As premier hangs tough, delivery hangs in the balance

A door has been opened in Mahikeng, inviting the exit of Premier Supra Mahumapelo. But the door has been open for some time and the premier is yet to use it. He insists that calls for him to resign stem from a plot to avenge his support for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the ANC’s elective conference in December.

It’s not the first time that Mahumapelo has found himself on the wrong side of an ANC elective conference.

At the ANC’s national conference in Polokwane in 2007, Mahumapelo was a fierce ally of former president Thabo Mbeki. It is claimed he once said: “Over my dead body; a rapist and corrupt [Jacob] Zuma will not lead our country.”

It is a stunning irony for a man who would go on to become one of the fiercest supporters of Zuma, cementing himself within the powerful “premier league” in the ANC — which also comprised Ace Magashule in the Free State and the current deputy president, David Mabuza, former premier of Mpumalanga.

He’s built up a formidable support base in the province. So much so that in the wake of protests calling for Mahumapelo to step down last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC leadership were said to have feared a bloodbath in North West had they removed him.

Mahumapelo, then, is well versed in the power struggles that happen on the fringes of the ANC’s headquarters at Luthuli House.

Now rumours are swirling of security personnel being recruited to defend Mahumapelo, who is accused of presiding over a corrupt administration and running down service delivery. But his supporters insist that Mahumapelo has acquitted himself well as premier, and calls for him to step down stem from a drive to purge pro-Zuma supporters from the party.

He remains the most powerful politician in the province; his influence can be traced back to the Mbeki-Zuma proxy battles that seeped into the provincial structures after Polokwane.

Mahumapelo’s influence rose fast. An ANC Youth League leader told the Mail & Guardian at the time that members did not want then North West premier Edna Molewa to continue in her role, because her leadership failure had ceded control to Mahumapelo, who was ANC provincial secretary at the time.

The previous year, Luthuli House received complaints from several members in the North West provincial executive committee, led by Mahumapelo, that the provincial congress had excluded many legitimate delegates and provided accreditation to non-ANC members who supported it.

It was an indication of the level of mistrust that influenced provincial politics in the province.

In 2009, the provincial executive committee of the ANC in North West was disbanded. At the time, the party said the decision was made to root out factionalism.

In February 2011, it was Mahumapelo who would go on to be elected provincial chairperson after a last-minute deal with his nemesis, former provincial secretary Kabelo Mataboge.

The M&G reported at the time that the provincial congress was so polarised that there were three slates on the first day of the event.

“It was only after intense horse-trading that two lists of candidates merged to find a winning group of leaders,” Mmanaledi Mataboge wrote.

Four years later, Mahumapelo was re-elected provincial chairperson unopposed.

Then, a slate led by China Dodovu (for deputy chairperson) fell apart after failing to garner enough support.

Now, it is the likes of Dodovu who are proving to be particularly vocal against Mahumapelo.

And alongside his political detractors are a host of North West residents who say they are fed up with the levels of corruption and maladministration in the province.

The pressure on Mahumapelo to step down is also not the first time attempts to unseat him have been made. In January last year, the North West Business Forum asked him to resign, citing allegations of corruption. That move failed, and so did a second one in March of the same year.

This time, however, things are different. Already one person has died in protests. The health system is paralysed. And as the party and state mull over his fate, he insists it is only the ANC that can tell him to step down.

As ever, the question is which ANC faction will emerge as the strongest in an insidious war for power and influence.

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Khadija Patel
Khadija Patel pushes words on street corners. She is the editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, a co-founder of the The Daily Vox and vice chairperson of the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI). As a journalist she has produced work for Sky News, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Quartz, City Press and the Daily Maverick, among others. She is also a research associate at WISER (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Witwatersrand) and has previously worked in community media. In 2017, she was among 11 people from across Africa and the diaspora who were awarded the inaugural Africa #NoFilter fellowship from the Ford Foundation and in 2018, she was awarded honorary membership of the Golden Key Society. She is passionate about the protection and enhancement of global media as a public good.

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