Playing open cards about her presidential aspirations, the House Speaker will formulate her campaign appeal on her seniority, on ANC unity and on women’s issues.
For the first time, ANC national chairperson Baleka Mbete has given reasons she should be considered as a contender to lead the governing party.
In an interview with City Press, she confirmed that she would be available to stand for the ANC’s top job, and ultimately preside over the country, when the party chooses President Jacob Zuma’s successor at its national elective conference in December.
“I have served in the ANC for just over 40 years and occupied various roles in the process, my latest being the party’s first female national chairperson. And I have had the honour of serving as such for two terms,” she said.
“An inordinate volume of lessons has been learnt in this journey, including leadership lessons.”
Mbete added that she had overcome various challenges throughout her life that had prepared her for any tough task.
The National Assembly Speaker conceded that she would begin her campaign on the back foot, as other contenders had been actively campaigning for some time already.
She said it would be up to her supporters to do the leg work of injecting life into her aspirations.
Mbete’s lobbyists say her support base will come from groups in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
The current frontrunners for the top job are Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Since female candidates are now showing that they are up for the challenge, Mbete will not only compete against Dlamini-Zuma but also against Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.
Asked about whether the ANC had given sufficient space for female leaders to emerge, Mbete said: “I do not think that we can wait for the perfect conditions for women to lead. Women participate; they play roles under very difficult circumstances. They have shown how brave they are.
“People say women hold the knife on the sharp end, but all they get are compliments. They are not given leadership positions.
“I think that society has been very dishonest in this regard because you will find that men – even those less competent than many of the women who have played leadership roles – are made leaders.
“I think we need to just say to ourselves: ‘It is time. Let us allow for women to lead. Let us not be talking about conditions not yet being right.’ When will they be right?”
Earlier this year, the ANC Women’s League announced its preference for Dlamini-Zuma in a contentious move, which is believed to have bitterly divided the league.
Some members believe that Mbete, a former secretary-general of the league, should have been backed, given her role as the ANC’s first female national chairperson.
“I do not feel betrayed,” said Mbete in response to the league’s decision.
“I was not hurt. A bit surprised – that I can say. But I don’t know whether it is my more than 40 years of being in politics that played a role.
“I was surprised, but I did not feel personally betrayed because you never have expectations in this game – because if you live on expectations, you will be hurt every day. You will die of a heart condition.
“If I feel betrayed, I will be tense and die from a heart condition, so no, I do not feel betrayed.”
Mbete voiced her disagreement with a proposal put forward at the ANC’s National Policy Conference this week – and endorsed by Zuma on Wednesday – that whoever loses at the party’s December elective conference should be accommodated by the winning faction, for the sake of unity.
She insisted that even if the proposal gained traction and was adopted in December, it would have to be parked for the next ANC elective conference in 2022.
“I cannot readily agree on the proposal to make the loser the deputy, because I was hearing it for the first time. It makes sense, but I have not properly thought it through. One has to engage more and think about it.”
“It cannot be something that happens at the 55th conference [this year’s gathering].
“It would only happen if by that time we had processed and engaged enough, and convinced one another and amended the Constitution – because positions of the ANC and policy amendments happen after quite a thorough process.
Mbete will look to win over the branches on the grounds of seniority, party unity and women’s issues.
“Unity for me is of high importance – unity not only in the ANC but in the country as a whole,” she said.
“We have witnessed horrific and barbaric violent assaults on women and children in recent times, with little recourse. I am willing to die fighting this cancerous societal ill until the bitter end.
“It is my desire to see all women, young and old, living in a society that allows them to be whoever they choose to be.
“I long to see women define themselves on their own terms, as opposed to living according to the dictates of society and patriarchy.”
Would you welcome Baleka Mbete as South Africa’s president? Do you feel she has a fair chance in the election race?