The search for a new Free State premier to replace ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is likely to see Sisi Ntombela being elected to the top post if the provincial task team has its way — which would bring the tally of women premiers in the eight ANC-controlled provinces to two.
Last week, the interim structure submitted the names of its three preferred candidates for the position to the ANC national executive committee (NEC), and co-operative governance MEC Ntombela was listed as its first choice. Other names mooted for the premier’s job were police, roads and transport MEC Sam Mashinini and social development MEC Limakatso Mahasa.
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian on the sidelines of Magashule’s State of the Province address in Parys this week, Ntombela said she was grateful for the party’s confidence in her leadership abilities.
“I’m very excited that the province has shown a belief in my potential. I’m happy just for them to recognise me and say: ‘We can see maNtombela is doing a lot,’ ” she said.
“It is unfortunate that we didn’t get a woman president [at the December national conference] but we will never give up. It’s very important that even in provinces we have women leading.”
Ntombela, who is deputy president of the ANC Women’s League, is also believed to be Magashule’s candidate of choice, having shown him loyal support during his term.
During his final State of the Province address on Tuesday, Magashule gave an impassioned farewell to his Cabinet and alluded to the possibility that Ntombela might be assuming the premiership.
“Mme maNtombela, deputy president of the ANC Women’s League, this road is difficult, but you must never give up,” Magashule said.
Ntombela also sang the praises of the outgoing leader, saying he had laid a solid foundation for his successor. Should she become premier, she said, she would focus on furthering Magashule’s social development endeavours, such as providing free sanitary towels to rural schools.
“Ace has worked hard; I don’t care who says what. He has done his best and his presence was really felt [in the province]. So if I took over that position, I would focus on furthering projects that he has started,” she said.
With Magashule, Ntombela supported the losing faction at the ANC’s national elective conference, advocating for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to be elected party president.
She said the chance to work closely with Dlamini-Zuma, whom she described as her role model, was a “dream come true”.
But Ntombela’s detractors are concerned that, if she is elected Free State premier, she may be used as a proxy by Magashule to push a factional agenda in the province.
“We are not going to allow any of Ace’s proxies to be premier. To nominate maNtombela and Limakatso … that is the same as having Ace remain in that position,” said a senior party member who had hoped the ANC’s former deputy chairperson in the province, Thabo Manyoni, would become premier.
Although Manyoni’s name has not been put forward to the NEC, he still has a chance to contest for the position of ANC provincial chairperson at the Free State’s elective conference in March.
His supporters have denounced the list of premier candidates sent by the provincial task team, believing it to be factional and made up of Magashule loyalists only.
They are also questioning why the provincial task team sent the names to the NEC when its own composition is still being rejected by some branch members for being factional.