Embattled Eastern Cape premier is safe – for now

The ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) has rejected its Eastern Cape structure’s recommendation that Premier Phumulo Masualle is replaced by provincial chairperson Oscar Mabuyane.

Newly appointed Human Settlements Minister Nomaindia Mfeketo and Deputy Transport Minister Sindi Chikunga questioned whether Mabuyane has had enough experience in government to take over from Masualle.

The provincial chairperson served as chief of staff in a previous provincial administration.

But the provincial executive committee (PEC) appears intent on pushing ahead with other changes, such as the deployment of deputy chairperson Mlungisi Mvoko to the provincial Cabinet as economic development MEC.

“The PEC has already indicated the need to reconfigure the provincial executive, so that will go ahead,” a PEC member said this week, speaking on condition of anonymity. “As for the chairperson, he will join the new team [of MECs]. It may have been a setback but in the end it will still happen.”

Tensions have arisen between Masualle’s Cabinet and the PEC since Masualle’s State of the Province address in Bhisho this week, in which he referred to recent infrastructure projects and his administration’s successes.

Mabuyane said the ANC had expected more details about these and updates to projects such as the Mzimvubu Dam from Masualle at his State of the Province address.

The dam, which was announced by former president Jacob Zuma in 2012 and is to be built on the Tsitsa River, a tributary of the Mzimvubu River, has been touted as a flagship provincial project but progress has been delayed and the deal has been beset by claims that Chinese contractors benefited from the deal.

Masualle’s supporters doubted whether he would deliver the address after the PEC announced its intention to reshuffle the Cabinet.

The Joe Gqabi region appealed to the NEC not to approve the reshuffle until a task team report on the violence at the provincial conference was completed. The Joe Gqabi, Amathole and Nelson Mandela Bay ANC regions have harshly criticised Mabuyane’s new PEC, claiming it is purging Masualle’s allies in the municipalities.

“There is talk of a march being held on Monday to Calata House [the ANC’s provincial office in King William’s Town] and a demand that the current PEC steps down,” one of the regional leaders said.

This week a supposed report by the task team chairperson, Sbu Ndebele, was leaked to the media, but the Eastern Cape ANC spokesperson Judy Mpetsheni said it was fake.

The report states: “The failure to finalise and resolve the item of acceptance of credentials of the conference was a material failure and detracted from a free and fair election as is generally understood and practised in the ANC.”

Its contents largely vindicate the demand by Masualle’s supporters that the conference in September should not have gone ahead after the violence during the presentation of credentials.

Credentials refer to whether the correct representatives of branches were present in the meeting. When the two factions could not agree on this, a fight broke out and delegates started throwing chairs at each other.

But Masualle would be unable to contest for the position of provincial chairperson if the conference is rerun. The ANC constitution states that, once elected to a higher structure, such as the NEC, a member becomes ineligible for election to lower structures, such as the provinces.

Masualle deferred his comment to the Eastern Cape ANC.

Mabuyane and provincial secretary Lulama Ngcukaitobi did not respond to requests for comment.

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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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