Dethroning Mathale

Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza is increasingly being seen as a key fixer for President Jacob Zuma in the battle for Limpopo provincial influence ahead of the ANC’s 2012 elective conference.

Mabuza’s perceived support for deputy arts and culture minister Joe Phaahla’s push to replace Cassel Mathale as ANC chairperson in Limpopo has left him exposed to widely circulated claims that he is supplying cash and influence to those seeking to oust Mathale, who is close to the camp opposing Zuma’s re-election.

The provincial conference is scheduled for December 17.

Five ANC leaders, two from the national executive committee (NEC) and three from the Mpumalanga provincial executive committee said that they believed that Mabuza was bankrolling the campaign to oust Mathale.“It’s an open secret. Joe Maswanganyi [ANC provincial secretary in Limpopo] and his crew have approached Mabuza to fund their campaign,” said one provincial leader. “The group is also funded by disgruntled business people from Limpopo who have been sidelined by Mathale.”

Phaahla is being backed to replace Mathale while Maswanganyi retains his position as provincial secretary.
Both men denied any knowledge of the alleged campaign or Mabuza’s involvement. Said Phaahla: “I’ve known Mabuza for more than a decade. We’re both NEC members and have served as MECs in the same period. We communicate from time to time and share information. When people run out of ideas, they come up with such claims rather than dealing with issues and convincing branches.”

Party office bearers told the Mail & Guardian that Mabuza was funding Phaahla’s campaign through Ehlanzeni regional secretary Pat Ngomane, who they claimed had been seen twice in recent weeks in the Vhembe region in the company of party activists pushing for Mathale’s removal.

Ngomane denied visiting the region or having any contact with Phaahla.

Mpumalanga ANC spokesperson Paul Mbenyane denied that Mabuza was interfering in the politics of Limpopo. “He’s a national executive committee member who can be deployed anywhere in the country, but he wouldn’t interfere with the organisational and political activities of other provinces, especially the leadership preferences and electoral processes.”

Mathale’s re-election bid is supported by the ANC Youth League, and his political and personal fortunes are closely entwined with those of Julius Malema. The league claims that by its count, more than 190 branches in Limpopo have nominated Mathale for re-election as ANC chair, while Phaahla has been nominated by fewer than 70.

Meanwhile, a wider battle between Zuma and Malema is playing out in the provincial election. Youth league supporters are attempting to convince Limpopo branches to nominate Malema as the first additional member of the provincial executive, in spite of the fact that he has been suspended by the ANC national disciplinary committee. If they succeed, it would provoke a stand-off between provincial and national party structures.

Meanwhile, provincial sources sympathetic to Malema claim that national figures who support Zuma are campaigning against the youth league president. Deputy communications minister Stella Ndabeni and KwaZulu-Natal regional secretary Wandile Mkhize attended celebrations at Seshego outside Polokwane on the day the verdict of the disciplinary committee was announced, they claim. Both deny it.

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Matuma Letsoalo is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003, focussing on politics and labour, and collaborated with the M&G's centre for investigations, amaBhungane, from time to time.In 2011, Matuma won the South African Journalist of the Year Award and was also the winner in the investigative journalism category in the same year.In 2004, he won the CNN African Journalist of the Year prize – the MKO Abiola Print Journalism Award. Matuma was also a joint category winner of the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the year Award in 2008. In 2013, he was a finalist for Wits University's Taco Kuiper Award.
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