Former Limpopo premier Cassel Mathale might have been kicked out as the ANC chairperson, but his influence on the party in the province appears not to have waned.
Mathale has been associated with a faction in the province nicknamed “Boko Haram” – after the Islamist extremist group that has caused mayhem in northern Nigeria with a wave of bombings, assassinations and abductions.
The Limpopo “Boko Haram” was given the name by their opponents, apparently with the intention to discredit them. The Mathale faction is not happy with the name, but peculiarly it is popular among ANC members.
The former premier’s group is said to be planning to take over power from a faction aligned with the current ANC provincial chairperson, Premier Stan Mathabatha.
The plan is not to return Mathale as ANC chair. The so-called Boko Haram faction is said to be lobbying for Mathale’s long-standing ally and former ANC provincial deputy chairperson, Dickson Masemola, to take over the party’s top position in the province. Others in the group advocating for a change in leadership include former provincial secretaries Soviet Lekganyane and Joe Maswanganyi, former ANC provincial executive committee (PEC) member Joe Mathebula, and some leaders in the ANC youth and women’s leagues.
Mystery document on communications
A mystery document said to have been drafted by the ANC’s subcommittee on communications in the province warned about the regrouping of the Mathale faction, which was disbanded by the ANC national executive committee after they supported former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe in his failed bid to replace Jacob Zuma as ANC president.
Although the document drew widespread criticism from ANC members and was taken off the ANC’s provincial website, a PEC member who spoke on condition of anonymity this week claimed 70% of the issues in it were also in Mathabatha’s political overview report.
The PEC member said, although the Mathale faction had made its share of blunders in the province in the past, it commanded a lot of respect among ANC members.
“The Mathale faction was led by credible ANC leaders. The current leadership, under Mathabatha and ANC provincial secretary Nocks Seabi, is unknown to many ANC members,” said the provincial executive committee member, who is sympathetic to the Mathale faction.
There has been growing unhappiness about Mathabatha in ANC branches in the province since he took over as ANC provincial chairperson last year. He has been accused of failing to unite the deeply divided provincial structure of the ANC. And under his leadership the ANC has suffered a serious decline in membership and electoral support.
ANC provincial spokeswoman Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said criticism of Mathabatha and Seabi by ANC members was unfair and “un-ANC”.
Barely a year after it was elected, the ANC provincial committee is deeply divided between the Mathabatha/Seabi and the Mathale factions. Seabi was in the news recently, after members of the ANC Women’s League put underwear on their heads and chased him out of their elective conference. He has also been accused of making the ANC pay for his allegedly false travel allowance claims.
Political observers have predicted a further decline in electoral support for the ANC during next year’s local government elections. They point to the recent student representative council elections at the University of Limpopo in which the ANC-aligned Progressive Youth Alliance – comprising the South African Student Congress, the ANC Youth League and the Young Communist League – lost to the Economic Freedom Fighters as an example that the party was losing its popularity among members.
Ntshavheni said the decline in party membership was not general and was mainly limited to the Mogalakwena district of the Waterberg regions because of the infighting among ANC members.
Lekganyane, Mathebula and Maswanganyi refused to comment on the current political situation in Limpopo. Attempts to contact Seabi and Mathabatha were unsuccessful.