/ 26 July 2008

Meet Premier Sogoni

Provincial ANC leaders in the Eastern Cape have won the battle against the national leadership to ensure that their man gets the top job, but Mbulelo Sogoni may have been given a poisoned chalice.

Sogoni, provincial ANC deputy chairperson, was expected to be announced as the new premier on Thursday.

He served as provincial minister for economic affairs, environment and tourism under axed premier Nosimo Balindlela, who was informed of her sacking on Wednesday, during a Cabinet lekgotla in Pretoria.

Sogoni is seen as a supporter of President Thabo Mbeki because he serves on the provincial executive committee (PEC) that lobbied for Mbeki to be re-elected as ANC president last December.

But insiders in the province say Sogoni, who cut his political teeth in the trade union movement, comes from a leftist background. He took those around him by surprise when he came out in defence of Mbeki and not ANC president Jacob Zuma, who was seen as the ”leftist” candidate.

A teacher, Sogoni rose through the party ranks. He was provincial deputy secretary in 2006 when he was elected deputy chairperson.

While in office he made sure that he did not make any waves. ”When you look at the footprints he leaves behind, he has done nothing dramatic. We cannot justify his appointment on the basis of merit,” one of his detractors said.

The first item on his diary as premier will be to deal with the report of the Pillay commission, requested by Balindlela in 2005 to probe corruption and governance in the province but released only when she knew her term as premier had expired. The commission alleges that two other provincial leaders, chairperson Stone Sizani and PEC member Enoch Godongwana, have been beneficiaries of government contracts through companies owned by their spouses.

Sogoni’s main rival in the race for the premiership, SACP treasurer Phumulo Masualle, is heading the legislative committee which has the task of dealing with the report and recommending action.

Being the head of the most troubled province in the country can make or break Sogoni’s career. The ANC’s decision to axe the premier was made ostensibly to improve service delivery.

”It will be nine months with all sorts of expectations. There will be a lot of pressure on him to achieve something, but there is actually very little he can do in such a short time,” an insider says.

The ANC is expected to kick off its election campaign within weeks and a key priority for the new premier will be to get the different regions in the province to work together. It is known that four of the seven regions supported Masualle as a candidate for premier, but the provincial leadership insisted on putting Sogoni forward.

The expectation is that Masualle will succeed Sojoni as provincial minister and that three other provincial government officials — finance minister Billy Nel, education minister Johnny Makgato and health minister Nomsa Jajula — will face the axe.