A stellar reputation and the push to break Johannesburg’s stranglehold on the Gauteng ANC has catapulted provincial education MEC Panyaza Lesufi into the ranks of the frontrunners in the race to become the party’s deputy chairperson in the province.
The ANC convenes its provincial elective conference later this month.
With acting chairperson David Makhura likely to be elected uncontested, a fierce challenge for the second-most powerful position is expected.
Lesufi is up against former Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau and economic development MEC Lebogang Maile.
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian this week, Lesufi’s lobbyists said the MEC was viewed as the preferred candidate by regions that want to introduce a mix of leaders from different areas in the province.
Some party members are concerned that the Gauteng provincial executive has been dominated by members from the Johannesburg region, and believe the cycle could be continued if it is not challenged.
Tau and Maile are from the Johannesburg region whereas Lesufi is from Ekurhuleni.
“Panyaza [Lesufi] is finding more traction. The reason is [that] Makhura is from Jo’burg, Parks [Tau] is from Jo’burg and Maile is also from Jo’burg. So other regions [are] trying to find space [in the top five],” one Lesufi lobbyist said.
“Also, there is an issue of change. Gauteng branches are saying Paul [Mashatile] has now left [for national office as ANC treasurer general] so how about we give other comrades an opportunity and identify people outside of Johannesburg instead of turning to this one region as if it is the only one capable of producing leaders.”
Party insiders said Lesufi is leading the race in the Tshwane and West Rand regions, followed by Maile.
Lesufi also has the lead in his home region. His lobbyists, however, say the race between him and Maile is likely to be tight in that area because of the support being rallied for Maile by Ekurhuleni chairperson and mayor Mzwandile Masina.
Tau, who is the ANC’s regional chairperson in Johannesburg, leads the race in the city, followed by Maile.
There are claims that Maile’s camp has started talks with Lesufi to take the treasurer position and allow Maile to become deputy chairperson. But Lesufi’s lobbyists denied that any such proposal had been offered and said it would not be accepted.
According to Lesufi’s supporters, his work as education MEC makes him the ideal candidate for the deputy chairperson position ahead of the 2019 elections. A second lobbyist said the province needed to put a leadership in place that would endear itself to the public ahead of the polls.
“As it stands, there is a blurring of trust between society and the ANC,” the lobbyist said. “And the best way to restore that trust is to come with a leadership collective that inspires society. And the only way to do that is to demonstrate the ANC’s good work in government.”
Because of the 14% drop in the ANC’s support in the 2016 municipal elections and its loss of the Johannesburg and Tshwane metros to the Democratic Alliance, the party will have to focus its efforts on improving its fortunes and warding off the DA’s ambitions of taking Gauteng
Lesufi has an extensive record in government, having worked as a special adviser in the department of basic education, spokesperson for the basic education minister, Angie Motshekga, and currently as Gauteng’s education MEC. The first lobbyist believed this record had allowed Lesufi to endear himself to Gauteng residents and proved his capabilities as a leader.
“His work in government has really been outstanding, we can all agree on that,” the lobbyist said. “Panyaza is known by the people of Gauteng. That has given him a greater advantage.”
Party insiders also claimed the ANC Women’s League and the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association would endorse Lesufi. But the youth league (ANCYL)was likely to support Maile, who was its provincial chairperson until 2014.
But youth league Gauteng chair Matome Chiloane said the league’s provincial executive committee would only reach a decision on the matter this weekend. “The people of Gauteng must appreciate the calibre of leadership that the ANC is offering them in terms of the candidates. Panyaza [Lesufi] is up to the task, Parks [Tau] is up to the task, so we are offering the people of Gauteng something of quality.”
Meanwhile, tensions between factions aligned to Makhura and Mashatile deepened this week after the premier referred alleged financial irregularities in Maile’s department to the Special Investigating Unit.
The alleged irregularities involve the contract with and prepayment made to Enviro Mobi, a company associated with ANC spokesman Pule Mabe.
The Greater Johannesburg youth league released a statement accusing Makhura of using state resources to fight ANC battles ahead of the elective conference. Makhura prefers Tau as his deputy, whereas Maile enjoys Mashatile’s support.
“The ANCYL in Zone 16 Greater Johannesburg region is unequivocally clear in believing that a war that is currently waged against comrade Lebogang Maile is a war waged to the younger generation within the ANC to an extent that those in a position of power believes that a leadership based on peer group arrangement could be a new strategy to be utilised to isolate the generation from [the] ANCYL while settling their narrow chauvinist interests.”