ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula escaped a gag order with a near-miss on Thursday night.
This comes after Mbalula this week hogged the headlines following his several admissions of ANC internal secrets.
As a result of Mbalula’s breathtaking off-the-cuff comments, attention was stolen from the ANC anniversary celebration. The event was held at the Mbombela Stadium, Mpumalanga.
On Monday, Mbalula, unprovoked, threw the ANC under the bus. He admitted that the party had lied in parliament in protection of its former President Jacob Zuma.
He was referring to the ANC voting for a parliamentary inquiry report on the Nkandla saga. The report absolved Zuma of non-security upgrades at his Nkandla home at the expense of taxpayer money.
His comments drew harsh criticism from within and outside the ANC. The governing party’s top brass viewed his comments as bad PR.
Planned gag order reversed
ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe on Tuesday publicly slated Mbalula for being “excited” by media cameras and microphones.
On Thursday, the ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting was billed to impose a gag order on Mbalula. However, he emerged from the meeting without a single bruise.
According to 11 NEC members that this newspaper spoke to, the highest decision-making body between ANC conferences felt it was unnecessary to discuss Mbalula when it had bigger things to contend with, including its January 8 statement.
But beyond that, Mantashe’s public rebuke of Mbalula saved the latter. This was because the NEC would have been forced to also deal with the former for attacking his colleague in public.
Said a well-placed NEC insider: “Correcting a wrong with a wrong is what Mantashe caused. So for us to go for Mbalula would have forced us to do the same with the national chair.
“Chief, the reality is that the NEC cannot stop discussing abantu abafana noJola (people like Mbalula) when we are so much under siege from opposition parties, especially the MK Party.”
All NEC members we spoke to agreed that the feeling was also that Mbalula was a first-time offender. As such, going hard on him would have been unfair.
“Imagine discussing the SG ahead of the January 8 statement rally because he spoke the truth about party secrets. Yes, the man messed up. But it was the first time he did so with such an impact on our already damaged reputation.
“We felt that being hard on him was unnecessary and unfair because he is a first-time offender. But also, this NEC has been one of unity and forgiveness since our election. So, breaking the peace and harmony because you want to punish Mbaks (Mbalula) would be bad news. Especially in an election year.”
Our NEC informants said Mbalula’s matter would probably be back on the agenda at the next NEC meeting. But many felt that the matter should be put to bed once and for all.
SG continued to ‘de-campaign’ the party
Another NEC member said Mbalula “unfortunately does not help his case” for digging in his heels when he is expected to be quiet and show remorse. This he would have done by refraining from further commenting on the controversy caused by him.
Mbalula went on to reveal another party secret on Thursday morning, just before the midnight NEC meeting.
“As we thought that he had gotten the message from our national chair, the man went on a television news interview. Here he dropped another embarrassing bomb about the ANC. This is when he told the public that Zuma, upon his forced resignation as head of state in 2018, was on the verge of being arrested.
“We are in an election year, but our chief spokesperson is saying things that are de-campaigning us.”
Violation of communication protocol
The leaders all concurred that Mbalula’s behaviour this week violated the communication protocol that the party expects from its Secretary-General.
According to them, that document was shared with Mbalula a long ago. Among other things, it instructs him to speak publicly with prepared speeches instead of “freestyling”.
“Clearly, the SG does not take that protocol seriously. But to his defence, the office he occupies gives him powers to say whatever he wants. And the unfortunate thing is that his statements automatically become the statements of the whole NEC. Hence we cannot gag him.”
Mbalula was not available for comment.