How far will the ANC's Gauteng cowboys go?
Daggers are being drawn among the ruling party's Gauteng rebels as old grudges resurface on the back of poor election results.
Thabo Mbeki disbanded them and Jacob Zuma cannot stand them. They are the mavericks that run the ANC in Gauteng.
They are fiercely independent rebels. Some call them – without evidence – reckless adventurists, a corrupt mafia whose common drive is to pillage the rich province’s resources. Their firm grip on Gauteng, the economic and political dynamo of the country, has indirectly turned them into a quasi-independent body of the ANC. Their impudent, cheeky streak is legendary.
The first provincial secretary of the Transvaal (which incorporated the present-day Gauteng) was David Bopape. He was also one of the ANC Youth League dissenters who revolted against the then ANC president AB Xuma in the 1940s.
Almost all former and present Gauteng leaders ended up challenging the power of the national leaders. Kgalema Motlanthe, who led the province (then called PWV) shortly after the unbanning of the ANC in 1990, ran against Zuma in 2012. His successor Tokyo Sexwale also had presidential aspirations.
Mbhazima Shilowa revolted against Zuma’s leadership in 2008 and formed the Congress of the People, and his successor Paul Mashatile is a fan of neither Zuma nor Mbeki. Mashatile was banished to Zuma’s national executive in 2009 – first as a deputy minister and later as a Cabinet minister. This was Luthuli House’s form of a precarious truce between the party provincial leaders and Nomvula Mokonyane, the first woman premier in the province, chosen as premier over Mashatile.
Mokonyane had unsuccessfully challenged Mashatile for the position of ANC provincial chair in 2010.
Mashatile’s Gauteng supporters were in a funk and vowed to seek revenge for his defeat. They rendered Mokonyane’s administration unendurable by micromanaging her. Then the sulking Mokonyane – a trusted ally of the president – marginalised her provincial party colleagues and chose, especially during election campaigns, to work with Luthuli House. Trust vanished and the relationship collapsed beyond repair.
There were in effect parallel and hostile elections structures and programmes. Mokonyane – who headed the ANC’s recent national campaigns – snubbed her party’s provincial events. Her five-year-term was characterised by a bitter rivalry, sparked by what in ANC vocabulary is described as two centres of power. This paralysed the province – which became the epicentre of violent protests – and the party was torn apart by power struggles.
Party leaders under Mashatile wanted to see Zuma’s back at Mangaung in 2012 by supporting Motlanthe. But Mokonyane and her allies fought hard for Zuma. And Zuma won.
The Mashatile group privately indicated that Zuma’s return meant the ANC would struggle to retain Gauteng. Their internal research placed the ANC in the province at 45% and Zuma, according to senior provincial party leaders, was a turn-off to the voters. But Mokonyane defended Zuma, publicly saying his return as party president would not affect the outcome of the polls.
The bitter rivalry raged further while the province continued smouldering as residents demanded better services and leadership.
To be fair to Mokonyane, her province is a magnet for economic migrants and the economy did not create any new jobs. Therefore Gauteng naturally became the focal point for protests.
Compounding her problems were reports that her ally from the West Rand, former MEC Humphrey Mmemezi, abused his credit card, buying artwork through McDonald’s. The ANC provincial leaders, under Mashatile, demanded his head. It was chopped. But Mmemezi was resuscitated by his allies at the ANC conference in 2012, becoming a member of the party’s national executive committee – the second-highest decision-making body. He is now heading for Parliament.
The return of Mmemezi was seen as raising a middle finger to the Gauteng ANC cowboys. One provincial executive privately told the Mail & Guardian a month before the elections that the disgraced Mmemezi’s promotion to Parliament, Zuma’s Nkandla security upgrades saga and Mokonyane’s “poor governance record will cost us dearly”. He repeated this a day after the announcement of the official results.
The ANC was punished harshly in Gauteng, gaining a paltry 53.6% (the party scored the lowest in Western Cape even though it increased its voter share). Mashatile and company privately point fingers at Mokonyane and Zuma’s poor administrations. “This [the elections] is people’s rejection of their government,” said one.
They also cite the expulsion of Julius Malema, now the Economic Freedom Fighters leader, as another factor that led to the dismal performance. Malema left with the league’s structures, they argued, and he was able to organise in their heartland while the interim youth league leadership “was busy defending Zuma against Thuli” [Madonsela, the public protector].
The DA’s well-resourced campaign and zeal to conquer the province, as well as public anger over e-tolls, put Gauteng’s ANC under “immense pressure”, another leader observed.
But Mokonyane, Zuma and some in Luthuli House now apportion blame for poor election results squarely on the shoulders of Gauteng party leaders.
Luthuli House is demanding answers, although the Gauteng leaders insist that their share of the national vote, 2.5-million, was massive.
But will Zuma trust his provincial rivals with Gauteng? The Mokonyane confidant said no. He said this could amount to “handing over Gauteng” to them. But if Zuma’s Luthuli House decides to nominate Mokonyane again as the premier candidate for the party, it will further enrage the provincial party leaders.
Exclusion from premier race
The provincial leaders are to exclude Mokonyane from their three-person list of premier candidates, which is expected to feature provincial secretary David Makhura and MECs Barbara Creecy and Ntombi Mekgwe. But Luthuli House could still ignore the three, as it did with North West’s in 2009.
Gauteng ANC could defy Luthuli House by unprecedentedly fielding its preferred candidate to oppose Mokonyane when provincial MPLs vote for the premier. This would be risky, though. It would be seen as a blunt declaration of war, and could prompt Luthuli House to disband the provincial party leadership, as it did in the late 1990s.
A provincial leader close to Mokonyane said the disbandment was nonetheless still on the cards.
But the rebels have an unlikely supporter in Luthuli House, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe. The latter said there was no need to disband the provincial structure before their conference, due this year, but the pro-Mokonyane provincial leader pointed out that Mantashe’s influence is a bit overstated.
The sympathiser said some national leaders were already contemplating disbanding the Gauteng leadership for poor performance. But, asked another leader in the Gauteng ANC, what about the six other provinces where ANC support dropped?
The provincial leaders, if allowed to continue and win the provincial conference, will force their allies into Mokonyane’s Cabinet, thereby rendering her powerless and weak.
Although the animosities continue, voters’ patience with the party seems to be growing thin, and the ANC could be thrashed further in the local polls in two years’ time.