Leadership tussle within the ANC’s Western Cape region has precipitated the first real confrontation in the regional cabinet.
The skirmish between ANC ministers and premier Hernus Kriel was the first real test for the provincial administration, with hard words being traded publicly for the first time since the elections.
It appears the timing for the challenge on — Kriel was a ploy to underscore the anti-National Party credentials of regional minister of the environment Lemma Kalako, public works minister Leonard Ramatlakane and ANC chief whip Chris Nissen in advance of elections at next month’s crucial ANC regional chairman and regional economic affairs minister Allan Boesak.
It is seen as significant that the attack on Kriel coincided with an overseas trip by Boesak. Boesak has his back to the wall as pressure mounts for his replacement from elements blaming him for the ANC’s poor showing in the April election.
There are indications he may step down ahead of the regional congress to avoid the humiliation of almost certain defeat. Should this happen he will most probably take up an ambassadorship to Washington. a post for which he is being considered.
Although there are several contenders for his postion. the most likely successor is health and welfare minister Ebrahim Rassool, who has no political baggage and no major enemies. At issue are accusations that Kriel breached protocol by not consulting the ANC before last week’s premiers summit with Public Administration Minister Zola Skweyiya on the issue of provincial powers.
Kalako, Ramatlakane and Nissen unsuccessfullly tried to get central government to delay conferring powers on the Western Cape on grounds that Kriel had violated protocol. Notably missing from the altercation was Rassool. The issue was resolved when — after Boesak’s return — the ANC accepted Kriel’s explanation that the disputed ordinances bad been drawn up by central government and not himself.
Nonetheless Nissen was adamant that the skirmish had sent a message to Kriel that he should consult. The dispute forced Kriel to make his first public attack on the ANC, calling on Boesak to discipline” his troops. Minor as it was, the dispute highlighted a debate in the ANC about how to deal with the Kriel government.
The ANC is caught between not wanting Kriel to take too much credit for successes of the Reconstruction and Development Programme in the region and their insistence on its implementation. This is another issue likely to dominate the congress as the ANC defines its role as junior partner for the next five years.
Observers inside and outside the ANC see the challenge as a muscle-flexing exercise, which could have only happened in Boesak’s absence.Various people are trying to establish themselves for Boesaks position, and the best way do that is to show you are not going to listen to what the Mats have to say,” said an observer.
He added: “I pray the congress does not fracture us too much. The last thing we need is to be divided in the NP’s backyard. But the way things are going now, we might need to call those internal stability ‘manne’ to be on standby.