After backing Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the African National Congress (ANC) presidency in 2017, Luthuli House general manager Fébé Potgieter-Gqubule is said to be ready for top six politics should she be elected deputy secretary-general at the party’s December elective conference. She faces a tough fight from veteran and long-time NEC member Nomvula Mokonyane, who garnered 1 779 branch nominations against the 905 she received. But her backers are banking on a mooted plan to create a second deputy secretary-general position, which she could occupy should she lose to Mokonyane. However, her chances could quickly diminish as lobbying and horse-trading have…
After backing Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the African National Congress (ANC) presidency in 2017, Luthuli House general manager Fébé Potgieter-Gqubule is said to be ready for top six politics should she be elected deputy secretary-general at the party’s December elective conference.
She faces a tough fight from veteran and long-time NEC member Nomvula Mokonyane, who garnered 1 779 branch nominations against the 905 she received.
But her backers are banking on a mooted plan to create a second deputy secretary-general position, which she could occupy should she lose to Mokonyane. However, her chances could quickly diminish as lobbying and horse-trading have already begun ahead of the highly competitive December conference.
A former ambassador, Potgieter-Gqubule was appointed to run the governing party’s administration in 2018, a few months after the Nasrec conference where Dlamini-Zuma lost to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
She had to tender her resignation as SABC board deputy chairperson to take up her new responsibilities at Luthuli House.
‘She is accessible for workers’
Potgieter-Gqubule arrived to find her party’s head office in disarray, with debt running into hundreds of millions of rands.
South Africa’s governing party went bankrupt and struggled to honour its obligations, such as its employee’s monthly salaries and benefits.
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A staffer and one of the workers’ representatives Mvusi Mdala described Potgieter-Gqubule as friendly with staff.
“She came in at a time when things were just not going well for the organisation, but she demonstrated high-quality management skills. She is generally a good person to work with and is very accessible for employees. She treats us equally.”
He added that Potgieter-Gqubule tried “under very difficult circumstances” to professionalise the administration and management of the country’s biggest political party.
Her work was met with resistance from others who preferred the status quo and sometimes bullied her as she tried to streamline things, such as proper budgeting and managing projects.
“The elected leaders who are full-time in the office do not understand management. They do not understand what organisational programmes entail.
“So, she was confronted with leaders who are bullies in that when she tried to correct the way things were done, they would bully her until she gives in just because they were elected, unlike her.”
Another Luthuli House insider, who wanted to remain anonymous, said when it came to meetings over owed salaries, Potgieter-Gqubule was supportive.
She said the manager understood what they were going through, and didn’t have a problem with staff organising themselves and launching protests.
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The lack of finances frustrated her, said the source.
“She told us to go ahead, because she was aware of our pain. By organising ourselves last year and joining a union, we did something that had never happened in the ANC or in any other political party in the country.
“To our surprise, she told us we had a right. Being exploited and having no money to pay people frustrated her. Sometimes she didn’t know what to say to us because really she herself didn’t have answers.”
Activist, publisher and administrator
Potgieter-Gqubule was born in Humansdorp, Eastern Cape. She spent her youth as a political activist and was introduced to activism after her arrival to study at the University of Western Cape.
She was later part of the SA Youth Congress in the early 1990s where she was political education and leadership development officer. There, she led fellow comrades such as the late popular youth leader Peter Mokaba and Defence Military Veterans Deputy Minister Thabang Makwetla, among others.
Her long history in youth development is well documented. She has written many articles on the subject over the years.
Within the ANC, she became the first female secretary of the Youth League (ANCYL) in 1996 and was later elected to the NEC in 2007.
Prior to the ANCYL, Potgieter-Gqubule worked at the National Youth Development Forum where she piloted the national youth service initiative in South Africa.
According to her CV, the government under former president Thabo Mbeki appointed her ambassador to Poland in 2005. She returned home in 2009 and continued working in the ANC while also serving on several boards over the years.
African Union job
In 2012, she became an adviser to Dlamini-Zuma until the latter was appointed African Union (AU) chairperson. Her work at AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, saw her appointed deputy chief of staff in 2015 until early 2017.
She came under fire from the Democratic Alliance (DA) in 2017 after her appointment as SABC deputy chairperson. The opposition party accused her of being an ally of former president Jacob Zuma, by virtue of having worked with the latter’s ex-wife Dlamini-Zuma.
Apart from managing Luthuli House and her involvement in other social projects, Potgieter-Gqubule is a publisher at Khaloza Books, which publishes books for children and young adults.
She holds a masters degree from the University of the Witwatersrand.
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