Deputy President David Mabuza has aligned himself with President Cyril Ramaphosa on one of the most vexing issues in the ANC and its broader alliance: The direction South Africa should take on economic reforms.
Answering questions in the National Assembly on Thursday, Mabuza also defended Ramaphosa against the biggest cloud over his presidency: The donation he received from corruption-linked Bosasa’s former boss, the recently deceased Gavin Watson, for his campaign to become ANC president.
In August, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni unexpectedly released his economic plan, which was less than well-received by ANC alliance partners Cosatu and the SACP as well as some ANC members who profess to believe in radical economic transformation (RET).
On a recent investment drive in the UK, Ramaphosa told The Economist he supported Mboweni’s plan in its entirety.
In a supplementary question on Thursday, DA MP and spokesperson on finance Geordin Hill-Lewis said there were rumours of a disagreement between Mabuza and Ramaphosa on the direction economic reforms should take, adding he would like the opportunity for Mabuza to explain where he stood on the matter.
While Hill-Lewis spoke, Mabuza looked straight at him and started smiling.
“I’m not aware of any differences of opinion in terms of how we see the road ahead,” Mabuza said, adding Mboweni’s plan was the product of a “collective discussion” in the ANC.
“I support the president,” he said.
In another follow-up question, Mabuza was asked if he agreed with the restructuring of Eskom – another of Ramaphosa’s proposed reforms not met with universal approval in the tripartite alliance.
“I do,” he said. “I do believe in the process of restructuring Eskom.”
Later, EFF MP Mgcini Tshwaku said Ramaphosa was “funded by big capital”, in reference to the Bosasa donation.
“The matter of the president and the finances he has been supported with – that is a matter of the ANC because he was contesting a position of the ANC,” Mabuza said, eliciting groans of disdain from the opposition benches.
He added Ramaphosa stood at the very same podium and said there was no corruption.
“The money was not stolen, the money was donated.”
He said the ANC – “as the ruling party, which the president represents” – should define its own rules on fundraising.
DA MP Luyolo Mphithi said much had been made of the Cabinet’s 50/50 gender split, but when Mabuza and Ramaphosa were included there was no 50% split.
“Are you prepared to step aside for a 50/50 gender split?” Mphithi asked.
Again Mabuza smiled.
“Maybe next time. I don’t know why you chose me. You’re not asking the honourable [Gwede] Mantashe to step down to make way for a woman.”
He said he took Mphithi’s point that when he and Ramaphosa were included, there was not a 50/50 split but there was 50% female representation when ministers were taken into account.
“I will consider to step down next time. Not now. Not now. Not now.”
After the elections in May, there was speculation that Ramaphosa would appoint a female deputy president but in the end he reappointed Mabuza.