Sexwale: Oh I just can’t wait to be king!

The spat over Tokoyo Sexwale’s report criticising Gwede Mantashe for not stopping the booing and humiliation of Julius Malema at the SACP conference in December is more important than it seems.

The direction a country takes (economically, socially and culturally) emerges from the interplay of too many factors to make the future even vaguely predictable. But it is always useful to look at the big bets being made by the most focussed and voracious players in politics and business. So, one way of understanding what is happening in the ruling alliance (and I accept there may be other ways) starts by assuming Tokyo Sexwale’s actions are always and at all times directed towards becoming president of the ANC in 2012 or failing that, in 2017 – not a weak assumption in my opinion. Becoming president of the ANC is the same as becoming president of the country (in 2014 or 2019 respectively).

Tokyo is placing himself – carefully and precisely – within the contest and conflict between “nationalists” and “communists” in the ruling alliance and he is doing so because he believes he can ride one side to victory over the other – and then ride that horse on to almost any destination he wants to hop off at. I am not sure that he can get what he wants this time around, but I would bet a considerable amount of money that these are his intention.

The conflict (which Tokyo hopes to exploit) between “nationalists” and “communists” is, in turn – and again in my opinion – also a proxy conflict, although one closer to, but still not perfectly reflective of, the real world.

(Please note that I am doing my own lumping of people below and – to some degree – I am using very loose definitions of “nationalist” or “communist”. The individuals hereby lumped would be unlikely to support my categorization or any of the implications I draw. I justify using the categories because right now there appears to be a significant overlap of both the language, actions and how individuals line up around the issues dividing the alliance within each group – giving the terms and/or concepts ‘communist’ or ‘nationalist’  particular force and effect for analytical purposes here.)

The nationalists

The nationalists include in their ranks those who believe the ANC must seek to represent all classes of South Africans and that the recent relative strength of the communists is damaging this endeavour. Here too are the anti-communists (for practical and/or ideological reasons) as well as the right-wing hang-em-high populists. The main component – and or the main hangers-on, depending on your perspective – of this group are the “TenderCapitalists” and those who otherwise hope to leverage their political access to take as much economic advantage of the state or quasi-state bureaucracy as possible.  Those in this broad category include Fikile Mbalula, Julius Malema, Billy Masethla, Tony Yengeni, Winnie Madikezela Mandela, Siphiwe Nyanda, Dina Pule, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, Nomvula Mokonyane.

This group and anyone trying to lead them, can draw on a rich intellectual tradition in the ANC that has always emphasised the dangers of the organisation adopting too narrow an ideology and thereby losing its ability to provide leadership to other classes (in the terms generally used in this and the communist traditions in South Africa these ‘other classes’ include peasants, the lumpen proletariat {i.e. the unemployed and the youth}, professionals and aspirant bourgeoisie and, more controversially, the actual bourgeoisie.)

At this stage the two organisations clearly dominated by this group are the ANC Youth League and the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association.

The communists

The communists are less diverse, but probably range from those driven purely by ideology and an instinct for collectivism (or being rooted in collectivist organisations like Cosatu) to those genuinely motivated to get the best deal possible for the poorest South Africans – even if their economic theory is never going to deliver this result. Those within this group include Gwede Mantashe, Blade Nzimande, Jeremy Cronin, Zwelenzima Vavi  and a host of less well known individuals. Both Cosatu and the SACP are dominated by individuals from this group.

If the main show (politically) in town is actually, as I assert, the conflict between the nationalists (as described) and the communists (as described) then the outcome of the conflict can be in no doubt. The nationalists come closer to being an economic class or at least an extremely powerful group of people who have one overwhelming set of interests in common: their desire, preparedness and ability to use the state to get rich. The communists have a set of idealistic ideas and a trade union movement. They don’t have a hope of blocking the relentless march of those who have caught the heady scent of easy riches.

What is depressing is that the communists had an inkling of the dangers they would face after they had successfully allied with the nationalists to oust Mbeki at Polokwane. This from The SACP and State Power – The Alliance Post Polokwane – Ready to Govern:

A negative scenario in which the left fails to hegemonise the post-Polokwane reality, and instead (and particularly after national elections in 2009) a new alliance of “1996 class project floor-crossers”, “compradorists” and “fugitives from justice” coalesces around a programme of awarding influential posts, tenders and contracts to themselves, while the factional destabilisation (and not democratic transformation) of the state, including the criminal justice system, persists.


So back to the original premise. I think it is becoming clear that Sexwale, having made his money through Mvelphanda after being stopped in his tracks by Mbeki in the late 90’s, is back in the running and he has chosen the steed he hopes to ride to the presidency.

Can he pull this off? I think he is tainted by how rich he is and will be more so as accusations emerge that he is using his wealth and Mvelephanda contracts to reward certain factions and king-makers he hopes to woo.  I don’t know if the accusations are true, but they are certainly being bruted about. I think a run for the presidency by Tokyo would be formidable – especially now that Mbeki is no longer there to stop him like he was stopped in the 90’s.

So the long and the short is: he could make it, he’s got the wiles and the stamina and the financial muscle. But a post-Polokwane ANC president with a silver spoon in his mouth is a real stretch and Tokyo Sexwale’s bid will be up against it, no matter how skilfully he rides his powerful but ugly horse.

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