Corruption-busting Limpopo premier not fazed by fault-finders in his own party

Limpopo Premier Stanley Mathabatha delivers the state of the province address on February 24, 2015 at the Limpopo Legislature in Polokwane. (Gallo/Sowetan, Thulani Mbele)

Limpopo Premier Stanley Mathabatha delivers the state of the province address on February 24, 2015 at the Limpopo Legislature in Polokwane. (Gallo/Sowetan, Thulani Mbele)

Limpopo Premier Stan Mathabatha believes he is being targeted by a small group of ANC members who want him out of his position because of his fight against corruption in the province.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, Mathabatha, who is also ANC chairperson in the province, threw his weight behind Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as a candidate to succeed President Jacob Zuma as the next ANC leader when the party holds its elective conference in December.

Limpopo has historically been one of the ANC’s strong-holds but the party in the province has of late been mired in bitter factional infighting. The ANC’s strength in Limpopo has also been dented in recent years by the emergence of Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters.

On Ramaphosa’s suitability, Mathabatha said: “I don’t want to call it a tradition [the issue of the party’s deputy president succeeding the president]. Perhaps we should call it a culture that started from 1949.
It’s a fact that that’s what happened.

“[James] Moroka succeeded [John] Jabavu as president and Albert Luthuli became his deputy. Luthuli then succeeded Moroka and Oliver Tambo became his deputy, and Tambo succeeded Moroka and Nelson Mandela became his deputy.

Mandela succeeded Tambo and Thabo Mbeki became his deputy; Mbeki succeeded Mandela and Jacob Zuma became his deputy. And Zuma succeeded Mbeki. That becomes a culture.

“The little philosophy that I read and learned tells me that that’s a culture. I was a maths teacher at some stage; there is something called the principle of mathematical induction, which says if a thing happens in the same pattern for about three times, then it means that’s a pattern. It defines a culture. That’s what I think it’s supposed to be said — without saying we need to retain this culture.”

He suggested that perhaps the debate should be on whether it is necessary to retain this culture. “But we can’t dispute the fact that it exists,” said Mathabatha.

Mathabatha poured cold water on an argument by some in the party who say the ANC is only now ready for a woman president, saying the party has always had strong women leaders.

Mathabatha, who turned 60 last week, told the M&G that some of his detractors within the governing party were unhappy with him because he refused to engage in corrupt activities within the provincial government.

His administration has fired more than 300 senior officials, including the province’s former director general, after they were found to be on the wrong side of the law.

Mathabatha singled out ANC Youth League provincial secretary Che Selane, who he claimed was related to former Limpopo premier Cassel Mathale, as the mastermind behind the plot to oust him.

Mathale was forced to resign after the national treasury put five of his departments under administration in 2011 because of the financial crisis that almost crippled the provincial government.

The province’s youth league, which has been at odds with Mathabatha almost from the outset, this week said it wanted Zuma to fire the premier and replace him with Communications Minister Faith Muthambi.

But Mathabatha believes only a few individuals within the governing party, driven by factionalism, greed and corruption, want him out.

“I think there is a group of people who belong to the past [administration] using the youth league [to push a campaign against me]. And obviously, if you clean up corruption, if you clean up laziness and disorganisation, at one stage or another you would be confronted by these kind of things,” said Mathabatha.

Selane this week denied being related to Mathale, as alleged. He said he respected the former premier as an ANC leader who achieved more clean audits under his administration than Mathabatha has. He also said that, since he took over, Mathabatha has failed to unite the ANC in the province.

“Stan Mathabatha came in as a result of [the Cabinet] intervention in Limpopo after the financial crisis. He was supposed to bring stability to the province, but he failed.

Under his leadership, the province is in a state of paralysis. The auditor general has said the province has performed poorly because of poor leadership,” said Selane, adding that the youth league was not prepared to support someone who cared little about the interests of young people.

But Mathabatha insisted his administration had exceeded the mandate given to it by the ANC national leadership to clean up the mess left by the Mathale administration.

“We said when the organisation gave us this responsibility, we would carry it out in the best interest of South Africans, the movement and the people of Limpopo.”

Mathabatha said that, under his leadership, clean governance has become the order of the day and that his administration has managed to stabilise its financial situation as a result.

“We [made sure that we] build the systems. You don’t hear those negative things that you used to hear in the past [about Limpopo], which were later discovered to be factual. Anything that people can accuse us of now [will be unfair]. I think we have done everything to stabilise the provincial government.

“When we took over, we had about 18 municipalities that had disclaimers [in their financial results]. We said we are going to eliminate all the disclaimers within a period of time. Currently, we are left with only six municipalities that got disclaimers [in the past financial year]. Once you eliminate disclaimers, it becomes easy to take them out of qualified to unqualified audit because there is evidence,” said Mathabatha.

He said provincial departments that were not performing had been turned around and that his biggest challenge now was the education department, which has again failed to deliver books to schools on time and registered one of the lowest pass rate in the country.

He told the M&G that he has instructed education MEC Ishmael Kgetjepe to submit a report explaining why stationary was not delivered to schools by the time the academic year started.

“If I become a casualty for having done my work, then so be it,” the Limpopo premier said.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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