Northern Cape Premier Sylvia Lucas’s Cabinet reshuffle on Thursday was a last-ditch attempt to secure support for her bid to become provincial leader, after Luthuli House refused her backers’ demand to postpone this weekend’s elective conference.
The provincial conference is seen as a proxy battle for the ANC presidential campaigns of deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and former minister and African Union Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — and a signifier of which way the national battle may go.
Lucas’s opponent, ANC Northern Cape secretary Zamani Saul, has publicly backed Ramaphosa to succeed president Jacob Zuma, whereas Lucas is known to be allied to former premier John Block and is seen to be Zuma’s preferred candidate. She will contest Saul for the post of chairperson at the conference in Colesburg. The position was left vacant after Block was found guilty of corruption.
Lucas was at the forefront of previous attempts to postpone the conference because of what she described as “irregularities in the verification process,” in an interview with the Mail & Guardian last month.
In her reshuffle, the premier appointed the ANC Women’s League deputy secretary in the province — and one of her most loyal supporters — Gail Parker as MEC for economic development, finance and treasury. The position was previously held by Mac Jack, seen to be allied to Saul.
“The war is on. [Lucas] might be gunning for those who are in favour of Zamani to be chairperson,” said a source in Lucas’s Cabinet.
Alexandra Beukes, who has served as ANC MPL in the Northern Cape since 2009 and is known to be a staunch Lucas supporter, replaced Pauline Williams as transport, safety and liaison MEC.
Beukes and Parker are known to hold influence in De Aar and Kimberley and are expected to deliver support for Lucas from these areas.
The reshuffle, effected a day before the provincial conference, had been under consideration for at least two weeks, the M&G has learnt. On May 4, the premier met ANC Northern Cape leaders and other MECs in Kimberley, where the potential changes were discussed.
Saul described the changes as “disgusting” and suggested it was done to manipulate the conference.
“The fact that the reshuffle took place the day before the provincial conference is very suspect. We also want to put it on record that the reshuffling has got nothing to do with improving service delivery but has everything to [do with] influencing the outcome of the conference,” Saul wrote in a statement.
“This is grossly irresponsible, reckless and self-serving,” he added.
The reshuffle was Lucas’s last resort in her campaign to win control of the province.
Her supporters marched to Luthuli House last Tuesday and demanded the conference be postponed, alleging that branch meetings, where delegates to the conference were confirmed, were not properly constituted.
In response, Luthuli House ordered that 30 branches rerun their verification meetings. Lucas’s support is mostly based in the ZF Mgcawu, John Taolo Gaetsewe, Namakwa and Frances Baard district municipalities.
Not all of her backers were confirmed as delegates during these meetings and her supporters left Luthuli House unable to swing the balance of forces back into the premier’s favour.
In a statement from Luthuli House, ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa described the reshuffle as “a flagrant abuse of [Lucas’s] office to further divide the ANC and undermine unity of the organisation”.
Kodwa said the party noted the reshuffle with disbelief: “[Lucas’s] unbridled arrogance is a betrayal of trust with the ANC — the organisation that deployed her as premier.”
At stake is not only control of the ANC in the province, but also the position of premier. Lucas said “the issue of chairpersons being premiers, it should be natural. It shouldn’t be a fight in the ANC.”
“If we are genuine about 50/50 representation, we must empower [women]. As women, we are contesting … on the basis that we are ready to lead,” Lucas said last month. If she is elected, she would be the first woman to be an ANC provincial chairperson.
Saul’s allies in the Northern Cape provincial executive committee (PEC) confirmed this week that, if he won the election, they would push for Lucas to be recalled and her Cabinet reconstituted.
“It stands to reason that, if he does get elected, the current premier’s factional appointments must be reversed and a new Cabinet appointed, and that process will be done in consultation with the provincial leaders, unlike what she has done now,” the PEC member said on condition of anonymity, fearing a public stance would disadvantage Saul’s campaign.