ANC provincial secretary tells Rochelle de Kock that party divisions are hampering development in the EC
For a man who has to keep guard over about 700 wards ruled by the ANC in the Eastern Cape, Oscar Mabuyane sure keeps a tidy workspace. You will not find a single piece of paper or a pen on his desk.
“It’s all about working smarter,” Mabuyane explains. “Everything I need is electronic, on this tablet.”
The provincial secretary, who has held what is arguably the most powerful position in the ANC in the Eastern Cape for the past eight years, is tipped as one of the front-runners for the coveted chairmanship.
Clinching the majority vote at the elective conference in East London will elevate Mabuyane, 43, from a position of significant influence over government to possibly occupying the driving seat in government as premier.
That is if the ANC sticks to its “one centre of power” rhetoric and wins the 2019 provincial elections.
Mabuyane is expected to go head-to-head against current chairman and premier Phumulo Masualle at the five-day conference starting on August 30.
He has never openly said he wants the job.
So, is Mabuyane putting his hand up for the chairmanship?
His reply is a coy one, sticking to the politically correct line of “only the branches will decide”.
But he elaborates: “I never wanted to be provincial secretary; I never dreamt of it. Even now, I don’t dream of being chairperson, but if the branches say ‘you can be the chairperson, we are nominating you’. Definitely, I don’t have a reason to refuse”.
As he reflects on the past eight years in the hot seat, Mabuyane says he has come a long way from inheriting a party so disorganised and fractured in 2008 that a provincial general conference had to be completed on the side of a road because of disruptions and fights.
He also inherited a skeleton staff complement and what he calls the “Polokwane hangover” which brought about massive divisions within the ruling party as many who were unhappy with the national conference outcome defected to COPE.
“But going through that, being patient, we’ve learnt that in the ANC you must be tolerant, patient, firm, resolute and forthright.
“These are critical things that make you a leader in the ANC,” he says.
“It’s the members who will assess me, but I think I’ve tried my level best in terms of what was expected.
“I wouldn’t be in the eighth year in this office if I wasn’t doing something right,” he adds.
But he says he is far from perfect and compares himself to wine that matures with time.
In fact, he says the party is still hamstrung by continuous infighting in the Eastern Cape – sometimes instigated by forces outside of the province – a problem holding the province back from claiming its space in shaping the national agenda.
Why, then, is the Eastern Cape not leveraging its power as a party with the second-highest membership figures in the ANC to get more and bigger economic projects in the province?
Mabuyane says the big, game-changer projects for the Eastern Cape are not out of reach, if only the province can get a bigger slice of the budget pie to address its socioeconomic backlogs.
“We might be the second-biggest in the ANC membership stats, but we are the third in terms of the population. And the budget goes according to numbers.
“The problem with the Eastern Cape is that our people migrate to Cape Town and Johannesburg, but they come back at a particular point. And the budget we get is based on the information from census.
“We have been saying we need to look at this issue,” Mabuyane says.
“Yes, it could be a sound, reasonable way of allocating equitable share, but it must also look at the issue of socioeconomic backlogs and issues of infrastructure because the Eastern Cape has really been peripheral to the centre.
“A lot of issues we are still grappling with in the province are issues that should have been dealt with in the first five-year term of the democratic government; we are still grappling with all those.”
The government has spent too much time focused on industrial development zones, to the detriment of towns in the countryside, he says.
This, coupled to political divisions, is what has kept the province from reaching its true potential.
“Political challenges in the province, disunity, have characterised our province – the ANC has been fighting each other over a period of time.
“Divisions in conferences and people who don’t accept outcomes have also impacted negatively on these issues.
“All those contributed negatively, so our voice became lesser and people were not hearing our views because divisions have not been serving the interest of this province in this situation.
“Some of the divisions have been sponsored nationally, deliberately, because people have been enjoying frictions in the Eastern Cape for their own leadership elections at a national level.
“We are still closing those gaps,” Mabuyane says, adding that the party is more united than before – a situation he hopes to maintain after this month’s conference.
Aman who has been regarded as accessible to the public – is that likely to change should he make it to the premier’s office?
“No, you won’t get me. I will send you to my PAs and other people,” he jokes.