South Africa: Paul Mashatile, the kingmaker who could make or break Ramaphosa?

By Audrey Simango

Posted on Thursday, 24 November 2022 12:15
African National Congress (ANC) Paul Mashatile sits on stage at the closing ceremony at the NASREC Expo Centre in Johannesburg on December 21, 2017. (GULSHAN KHAN AFP)

In South Africa, Paul Mashatile is described as a man who magically wears three hats at once. He’s the ruling ANC party’s treasurer; acting secretary general and acting deputy secretary general.

Mashatile’s stealthy multitasking means he now holds the key to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s fortunes in Africa’s most industrialised economy.

Next South African president?

Although the much-anticipated ANC elective conference in December will determine whether Cyril Ramaphosa will be ousted or re-elected, Mashatile has solidly emerged as the kingmaker and heir apparent to both the ANC and the country’s presidency.

This week, the party’s electoral college revealed internal nominations for top positions of the ANC’s top six positions. Barring a dramatic miracle, President Ramaphosa is expected to be re-elected the ANC party president. He garnered a crushing lead of 2,037 nominations from party branches compared to his closest challenger who polled 916.

Hot on Ramaphosa’s heels is Mashatile who has amassed a commanding 1791 votes for the ANC’s deputy presidency versus 400 for his nearest rival.

“Forget about President Cyril Ramaphosa’s easy-looking cruise, Paul Mashatile – his likely new deputy – is where it gets interesting,” Kudakwashe Magezi, a political analyst and a keen observer of the ANC’s party duels, tells The Africa Report from Johannesburg.

Mashatile’s nomination as the next ANC vice-president puts him in pole position to become South Africa’s immediate next president if the explosive and alleged ‘Phala Phala’ money-laundering case hanging over President Ramaphosa’s head worsens, Mpumelelo Mkhabela says in an opinion piece earlier this week titled: ‘The Enemy Within: How the ANC lost the battle against corruption.

Paul, the ‘kingmaker’

Starting his political career at the wane of apartheid in the early 90s, Mashatile has worked in almost all bureaucratic positions in South Africa’s government: from leader of Gauteng province’s parliament, cabinet minister, to premier of Gauteng, the country’s wealthiest province.

It was in South Africa’s industrial heartland of Gauteng that Mashatile solidified his clout. As the ANC party’s chairman for Gauteng province, he became the face of the party’s internal manoeuvers to oust Jacob Zuma, who was the then president of South Africa and the ANC. Mashatile was outspoken against the financial misdemeanours engulfing Jacob Zuma.

Matters came to a head in February 2018 when Mashatile revealed that he was part of the ANC’s top leaders pushing for Zuma’s ouster from the country’s presidency in a few days – a plot that succeeded.

Basking in his domineering role, Mashatile’s stock has soared since 2018, says Magezi.

Paul Mashatile is the luckiest kingmaker in the history of the ANC party

When Ace Magashule, the ANC former secretary general and fierce party rival of President Ramaphosa, was criminally charged and suspended from the party in May last year, Mashatile was the immediate beneficiary.

Apart from a full-time job as ANC treasurer, Mashatile also became the ANC party’s acting secretary general. Soon after, when the ANC’s deputy secretary general passed on, Mashatile’s balancing act grew as he added a third job to his dossier: the acting deputy secretary general of the party.

“Paul Mashatile is the luckiest kingmaker in the history of the ANC party,” says Magezi.

Paul eyeing role of Ramaphosa’s deputy

As the latest voting tallies from the ANC’s electoral college, Mashatile’s impressive rise will likely see him add another feather in his cap. This will be the case if he overthrows David Mabuza, South Africa’s current deputy president and the ANC party’s vice-president, who has failed to receive any worthy nominations.

“At this trajectory, Paul Mashatile could be South Africa’s and the ANC party’s next president in 2030, or earlier in 2024 or this December,” says Magezi. “He’s stealthy; golden chances remarkably follow him; he’s the clever man in the shadows”.

Mashatile gunning for Ramaphosa’s job?

He is rumoured to have unquantified support to make an 11th-hour grab for the top job in December, oust Cyril Ramaphosa, and be on the ballot box as South Africa’s presidential hopeful as early as 2024. This week, Mashatile confirmed that if party delegates nominate him from the floor for the top job, he won’t shy away.

Mashatile is playing his cards close to his chest, aware that a dark cloud hangs over Ramaphosa’s head as the December conference approaches.

A judicial committee, appointed by parliament to probe whether Ramaphosa broke the law by not reporting an alleged $4m robbery at his game farm to the police, is slated to present its findings on 30 November.

“There’s [a] 50-50 chance that the probe could find President Ramaphosa guilty of violating Reserve Bank capital control violations and other serious deeds. If it happens, the balance of power will swiftly explode,” Carter Mavhiza, an independent economist, tells The Africa Report.

If that occurs, Paul Mashatile could cruise to both the ANC presidency and South Africa’s presidency this December

If the worst befalls President Ramaphosa, as his internal party rivals are fiercely praying for, the ANC’s rule that all criminally charged members must step aside will kick in immediately. Ramaphosa will be removed from the ANC’s presidency and barred from the electoral conference.

“If that occurs, Paul Mashatile could cruise to both the ANC presidency and South Africa’s presidency this December,” says Mavhiza. “I don’t think president Ramaphosa trusts Paul Mashatile.”

Mkhabela agrees that Mashatile is keeping his eye on the $4m Phala Phala farm robbery scandal, shoring his bets. In Mashatile, President Ramaphosa “now has a challenger-in-waiting”.

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