By Mpumalanga, for Mpumalanga
The election of David “Hurricane” Mabuza as ANC chairperson in Mpumalanga two weekends ago has sparked fear and despondency among the province’s top civil servants.
The closely fought election saw the quiet-spoken agriculture minister beat charismatic Nelspruit mayor Lassy Chiwayo with 388 votes to 305 votes—a margin of just more than 25%.
All of Mabuza’s running mates also convincingly defeated their rivals with some of the province’s highest profile politicians failing to secure re-election to the ANC provincial executive committee (PEC).
The ousted veterans include legislature speaker Pinky Phosa, education minister Mathulare Coleman, transport minister Jackson Mthembu, finance minister Jabu Mahlangu, former health minister William Lubisi, the premier’s chief of staff Lydia Pretorius and key Chiwayo backbench supporters such as Boy Nobunga and Jacques Modipane.
While the politicians appear resigned to “redeployment”, senior civil servants fear they will be purged without any being offered alternative employment.
The officials, who declined to be named for fear of persecution, say their apprehension stems from Mabuza’s campaign on a populist “Mpumalanga First” platform. The campaign climaxed last week with bitter public criticism of Chiwayo’s perceived links to Gauteng and the hiring of senior provincial managers from other provinces.
The ANC Youth League (ANCYL), South African National Civics Organisation (Sanco) and the local Mkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association spearheaded the campaign by pointing out that seven of Mpumalanga’s 10 top departmental directors hail from outside the province.
Even Mpumalanga’s most powerful civil servant Director General Khaya Ngema, was branded a “foreigner” because he left the province for Gauteng after school.
“Our province is controlled by government directors and other managers who all come from Gauteng and as far away as the Eastern Cape ... which results in our residents being nothing but puppets for foreigners. That is why all the big 2010 contracts and even small security contracts are given to Gauteng companies,” said Sanco provincial treasurer, Raymond Makamo, this week.
“But [Mabuza] is rooted in Mpumalanga and he will help ensure that government is run by people from Mpumalanga for Mpumalanga.”
Last Wednesday Mabuza declined to speak about the issue and referred all queries to ANCYL provincial secretary Isaac Mahlangu.
Mahlangu insists the anti-Gauteng rhetoric, which was repeated in pamphlets still littering government offices this week, is not xenophobic, but is instead a “principled moral stand”.
“Local jobs and contracts should go to locals,” he says. “The reason Mabuza won the election is because he is accessible to ordinary people within the party. His roots are here and that means he is accountable here.”
Although Mabuza has declined to comment directly to the media, he used his victory speech at the Nelspruit Show Grounds on Sunday to play down fears of a purge.
“All lobby groups are now disbanded and no-one should be sanctioned or charged for having participated in — our internal democratic process in any way,” he said. “There are [wrong] perceptions that some among us are hell-bent on purging other leaders by doing all sorts of things that can only be attributed to monsters.”
Mabuza also used a provincial cabinet lekgotla on Wednesday to call for unity and to pledge constructive engagement with the administration of outgoing premier Thabang Makwetla.
Insiders at the meeting report that Mabuza stressed that he had already served two terms within the cabinet, in various portfolios, dating all the way back to 1994.
Suggesting that this meant he understood the current administration’s programmes, he promised a smooth transition and continuation of key development initiatives—if he secures appointment as premier.
Mabuza’s election as provincial ANC chairperson doesn’t guarantee his nomination as ANC premier in the general election next year unless he can unite Chiwayo’s supporters behind him.
Mabuza will also have to win over sceptics who questioned his leadership as education minister during the Mpumalanga matric exam scandal in 1998 when two of his top officials fraudulently inflated pass rates by 20% in a bid to make themselves and their political head look good.
Mabuza lost his cabinet seat shortly after the scandal, cooling his heels as a legislature backbencher before being deployed to national Parliament between 2002 and 2004.
He used the time in Cape Town to build national networks that helped him to first win deputy chairmanship of the provincial ANC in 2004 and a national executive committee seat at the ANC’s Polokwane conference last year.—African Eye News Service