Political heavyweight George Matjila’s name is being mentioned in political corridors as the mastermind behind the violent protests in Tshwane that left five people dead, more than 50 arrested and millions of rands in infrastructure up in smoke.
But in an interview with the Mail & Guardian on Thursday, Matjila vehemently denied the allegations, dismissing them as “propaganda” intended to harm his good name.
There is, however, little doubt that Matjila, who is the ANC’s deputy regional secretary and a member of the mayoral committee on transport in Tshwane, is a key player within the ANC’s regional and provincial structures. Last year, Matjila was expelled from his ANC position in Tshwane after being found guilty of being behind the violent disruption of an ANC Youth League conference in the city.
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In its ruling, the provincial disciplinary committee found that “the motive behind [Matjila’s] plan was to ensure the conference did not proceed because, in his view, a faction hostile to the regional leadership was going to emerge”.
Two members of the Gauteng ANC’s provincial executive committee (PEC) told the M&G that subsequent disagreements over reinstating Matjila created serious tensions between current Tshwane mayor and ANC regional chairperson Kgosientso “Sputla” Ramokgopa and ANC Gauteng chair Paul Mashatile.
According to ANC insiders, Ramokgopa tried to lobby the provincial leadership to forgive Matjila and reinstate him. When his efforts failed, they said, the mayor openly contradicted Gauteng ANC leaders, including Mashatile, on their position on President Jacob Zuma.
The Gauteng PEC’S initial position was that Zuma must “do the right thing” and resign after the Constitutional Court judgment, arguing that he had failed to uphold the Constitution. Ramokgopa is one of the few PEC members who disagreed. His changed attitude towards the party’s provincial leaders has been cited by some within the ANC as part of the reason why he did not get their blessing to be retained as mayor. Ramokgopa this week denied that he tried to lobby the leadership to reinstate Matjila, but confirmed that he took a different position to that of other leaders during the PEC meeting on Zuma.
“The general point [I made] was there must be a total reflection on the organisation. [I said] we needed to initiate [efforts] to restore the credibility of the organisation. I said [to the PEC] we should accept the [Zuma] apology. If someone is asking for forgiveness, we should not have conditions. We must just forgive. This is how my father taught me,” said Ramokgopa.
He said Matjila was recently reinstated as deputy regional secretary of the ANC after successfully appealing his case with the party’s disciplinary appeals committee.
Mashatile denied there was a falling-out between him and Ramokgopa, he said he was aware of allegations that Matjila was behind the violent protests in Tshwane.
“Remember, we are not an anti-Zuma province. I supported the president in Polokwane. I can’t say that Sputla is pro-Zuma and I’m anti-Zuma; there’s nothing like that,” said Mashatile.
“In fact, if you speak to comrade Sputla, it was me who said to him: ‘I want you to send me a consensus list that has you and Mapiti [Matsena, another contender for Tshwane mayor],’” said Mashatile. “The fact that [Ramokgopa’s] name didn’t come [up as a candidate is] not because of a fallout with the province; it’s the fight in the region that prevented that.”
Mashatile said he had confronted Matjila about his alleged role in stoking this week’s protests, but had been assured that he was not involved.
As the ANC’s national, Gauteng and Tshwane leadership appeared at Luthuli House to announce Thoko Didiza as the “compromise” candidate for Tshwane this week, a WhatsApp message co-ordinating protests started circulating among party members and branch leaders.
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It contains instructions to render the city of Tshwane ungovernable and reportedly emanated from a meeting held at a Pretoria hotel by branch leaders loyal to Ramokgopa, that was addressed by Matjila.
But Mashatile said he trusted Matjila’s assurances that he had done nothing wrong.
Matjila denied planning the upheaval or attending the meeting in question. He claimed that a picture that accompanied the WhatsApp message, showing him sitting at the head of a table with other ANC branch leaders, was taken from his Facebook timeline and then used to spread “propaganda intended to harm my good name”.
He claimed that his rivals within the youth league who were behind his expulsion were trying to implicate him, and he has reported them to Luthuli House.
“The attempts to expel me are about getting control of my branch [in Stinkwater]. They’ve been spreading false rumours about me for 18 months,” he said.
• Thoko Didiza said on Thursday that she was grateful to the ANC for having confidence in her to lead the city. She dismissed concerns that she was an outsider and therefore not suitable to take over as mayor of Tshwane. She said, though she was born in KwaZulu-Natal, Tshwane was like a second home to her.
“I don’t feel alienated. I feel part of the community [in Tshwane]. What’s interesting for me is that I come to [join] a city where we have had many successes.”
How the ANC’s list selection process works
The party has a four-tiered list process. Tshwane mayor Kgosientso “Sputla” Ramokgopa was number two on the list that came from the regional list conference, which differs from the regional executive committee (REC) list. The names on the regional list are voted on by branch members during the ANC regional list conferences. The candidates who make this list are then appointed proportional representative councillors after the elections.
Although Ramokgopa’s name appeared on the regional list it does not automatically qualify him as a mayoral candidate. This is the domain of the second tier, the REC.
An ANC resolution taken in Polokwane in 2007 stipulates that: “At local level, the REC should make recommendations of not more than three names of cadres in order of priority who should be considered for mayorship, and the PEC [provincial executive committees] will make a final decision based on the pool of names submitted by the REC.
“Those members of either the REC and/or PEC who are being considered for deployment should recuse themselves when decisions affecting them are made.”
Once the PEC — the third tier — has received the names of the three candidates from the REC, it chooses one candidate to submit to the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) for endorsement.
In consultation with the PEC, the NEC, the fourth tier, can intervene and appoint any ANC member who is in good standing to a mayoral position. — Matuma Letsoalo