phosa was associated wrongly or rightly with the leak of information to expose a relationship of Motlanthe with a staffer.  The motives for such leak will always be questioned, notwithstanding the fact that no prove exists to claim it was Phosa. Though this constitute a shallow issue and peripheral  issue in content, it confirms a consistent theme that the man from Nelspruit remains a less trusted character in some quarters of ANC definition. One may only doubt if Motlanthe has buried that hatchet and would relent to either run with Phosa or trust him. Yet Motlanthe in my assessment will need every support he can get to mount a challenge against the incumbent, and perhaps knowing that may sway him to opt for discussion with Phosa, as the clock begins to tick for Mangaung.

16. Phosa   in my assessment represents the weakest of all possible 3 contenders ( Motlanthe, Phosa and Sexwale). Weak because he lacks an outright constituency, cannot count on his former provincial control, and is not alone in attempting to make the Youth League his constituency.   Weak also because he is not really campaigning for himself as nakedly. The aforementioned coupled with the fact of my claim that he remains a not well trusted politician in some key circles. Weak finally because he does not have the presence or stature to muster such attempt at high office.

It is common cause that the Youth League wants Motlanthe for president. Phosa at best could retain his current seat but going higher proves a   cul de-sac for this man from Mpumalanga. It would not make sense to offer him the chairmanship which really was created for Tambo, when Mandela assumed the role of president in the early 90’s.

17. It is fair to conclude that should the much made “Mangaung of Revenge ” never occur, Phosa will be one of the most senior ones who will suffer the most. Should Zuma secure his second term he may do enough to offload Phosa as Treasurer General, rendering him Phosa to an ordinary NEC membership.

In the end, I hold Matthews Phosa has not thus far overtly waged an open campaign for presidency in his own name, he has understood that to be un-ANC practice,  yet he has shown his hand as one who will do enough to cast doubt on the incumbent leadership perhaps more from sentiment than fact. Yet  I doubt anyone of the three other contenders  trust him to be in their corner, for the many incidents, actions statements Phosa engaged in thus far paints him as one that is loyal to none, maybe not even himself.

Perhaps Phosa is wise enough to know he will never be president for the reasons I cited and therefore holds if he could influence the campaigns of  others  he would have made his voice heard and achieved his overall goal.

Phosa, has made his money in South African context and may  in the end be happy with any Top 6 position as whoever comes to power decides to keep him close for control, out of fear for what such personality can do,  but I doubt if any of the other contenders and the current incumbent ever will outright trust him. Perhaps the dark horse as he is dubbed is not in it to win it for himself per se, but to cause enough confusion that others prove jittery and has to come to him for help, from where he can make his power count.

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
Independent Commentator

This article appears courtesy of

” Tradewinds are blowing” –  Political commentary and analysis 2012
Sunday 22, 2012


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