waiting for mbalula

Don Makatile

Don Makatile

Cocooned for over two hours in a PA's office with a faulty air-conditioner, waiting for an audience with the subject of one's interview, one's mind can't help but start drifting to the play Waiting for Godot.

It is a theatre piece by Samuel Beckett, in which the characters wait for Godot - who never arrives.

Beckett's characters are no doubt a bundle of nerves. But waiting for Fikile Mbalula, president of the youth league of the ruling ANC, offers one at least an escape from boredom.

The personal assistant's 7th floor office, just a few doors away from Mbalula's, boasts a wall that is a kaleidoscope of colour - it is laden with pictures of the boss-man at different ANC Youth League functions.

There's even a pencil sketch of the fiery youth leader, no doubt from the unsteady hand of an aspiring Picasso. There's another attempt from the same hand but this time the subject is Nelson Mandela, who Mbalula is seen shadowing in some of the pictures on the wall.

There's a lone newspaper cutting, pre-Polokwane, that says the ANCYL trumpets the name of Jacob Zuma "as their man for Thabo Mbeki's job".

The article carries a picture of Mbalula, firing on all cylinders from a podium.

There are a handful of pictures of Zuma, the man whose ascent to the party's presidency is owed largely to Mbalula's fierce campaigning and sloganeering.

Two photo albums come in handy in the pursuit of killing time - they both carry photos of the Young Lions at various functions of the organisation, where liquor flowed freely.

A well-thumbed copy of a book entitled Letters from the President - Thabo Mbeki also saves the day. It has no doubt become the preferred reading matter of countless visitors to this Luthuli House office, tired of twiddling their thumbs.

The book, fronted by a hazy picture of the man who'd just lost the party's top seat to JZ, contains "articles from the first 100 editions ANC Today".

It is autographed: To Fikile, Best Wishes, Thabo Mbeki. May 24, 2003.

This is the same Thabo Mbeki that Mbalula would later say he last spoke to a few days before the 30th anniversary June 16 rally in Kroonstad "at midnight".

A need has never arisen for the two to speak again, says Mbalula, who adds that their frosty relationship was worsened by the youth league's decision to back Zuma for Polokwane.

"I have no relationship with him," he intones.

Apart from the signed book, the only other picture of Mbeki in the waiting area is another bad job - framed - albeit of a smiling state president, that forced my photographer colleague to wax lyrical about how it was "out of focus" and other lens technicalities.

When their politics strained the Mbeki-Mbalula link, the younger man sought out other shoulders to cry on. He soon found a broader one in homeboy Mosiuoa Terror Lekota, who spoke at Mbalula's wedding.

"I could even visit."

Soon, he'd lose Lekota too, the latter a true-blue Mbeki-ite.

Now what Mbalula terms, in his own words, the "warmth of a parent", he finds in fellow Zuma supporter Kgalema Motlanthe, the second-in-command in the newly-elected NEC: "He listens. He's approachable. He's above reproach."

Motlanthe is a comrade "I can trust with anything".

The newly-installed top echelon of the ANC is actually staffed by people Mbalula speaks of with admiration. Even further down the Top Six - in the 80-member NEC - Mbalula finds faces he can relate to.

He reels off the names: Siphiwe Nyanda, Lindiwe Sisulu, Pallo Jordan, Max Sisulu .

If you hear him talk of Thandi Modise, the new deputy secretary-general, you'd think she actually paid him to say so: "A guerilla of our movement, harshly punished by the apartheid forces. She even gave birth in the cells of the enemy."

He sees his own appointment into the top structures of the party as an opportunity to enhance his own political experience like his heroes before him, both the living and the dead.

Mbalula says he is not the sort that makes New Year resolutions as they are never realisable. All he does is choose what he wants to achieve and then works at it.

He is modest enough not to agree that his star is on the rise this year. He'll use the year to find some semblance of adaptabi- lity in ANC leadership politics, he says.

This, no doubt, is a whale of a job given that he's also in the 28-member NWC, where he heads the subcommittee for organisation-building and campaigns.

This is a full-time job that will keep him at the Sauer Street address for at least five more years.

He's quick to say this is no reward for the sterling work he did in campaigning for Zuma to return triumphant from the 52nd elective conference last month.

He admits that careerism is a malady in the movement but hastens to add that self-aggrandise- ment is not what drove the dele- gates: "The recognition for what happened in Polokwane should go to the youth league as a collective," he says.

The buzz word in Polokwane was change, he says.

They are obviously ecstatic with the outcome of the December conference; a sure sign, he says, that the youth league is becoming a force to reckon with in the ideas stakes within the ANC.

The NWC work involves politicisation of ANC cadres, he says, and not just the Polokwane directive to draw at least a million card-carrying members to the party by 2012.

This is a job so Mbalula-esque, just up his alley.

He does mobilisation so well, like at the recent 96th anniversary celebrations in Atteridgeville where the crowds roared when he stood up to say: "We are the future, no one can stop us."

This year will also be meaningful in that one of the most popular media questions will be laid to rest: "When is Mbalula coming of age? When is he leaving the youth league?"

On 1 April 2008, the day he turns 37, the youth league will commence its congress in his hometown, Bloemfontein, to elect a new leadership.

After three-and-a-half years at the helm of the structure of Lembede, Tambo, Mandela, Mokaba and Gigaba, Mbalula will be stepping down - and it's no April Fool's joke!

Maybe then he will find the time to be with his wife Nozuko and their soon-to-be two year-old daughter, Nonkululeko.

The family could only manage a two-week break to KwaZulu-Natal after Polokwane, he says. With days that often end at midnight, Mbalula is a busy man who parties spontaneously.

"I never plan for it, it happens in the line of duty".

He's loathe to admit he has not made many friends with his straight-talking attitude, especially in the so-called Mbeki camp.

But for this Orlando Pirates supporter and kwaito fan, it was probably just i-job, s'bali - a man doing what a man's gotta do.

So unlike in Beckett's play, voted the most significant English language play in the 20th century, our Godot did show up - and he was worth the wait.

lThis column replaces Molefe's People on Mondays