The significance of Pandor’s nomination

ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign for the presidency of the ANC took an intriguing turn last weekend. At a rally in Limpopo, Ramaphosa departed from the usual ANC script by suggesting specific candidates for nomination to Top 6 positions in advance of December’s elective conference.

Together with the long-anticipated promotion of Gauteng chairperson Paul Mashatile, current secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, and former KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Senzo Mchunu to high office, Ramaphosa urged his supporters to nominate Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor to be his deputy.

Given the political imperative to have a woman close to the top of the slate, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has long been touted as the most likely candidate.

In some respects, the profiles of Sisulu and Pandor are similar.

At the national executive committee (NEC) elections in 2012, Sisulu was the second-ranked woman (below only Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma). Pandor came a close third.

Both leaders survived the transition between the presidencies of Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. Like Sisulu, Pandor is too old to succeed to the ANC presidency in 2027. This makes her a popular choice for deputy president among younger contenders for the ultimate prize.

Each candidate comes from a distinguished struggle family. Pandor’s grandfather, ZK Matthews, was a legendary intellectual who mentored Nelson Mandela, OR Tambo, and Mangosuthu Buthelezi at Fort Hare. Pandor’s more controversial father, Joe Matthews, was also a prominent ANC leader, and a member of the central committee of the South African Communist Party in the 1960s. He ultimately found a political home in the IFP and served that party in the government of national unity.

Despite such superficial similarities between Sisulu and Pandor, however, the nomination of Pandor holds distinct advantages for the Ramaphosa team.

She is less given to self-aggrandisement than Sisulu. She would certainly not become embroiled in exchanges over the relative merits of exile and trade union struggle histories, as Sisulu has managed to do in recent weeks. Pandor has been a successful minister, adroitly handling a complex education portfolio, and securing significant achievements — such as a major stake in the Square Kilometre Array project — in her first term as Science and Technology Minister.

Behind the scenes, Pandor has been involved in the Cabinet’s budget process, in which capacity she will have developed a grasp of the complex trade-offs that effective government demands.

For an aspiring state president such as Ramaphosa, Pandor might appeal as a deputy president who could shoulder a large part of his heavy executive load.

Within the ANC, Pandor is a good citizen, chairing the NEC’s education and health sub-committee, and serving on the national disciplinary committee of appeals.

A key member of the ANC’s major task-team investigation of candidate list-rigging before the 2011 local government elections, she knows the grubby truth about how the movement actually functions at sub-national level.

The 2019 national and provincial elections could turn on the moral probity of the new ANC leadership. Pandor appears to have an unblemished record in government. Although the full truth is not yet known, rumours about her tenure at Home Affairs, from 2012 to 2014, suggest she will not cross ethical lines to secure personal advantage.

Citizenship regulations were becoming controversial. Mooted changes to black economic empowerment (BEE) policy — apparently emanating from President Jacob Zuma’s camp — proposed that black persons naturalised after 1994 should enjoy the same BEE benefits as those who actually suffered from unfair discrimination under apartheid.

It is just such changes that have been one source of controversy in Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane’s proposed revisions to the mining charter.

It is likely that the Gupta family sought South African citizenship while Pandor was minister. Their application would have been turned down by officials on the grounds that the applicants did not all meet necessary residency requirements.

Pandor was demoted after the 2014 elections — she was returned to the science and technology portfolio — and Malusi Gigaba took up the Home Affairs mantle from May 2014 to March 2017. When the Gupta family was denied citizenship in 2015, Gigaba simply over-ruled his officials and granted them early citizenship.

Ministers who draw a line in the sand, and accept demotion in consequence, are currently in short supply. If it turns out that Pandor is one such minister, she may prove to be an important electoral asset for the ANC in 2019.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

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