Having not featured on either slate of the two front runners for African National Congress (ANC) presidency, it remains to be seen whether South Africa’s Speaker of Parliament and party national chairperson Baleka Mbete would partner and work with either of her six opponents.
Although her campaign seems to have fizzled out as momentum to the governing party’s 54th elective conference builds up, Mbete is adamant that her campaign continues and that she is ready and prepared to work together with the other contenders.
Most would see this as an indication of a weak campaign and lack of support by branches.
Mbete, twice elected ANC chairperson both in 2007 in Polokwane and Mangaung in 2012, had it relatively easy in the National Assembly until the emergence of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) after the 2014 general elections.
Mbete has had to deal with the radical-styled politics of the EFF, led by Julius Malema, once an ANC Youth League president before his expulsion from the ANC in 2012.
Parliament sittings are now accompanied by heckling, walk outs and sometimes use of force as Mbete tries to control opposition parties determined in making the house a living hell for President Jacob Zuma, who has faced scandals throughout his two presidential terms.
The climax for her in the National Assembly was when she was faced with deciding whether to schedule a secret ballot against Zuma in August this year.
Announcing the secret ballot go ahead in the eighth attempt by opposition parties to remove Zuma from office, Mbete said the decision was ”in the best interests of our country” and would put “the resilience of the democratic institution to the test”.
Mbete said she took to heart what the Constitutional Court said, including if there was a prevailing toxic or highly charged atmosphere.
Zuma survived the vote of no confidence, as Mbete announced that 177 MPs voted in favour of the motion and 198 against it. There were nine abstentions.
Seemingly shunned by the ANC Women’s League who have rallied behind former African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Mbete was given the blessings to contest by her supporters in the Eastern Cape. She was also nominated by a branch in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.
Addressing the KwaZulu-Natal conference in 2015, Mbete said achieving unity was important for the ANC.
”Let us be united in our understanding that none of us are as important as the ANC. Yes, we get into conferences with different perspectives on outcomes when it comes to who will lead beyond conference.
Be that as it may, we are not enemies. If we were, we would be of no use to the ANC as delegates. That is to represent the views of our branches on the main discussion points that are on the agenda of conference.”
Mbete, 68, is a trained teacher and hails from the Eastern Cape. She received a teacher’s certificate from Lovedale Teachers’ College and taught in Durban.
While in exile, she taught in Mbabane, Swaziland and worked for the ANC in Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam, Nairobi in Kenya, Gaborone in Botswana, Harare Zimbabwe and Zambia’s Lusaka.
After Mbete returned from 15 years in exile, she became the first secretary-general of ANC Women’s League (ANCWL), a position she held from 1991 to 1993, and late former president Nelson Mandela appointed her as the deputy Speaker of the National Assembly from 1996 to 2004.
In 2006, when the ANC Women’s League formed the Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa, Mbete was elected to be its National Convener.
Mbete was awarded the 2016 King Legacy Award by the Martin Luther King Jr Foundation, in the United States for her distinguished leadership roles over the years and her contributions to the global community.
The mother of five and grandmother of four loves the arts, particularly music and writing poetry.
The elective conference, where President Jacob Zuma’s successor will emerge, will be held in Johannesburg next month.