Mabuza had better watch his back

Vulnerable: David Mabuza’s honeymoon as Cyril Ramaphosa’s deputy may be short-lived. (Delwyn Verasamy)

Vulnerable: David Mabuza’s honeymoon as Cyril Ramaphosa’s deputy may be short-lived. (Delwyn Verasamy)

Crucial elective meetings in three ANC provinces hold the key not only to the parliamentary list process ahead of next year’s elections, but also to the party’s 2022 elective conference.

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa’s position is set to be strengthened by being endorsed by the new party leadership in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. But his deputy, David Mabuza, may face a backlash from the supporters of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s failed presidential bid.

ANC insiders told the Mail & Guardian this week that some provinces are not keen to support Mabuza during the list process (to select party members to serve in Parliament after next year’s elections) later this year, because he “betrayed’’ the Dlamini-Zuma camp during the ANC’s national conference at Nasrec in December.

READ MORE: Mabuza: I am not a crook

Prior to that conference, Mabuza was part of a group known as the premier league — made up of leaders from Mpumalanga, the Free State and North West — that backed Dlamini-Zuma for ANC president.

Mabuza’s 11th-hour decision to back Ramaphosa angered many in her camp, who are now saying they want to punish the former Mpumalanga premier by not supporting his nomination as an ANC representative in Parliament.

“I know our forces across the country are angry. We will never take kind[ly] to what he did to us.
He dropped us in the last minutes … We were sure that it [the position of ANC president] was in the bag. He humiliated us, big time,” said a senior ANC member who asked to remain anonymous.

An ANC councillor who was one of Dlamini-Zuma’s key lobbyists prior to the conference said Mabuza no longer enjoyed majority support in her camp.

“He will appear on the list because you only need the support of one province for that. But he won’t be top of the list. He can only go in [to the top of the list] through political intervention. He won’t emerge based on popular votes.”

He said the ANC in Mpumalanga is “also highly divided now” and, as a result, is struggling to hold a provincial general council.

An ANC national executive committee (NEC) member who supported Dlamini-Zuma’s bid said now that Mabuza is out of the picture, ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is expected to be at the forefront of those pushing for leadership changes during the next ANC conference.

“The power brokers of this NEC …are going to be Magashule and [ANC treasurer Paul] Mashatile. You must watch them closely. These two are going to determine the direction of the ANC. DD [Mabuza] knows it’s tough. He is running away. He is an absent deputy president,” said the NEC member.

ANC NEC member and close Ramaphosa ally Enoch Godongwana defended Mabuza and called on ANC members to nominate him during the list process.

“For me, there is a reasonable and legitimate expectation that after the conference, all people will rally behind the elected leadership,” he said.

He said Mabuza had performed well as the country’s deputy president. “In fact, he is doing better than everybody had expected,” said Godongwana.

The M&G spoke to a number of ANC insiders this week, who said Mabuza has suggested to his confidants that he is prepared to take a step back and allow a female candidate to take over as South Africa’s deputy president after the 2019 elections.

This appears to be a bid to appease the Dlamini-Zuma camp, whose members are confident that they control enough of the ANC to ensure their survival and consolidation ahead of 2022.

The importance of the provincial conferences does not end there. The provincial party secretaries sit on the crucial list committee and will be central to the process of selecting who ends up in Parliament, the provincial legislatures — and Cabinet — next year.

ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe said the ANC was encouraging all its members to put aside their preconference differences and start the process of renewal to unite all party structures in the country.

“Like all other members of the ANC, the deputy president of ANC, who is also president of the republic, enjoys the support accorded to leaders of the organisation by our members throughout the country,” Mabe said.

“We are expecting that when this [nomination] process begins, our members will be able to participate, express themselves and make sure that ultimately we are able to present a much more united ANC across various levels of the legislatures.”

Gauteng

As the ANC in Gauteng prepares to elect its new leaders this weekend, intense horse-trading is underway for the position of deputy party chairperson in the province.

The contest is between Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi and economic development MEC Lebogang Maile. Former Johannesburg ANC chairperson Parks Tau is also in the running, despite finding less favour among the ANC’s other four regions in Gauteng.

Ahead of the start of the conference this Friday, Maile and Lesufi supporters were still locked in negotiations to reach a favourable trade-off over the positions.

Each side is hoping an agreement will be reached to have its favoured candidate become deputy chair, and to offer an opposing group’s candidate the position of treasurer.

Already, each of the three candidates has a definite nomination from one region. Ekurhuleni has endorsed Maile, the Sedibeng region Lesufi and Johannesburg Tau.

Mashatile is understood to be behind Maile’s candidacy for deputy chairperson, and acting ANC chairperson David Makhura is said to prefer Tau as his deputy. Mashatile’s supporters believe Maile, if elected, will ensure the province supports Mashatile to take over as ANC president in 2022. They also want Maile to keep a close eye on Makhura, who some believe has proven to be too independent in his thinking.

Makhura is believed to be interested in contesting the position of ANC secretary general in 2022 and believes Tau will be the best candidate to replace him as ANC provincial chair and Gauteng premier.

Maile’s supporters are canvassing support for him, using the “generational mix” ticket as his selling point.

“The reality is that society is becoming younger. Gauteng has 65% young voters and someone like Maile is capable [of leading them], and he has grown up within the ranks of the ANC,” Ekurhuleni regional secretary Thembinkosi Nciza said of the former Gauteng youth league leader.

Ekurhuleni has nominated Lesufi for the position of treasurer but Lesufi’s supporters are determined to have Maile occupy that position. They believe that, because of his popularity, the education MEC is better suited as deputy chairperson.

A Lesufi lobbyist said Ekurhuleni was still open to further talks. This could work in Lesufi’s favour.

“My advice to him was: don’t take a decision now … Negotiation and timing are very important. You must not negotiate too early, and you must not negotiate when you are weak,” the lobbyist said.

“When we start negotiating, even on Friday morning, Panyaza will be strong.”

KwaZulu-Natal

In KwaZulu-Natal, the long-awaited elective conference kicked off on Thursday and a compromise or “unity’’ slate of leaders is expected to be voted in. Conference convener Mike Mabuyakhulu and co-ordinator Sihle Zikalala are set to be elected unopposed as ANC deputy chairperson and chairperson respectively.

Supporters of Mabuyakhulu from three regions went to court and successfully interdicted the attempt to hold the conference in Empangeni last month. After a series of interventions by the ANC’s national dispute resolution committee, they withdrew their legal action and agreed on Monday that the conference should proceed.

The outcome of the original provincial conference in November 2015 was also set aside by the high court after branches loyal to Zikalala challenged the result.

But yet another group of ANC members has now apparently gone to court in a bid to stop the KwaZulu-Natal provincial congress from going ahead. At the time of writing, the matter had not yet been heard.

Not all the top positions in KwaZulu-Natal will be uncontested. Supporters of former ANC provincial secretary Super Zuma are expected to back him to stand for re-election against ANC provincial legislature member Mdumiseni Ntuli, who occupies the secretary’s slot on the unity slate.

Ntuli has the support of more than half of the 11 ANC regions in the province, with the youth league’s influential eThekwini region on Wednesday announcing its support for him rather than Super Zuma, in the interest of “unity’’ and the ANC’s long-term health.

The youth league wants four of its leaders — Vuyiswa Caluza, Njabulo Nzuza, Kwazi Mshengu and Amanda Bani — included in the party’s provincial executive committee.

The unity slate contains uKhahlamba regional secretary Sipho Hlomuka as deputy secretary and Nomusa Dube-Ncube as treasurer.

Mpumulanga

In Mpumalanga, there are three candidates vying to replace Mabuza as provincial party chairperson, following his election as ANC deputy president in December.

The first is the head of the co-operative governance department in the province, Peter Nyoni, who has a tumultuous history with the former chairperson. In 2015, Nyoni was suspended from the Mpumalanga provincial executive committee (PEC) for organising a march against Mabuza under the banner of the Save Mpumalanga ANC splinter group, which accused Mabuza of being a dictator. They reconciled a year later and Mabuza appointed him to his current position.

Nyoni enjoys the support of Mpumalanga tycoon Robert Gumede, one of Mabuza’s closest allies, who is understood to have funded the latter’s campaign to become deputy president. Gumede is also believed to have convinced Mabuza to withdraw his support for Dlamini-Zuma’s ANC presidential bid.

Dlamini-Zuma and Gumede have not seen eye to eye since 2010 when, during her tenure as home affairs minister, Dlamini-Zuma cancelled a multibillion-rand contract with Gumede’s information technology company, Gijima.

The second candidate with an eye on the Mpumalanga ANC chair position is PEC member Fish Mahlalela, a Ramaphosa lobbyist who is known as one of Mabuza’s fiercest critics in the provincial executive. He is likely to be the deputy president’s least preferred choice as successor.

Instead, Mabuza is understood to favour Mpumalanga Premier Refilwe Mtsweni. Mtsweni, a former youth league leader in the province, was appointed premier in March amid much criticism by party members senior to her, who labelled her an unknown. Should Mabuza have his way, Mtsweni will become the ANC’s first female provincial chairperson.

READ MORE: Magashule turns on ‘turncoat’ DD

However, the murmurs of Mabuza endorsing Mtsweni are understood to not sit well with acting provincial chairperson Mandla Ndlovu. Until now, Ndlovu had been a close ally of Mabuza’s, but is reportedly unhappy about being overlooked despite his years of support for the former premier.

Ndlovu is believed to be building relations with Magashule, whose relationship with Mabuza deteriorated after the former Mpumalanga leader turned his back on Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign.

Should Mabuza allies such as Ndlovu turn against him and his rivals are elected to lead the province next month, Mabuza faces the risk of losing the support of Mpumalanga — his home province — during the ANC’s critical list nominations process.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004.
  • Read more from Matuma Letsoalo
    • Client Media Releases

      Sanral engages communities on projects in Matatiele Municipality
      Allegations of UKZN MBA degree fraud unfounded
      Stay updated at ITWeb Security Summit 2019