State vs ANC: Sylvia Lucas could face disciplinary action over reshuffle

Northern Cape Premier Sylvia Lucas is digging in her heels in defence of her provincial Cabinet reshuffle as the newly elected ANC leadership considers disciplinary action against her.

National officials are urging the warring factions to settle their dispute.

The tension between the Lucas faction, aligned to ANC president Jacob Zuma, and the Zamani Saul faction, aligned to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, has resulted in a split between party and government in the province. Saul was elected unopposed as the ANC chairperson at its conference two weeks ago — after Lucas withdrew from the race at the last minute.

Lucas reshuffled the Cabinet one day before the conference. It has placed the faction that lost the conference in charge of most of the province’s government.

The battle is seen as a proxy for the bigger national battle for ANC president and a harbinger of things to come.

Lucas defied Saul and the provincial executive committee (PEC) last week, when she ignored Friday’s deadline to reverse the reshuffle.

Instead, she made an impassioned plea at the party’s Kimberley headquarters this week for the new leaders to accept her reshuffle. But Saul and secretary Desh Nxanga refused to do so, saying her decision to replace two MECs was taken unilaterally.

Both factions have remained tight-lipped over the “delicate” discussions. ANC Northern Cape spokesperson Naledi Gaosekwe said the new leaders would announce on Wednesday about whether they would take action against Lucas.

On Tuesday the premier’s spokesperson, Bronwyn Thomas-Abrahams, said Lucas had not yet “spoken to the officials of the ANC that requested her to reverse the [reshuffle]”.

This week her backers said they are ready to defend Lucas and her reshuffle.

“The premier has not erred in any way, therefore there are no grounds for her to reverse her decision,” said Roseline Tyler, a former PEC member who boycotted the conference.

Lucas and her supporters declined nominations to contest leadership positions at the conference after their attempts to have the gathering declared illegitimate were dismissed. Their concerns centred on alleged “membership cloning” and “parallel branches”.

A senior member of the provincial government and a returning member of the PEC both confirmed that there were bids to resolve the impasse without further fracturing the provincial structures. Both said that if Lucas refused to reverse her decision the provincial leadership would institute disciplinary action against her and seek support for the move at the upcoming regional general councils.

“If the talks fail this week then they could take action and see how much support they get in the RGCs [regional general councils] next week,” the government leader said on condition of anonymity.

A senior Northern Cape party official could not “confirm or deny” whether disciplinary action was being planned.

The attempts to move against Lucas will only be successful if national officials in Luthuli House back the move. The appointment of premiers is the prerogative of the president, and only he can dismiss them. Lucas could be recalled if officials at Luthuli House ask Zuma to act.

When the reshuffle took place, ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa released a statement saying the organisation noted her decision with disbelief.

“We view this as a flagrant abuse of her office to further divide the ANC and undermine unity of the organisation. Her unbridled arrogance is a betrayal of trust with the ANC — the organisation that deployed her as premier,” Kodwa said at the time.

This week secretary general Gwede Mantashe said his office had not yet been informed of an instruction to Lucas to reverse her decision. Mantashe also dismissed suggestions that the matter would be resolved at this week’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting.

“We can’t support [a request to reverse the decision] … when it has not been tabled with us — and we don’t discuss those issues in the NEC. I have no comment because I have not seen [the request],” Mantashe said.

Although the battle between the two factions is primarily about control of the provincial government, Saul and Lucas are also on opposing sides of the ANC’s national succession debate.

The conference resolved that all its structures would support Ramaphosa when the national conference takes place in December, a decision that is binding on all structures and members.

The rebels who lost at the conference and boycotted Saul’s speech are intent on backing former minister and African Union commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

“We have long said our position, that as the biggest region in the Northern Cape, we are supporting Comrade Nkosazana for president. We are not with Ramaphosa,” said Thapelo Dithebe, Frances Baard regional chairperson.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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