He is a hard worker, ambitious, charismatic, an intellectual, a prolific spinner and he’s very rich. He can also be a schemer of note. These are the characteristics of member No. 10 in the ruling ANC’s current National Executive Committee.

He also has the business acumen of Mitt Romney and presidential aspirations one can liken to those of the then young Chicago politician, Barack Obama. He is none other than Mosima Sexwale, also known as Tokyo in political circles.

I had underestimated this former premier of the PWV, now Gauteng, until recently when it became clearer that No. 10 may steal a winner in the last minute in Mangaung.

For a while, President Jacob Zuma and his camp had focused their efforts on preventing Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe from upsetting his ambitions for a second term at the ANC’s 53rd congress in Bloemfontein. And while they knew he was neutralised on the political pitch, no one saw this other lethal politician making an overlap from the obscure blind side. That’s Sexwale, who cut his teeth in politics at Robben Island where he served with Nelson Mandela – the person many believe he learnt how to be the best leader from – among others.

The best leader? Personally I think he has it in him. Although he strikes me as the most desperate and opportunistic politician, in comparison with our current president he wins hands down.

Sexwale has recently been hard at work, showing he wants to succeed Zuma at Mangaung. “No one owns that conference, it will be wrong. We go into that conference to engage to improve the ANC and make it a better organisation than it was yesterday,” Sexwale said in the Eastern Cape recently. My colleague Lerato Tsebe thinks Sexwale is cast under a dark cloud by many (at their own risk). And she thinks if Motlanthe doesn’t raise his hand, Tokyo might steal the position from under his nose. “Motlanthe must strap up his boots and prepare for war. Tokyo, like Lindiwe [Sisulu, defence minister] is hungry and is not afraid of the sight of blood.”

Lerato thinks with NEC No. 10 positioning himself alongside Motlanthe and Zuma for the Mangaung showdown, “the world will witness a factional dog fight that will make Polokwane look like an afternoon walk in the park.”

That Sexwale is a fearless fighter, as Lerato alluded to, became clear on his recent visit to Eastern Cape where he took a first on-target salvo at Zuma, suggesting Msholozi was protecting Mdluli when he lambasted “political interference and partiality” in handling of the former intelligence chief’s investigations. And he echoed former embattled youth league leader Julius Malema’s fears of Zuma acting like a dictator. “We put people in authority and we get terrified of them … you fear the president. South Africa cannot be reduced to a country of fear.” Sexwale also suggested, in a thinly-veiled reference to Zuma, that all presidents should step down after their first term like Mandela did. That to me sounds like a man with clear intentions.

But where is Motlanthe who was touted to replace Zuma? It would seem Zuma is managing to deal with him accordingly. If he is not sent on frequent trips overseas (he’s going to Turkey now), he is being thrown on a coalition course with the electorate and Cosatu by being made to clean up the mess that is e-tolling.

I think Motlanthe is rendering himself a disservice by locking himself in a cocoon. And I’m afraid he’s giving No. 10 a free role that positions him as the face of the ABZ (Anybody But Zuma) faction. Reports says this faction has a list making the rounds which features ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe as Sexwale’s deputy, North West Premier Thandi Modise as national chairman, and arts and culture minister Paul Mashatile as treasurer general. No Motlanthe.

Tokyo is no stranger to attempting leadership. He tried twice and failed. He probably has done his homework and this could be his ‘third time lucky’.

First, his ministry of human settlements puts him in a pole position to be in touch with people. Being an exploiter of note, No. 10 took what Zuma thought was an insignificant position in government and turned it into a weapon to be loved by the poor. He is the guy who went to Diepsloot and spent a night there. His spin doctors are hard at work, as they have been throughout the years. His recent visits to the Eastern Cape gave him a platform to campaign indirectly while dishing out houses and title deeds left and right. He’s with the people, addresses formal and informal community gatherings and church meetings – all this makes him look like a person who listens to the poor, something many don’t get from Zuma. From Zuma they get promises. From Sexwale they get action.

“If there’s one thing about me that you should know … I never make promises I can’t keep. [Other] leaders make promises they cannot [fulfil],” he told residents in the Eastern Cape few days ago. He charmed chiefs and tribal heads who sang his praises, with Nkosi Mfundo Mtirara remarking: “As a traditional leader I want to say we support this man in Mangaung in December as the president of the ANC.”

Sexwale is not tainted much, and perhaps that’s why he is hated and not trusted so much inside the ANC than he is outside it. Unlike our current president, Sexwale is not exposed and his wealth make him less susceptible to corruption.

Our current president came into the seat very poor. The costs of his corruption and rape trials left him penniless, and his families living on handouts of friends, who now expect him to pay back.

But then with the lack of another option people end up looking up to Sexwale – not because they love him, but because they hate Zuma.

Sexwale will also have the support of his former colleagues in the business sector, which has never been as threatened as it was/is throughout Zuma’s presidency.

And since Zuma came in, issues of polarisation along cultural and racial line have made the news more than before. Sexwale is seen as a tolerant figure; his wife Judy is white, and he is regarded as a unifier. He also still has some support from the youth, who will definitely accept Anyone But Zuma. But this could be his downfall as well since they seem to have fallen out with many inside and outside the movement. Reports that Sexwale deposited R100 000 into Malema’s account doesn’t help.

Sexwale’s other downside could be that he is seen as someone who likes using his wealth to buy political and personal favours.

In the provinces, however, Sexwale can take many of those who see it as a risk to bank on Motlanthe, and those unhappy with Zuma, including those in his favourite hunting ground of the Eastern Cape which will send the second largest delegation to Mangaung. While KwaZulu-Natal remains Zuma’s stronghold, Sexwale has made headway in this province as well – he is deployed here full-time by the ANC. Sexwale is said to be holding secret meetings with some influential anti-Zuma leaders, dubbed the Mvela Group by the intelligence.

But Sexwale’s bubble could burst if Motlanthe announces his candidacy when nominations open in October, or before then.

Even if Motlanthe chickens out, Sexwale should know that the road to Mangaung is paved with bad intentions. The knives are out, Zuma and his clique are not sleeping.

The ANC NEC member No. 10 should know better than to think Mangaung, like Polokwane, will be a given walkover. And unlike the previous two attempts, he should avoid scoring own goals.


Isaac Mangena

Isaac Mangena

Isaac Mangena is a Chapter Nine Communicator slash activist. He has spent much of the past ten years of his life in a newsroom. He is a former TV and Newspaper journalist who focuses on African and international...

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