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ITV: Paul Mashatile, Treasurer general, African National Congress, South Africa
Former United States president Woodrow Wilson said: “The man who is swimming against the stream knows the strength of it.” African National Congress (ANC) treasurer Paul Mashatile certainly knows the chill of being outside the mainstream of his party. He was once the premier of Gauteng Province, the minister for art and culture and a rising star in the ANC firmament, going from youth leader to party senior. But with his repeated criticism of corruption in the Jacob Zuma administration, he found himself kicked to the back benches of parliament in May 2014. Fortunately for him, his Gauteng connections acted as a safety net. The tight-knit band of ANC activists who emerged from Alexandra township of Johannesburg are informally known as the ‘Alex Mafia’.
And in 2014 Mashatile eventually rose to the position of chair of the appropriations committee in the national assembly, a technical committee that focuses on provinces and their budgets. It is there that he began to reach out for allies. Along with Jackson Mthembu, now the ANC’s chief whip, and Mondli Gungubele, now deputy finance minister, they started plotting President Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign plan as far back as 2016.
Not surprisingly, Mashatile was one of the first provincial leaders to come out in support of Ramaphosa ahead of the tough and contested ANC leadership battle in December. Ramaphosa won by a mere 179 votes against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s ex-wife and preferred successor.
The Africa Report understands that Mashatile was also one of the key figures that negotiated with current deputy president and Mpumalanga politician David Mabuza to switch his support away from Dlamini-Zuma. That flip is said to have won it for Ramaphosa in December 2017.
The bruising campaign was worth it: At the ANC’s 106th anniversary gala dinner in East London, Mashatile and Ramaphosa were given a standing ovation as they entered the venue for the party’s fundraising dinner. It was evident that the two were more than political comrades. They share a long history of activism since their days in the United Democratic Front, fighting for liberation from within the country. It is another sign of the change in the guard within the ANC, which for many years had been run at its pinnacle by members who had fought apartheid from outside the country – the so-called “exiles”, who include former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Zuma.
The man who pushed JZ
Now, Mashatile is part of the inner circle of “inziles”. He occupies one of the most important positions in the party, managing the ANC’s finances. His proximity to Ramaphosa and ANC chairman Gwede Mantashe – another “inzile” – gives Mashatile heft in policy-making. He accompanied Ramaphosa and team South Africa to the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.
In an exclusive interview with The Africa Report, Mashatile describes his first two months since being elected as treasurer general as “busy” but “very exciting”. Mashatile doesn’t have much time to spend pondering his change in fortunes, however. Now in from the cold, there is work to do.
The first task was to dislodge Zuma, who attempted to cling on in an attempt to protect his posterior for as long as possible. It was Mashatile, visibly angry at Zuma’s stubbornness and refusal to step down as president, who led the charge for him to resign earlier this year.
“Our view is that there should be a change of guard. You need to transfer power, you can’t have two centres of power. We want to see a situation where there is one centre with no tension. And the best possible way is if the state president exits,” he told a local TV station in February, just days before Zuma finally resigned.
A few hours prior to this announcement, in a very unusual move, Mashatile addressed ANC members of parliament in the national assembly building and announced that the party caucus would support a vote of no-confidence against Zuma. It was only after this threat that Zuma eventually conceded.
Next on Mashatile’s to-do list was helping to pass a budget that tries to fix the government’s finances as the country heads towards an election in 2019. With an anticipated growth rate of just 1.5% in 2018, Mashatile says the 2018 budget was tough but credible. “It was not an easy budget, but we had to stabilise public finances and debt,” he adds. But, in an election year, the announcement of the increase in value-added tax (VAT) drew anger from the poorest, who are often the ANC’s support base. For the first time since 1993, the country raised its VAT – up by 1% to 15% .
Mashatile argues that countermeasures will be in place. “We have zero-rated food goods for the poor and will increase social grants. But the good thing here is it will increase revenue by R36bn ($3bn) and that will enable us to have some money to fund some programmes, including free higher education,” he explains.
Mashatile also wants the state to manage the resources it has better. That means improving governance at the state-owned enterprises – the electricity utility, Eskom, arms manufacturer Denel and South African Airways. “That might even mean equity finance to stop them being bailed out by the government,” he says. The government also plans to sell off state-owned properties worth R40bn.
And beyond the technocratic rebuild, Mashatile urges an ethical rebuild too. “Gone are the days where ministers will appoint friends to boards,” he adds. “Lifestyle audits are very important if we are going to deal decisively with corruption. We as leaders must lead by example.”
Mashatile is not without his detractors. The opposition Democratic Alliance, for example, has accused him of protecting corrupt municipalities in Gauteng. He will hope to put those days behind him, in the same way that he says the Zuma days are behind South Africa: “There is a feeling of renewed hope because they can see the ANC is active.” Elections in early 2019 will be the key test of whether people believe in what the new ANC leadership is saying.
This interview first appeared in the April 2018 print edition of The Africa Report magazine