Emerging from the embarrassment of a sex scandal, long-serving cabinet minister Jeff Radebe has rekindled his political ambitions by throwing his hat into the ring to succeed President Jacob Zuma as leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
The soft-spoken 61-year-old Radebe has been in Cabinet since democracy in 1994 and had until recently remained scandal free. But his squeaky-clean image recently suffered a dent when reports revealed that he had asked a 29-year-old junior government staffer to send him explicit nude images of herself.
Radebe, who is married, has since apologised for his lapse in judgement, saying that he regretted engaging in the text and e-mail conversations which were improper for a married man.
“I apologise for the embarrassment caused to my wife, my family, all South Africans and my movement, the ANC. I should have known better and I take full responsibility for my actions.”
His contriteness in the wake of the revelations won him admirers, none more so than ANC stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who lauded Radebe for taking responsibility for his actions.
According to media reports, Radebe was summoned to Madikizela-Mandela’s Soweto home on a Sunday accompanied by his wife, Bridgette, where he apologised for the scandal.
While not condoning his actions, Madikizela-Mandela said: “This is the kind of leadership we require. We all make mistakes, and we must take responsibility for them. It takes a real man to apologise‚ and Jeff has done that. I have known him from when he was a young boy, before he left the country to go into exile.
“… Jeff is a highly respected man and one of the surviving cadres of the OR Tambo era [and] what’s left of the Lusaka leadership, who were selfless. In him, we see a future. But we all have our flaws.”
The Minister in the Presidency will not be punching above his weight when he challenges for the ANC presidency at the party’s much-anticipated elective conference in Johannesburg next month.
Radebe, who is a communist, has been at the centre of every defining moment in modern-day democratic South Africa, from the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) talks which paved the way for a new South Africa, former President Nelson Mandela’s Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), his successor Thabo Mbeki’s Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR), and is now championing Zuma’s National Development Plan.
As the Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Performance, Monitoring, Evaluation and Administration, Radebe is privy to the inner workings of the highest office in the land. His proximity to power for so long might sway some delegates to vote for him.
Prior to this position, Radebe served as the Minister of Public Works, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Minister of Public Enterprises, and as Minister of Transport.
However, Radebe’s economic policies have largely remained unexpressed because he has mastered the art of sitting on the fence.
Born in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, on 18 February 1953, Radebe has two children with his wife Bridgette Radebe, South Africa’s first black female mining entrepreneur and the sister of billionaire mining magnate Patrice Motsepe.
He cut his teeth as a student activist and joined the underground structures of the ANC during the student uprisings of 1976. In that same year he served his articles to become a lawyer in Durban and in 1977 he left the country for Mozambique on instructions of the ANC.
The long-serving minister underwent further military training with Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC, and was eventually arrested in Johannesburg and convicted under the Terrorism Act, and served six years of a 10-year prison sentence on Robben Island after it was reduced on appeal in 1986.
Radebe’s experience and qualifications as a seasoned politician will not be questioned when the conference eventually sits. He has been a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) and a member of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the ANC since 1991.
If the ANC presidency was only decided on experience and qualifications, Radebe would be a serious contender.