In a last-ditch bid to save the embattled North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo the embarrassment of being recalled, President Cyril Ramaphosa met him in Johannesburg on Thursday afternoon to ask him to step down voluntarily.
This came after the party’s national working committee (NWC) resolved on Wednesday night to recall Mahumapelo following weeks of violent protests, which claimed at least one life and left many people in the province stranded.
Two NWC members and a senior ANC leader confirmed the decision taken on Wednesday night to recall Mahumapelo. The NWC gave Ramaphosa the mandate to ask Mahumapelo to step down before next week’s special national executive committee (NEC) meeting endorsed the recommendation to recall him, an NWC member revealed.
Attendees at the NWC gathering told the Mail & Guardian that Ramaphosa made it clear in his closing address that Mahumapelo needed to step down.
“Cyril said it was clear that this man must step down when he was summarising what was discussed in the meeting,” an NWC member said.
Some NWC members tried to defend Mahumapelo, saying the party should wait until the special NEC meeting next week, but their argument was defeated. The NWC decision to remove Mahumapelo was also backed by those who have traditionally supported former president Jacob Zuma, including ANC elections head Fikile Mbalula and former North West provincial secretary and NWC member Dakota Legoete.
“The president in his summary used Legoete’s contribution, which supported the call for Mahumapelo to step down, to firm up his argument that Mahumapelo needed to step down with immediate effect,” one of the NWC members said.
Mbalula, according to ANC insiders, told the meeting that Mahumapelo had ignored his warnings about wrongdoing in the province. Other NWC members, such as Pule Mabe, defended Mahumapelo, saying party members should be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
The second NWC member sympathetic to Ramaphosa said, although the committee had taken the decision to recall Mahumapelo, the meeting did not discuss calls by the party’s veterans’ league for North West’s executive committee (PEC) to be disbanded.
“Dissolving the PEC will be a discussion for another day. Now, we had to discuss the current crisis in the province, which was more urgent.”
He said the decision to recall Mahumapelo was not based on the corruption allegations against him, but was a political decision. “We [the ANC] have not established any facts [regarding the allegations levelled against Mahumapelo]. The allegations against him are yet to be tested. This is a political decision. We can’t afford to have a situation where there are violent protests in the province a few months before the elections. It’s clear for everyone to see that governance has collapsed in North West,” said the second NWC member who spoke to the M&G.
ANC secretary general Ace Magashule presented a report on behalf of the party’s top six officials, which contained different options for the NWC members to discuss, according to the committee member.
“Officials gave us various discussion options. They said we can leave the matter as it is or we can intervene and take action against the premier,” said the NWC member.
Should the premier refuse Ramaphosa’s request to resign, he may be removed by a motion of no confidence. The Economic Freedom Fighters wrote to North West legislature speaker Suzan Dantjie on Thursday, asking for the motion be heard at the next available date.
“Having noted the lengthy time any court process [to remove Mahumapelo] would take in processing the matter … We henceforth request that the matter accordingly be placed on the order paper,” EFF North West leader Betty Daile wrote.
Protests across Mahikeng subsided following a trip by Ramaphosa to the province, which suggested that he may take action against the premier.
The South African Communist Party was among the first to call for action against Mahumapelo. In a letter to Luthuli House, former MEC Madoda Sambatha said Mahumapelo had poor relations with the ANC members of the provincial legislature, had divided the tripartite alliance and had enabled state capture.
But Mahumapelo’s supporters were appeased this week when national leaders agreed to meet the premier to enable him to respond to the allegations. But the North West ANC provincial executive committee claimed Mahumapelo had never been afforded this opportunity.
“In meetings and on public platforms, our provincial chairperson and premier have never been given an opportunity to speak for himself and we are glad that he will finally be able to say his side of the story,” Dantjie said in a statement. “Unfortunately, for a prolonged period, concocted, unfounded and untested allegations have been directed at our provincial chairperson by those who have failed to make it in ANC elective conferences and are opposed to his approach of economically empowering the villages, townships and small dorpies,” Dantjie added.
Some regions claimed the protests were not genuine and had been funded by disgruntled members of the party. “According to our investigation, there is R2‑million that was put in place to fund the protests,” the convener of the Dr Ruth Mompati region, Lerato Teme, said on the ANC’s North West website.
Some see the decision to recall Mahumapelo as part of Ramaphosa supporters’ strategy to purge Zuma backers, a senior ANC leader claimed. “They are going to charge him. The mistake that Mahumapelo made was to say he was going to institute forensic investigation within the provincial government from 1994. That’s what caused the problem because the investigation was going to implicate former leaders.”