The androcentric “premier league”, which entrenched former president Jacob Zuma’s grip on power, was dismantled after the ANC’s 2017 Nasrec elective conference.
The key figureheads in this group of provincial leaders even became enemies, loosening their grip on the provinces they had controlled with an iron fist. What is left is a realignment of power in the ANC.
It is worthwhile catching up with this group when examining hysterical talk that President Cyril Ramaphosa will be recalled soon after the May 8 national election or at the ANC’s national general council in 2020. Former Free State premier Ace Magashule is a good place to start.
He was swept into the position of ANC secretary general in December 2017, a situation that many party faithful regarded the worst of all worst-case scenarios.
Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book, Gangster State: Unravelling Ace Magashule’s Web of Capture, gives a disturbing portrait of Magashule’s character. In many ways, he employs the same tactics as those of his former leader, Zuma.
In the face of allegations of corruption and state capture, he has not provided one substantive response. Instead, he has blamed Stratcom, the propaganda apparatus of the apartheid security police that carried out disinformation campaigns, and dismissed Myburgh’s book as “fake news”.
He claimed his office is under siege — a refrain that the former president has repeatedly used.
Ever the victim, Magashule, like Zuma, resorted to using the ANC as a shield.
But it was only a matter of time before the true nature of his dealings in the Free State emerged.
After the ANC’s national executive committee told him to fight his own battles, he promptly gave an interview in which he repeated the line that an attack on him is an attack on the ANC. It reflected another similarity to Zuma’s style of leadership — wanton disregard for party protocol.
Since Magashule’s departure from the Free State, he is, in effect, without a base. The province is in the throes of a factional fight for control and it is only a matter of time before his allies there realise that he no longer controls access to the trough and abandon him.
Shifting to Mpumalanga and another former member of the premier league, David Mabuza told the Daily Maverick this past weekend that he “feared the party was splitting” and that his vacating “his positions of provincial chair and premier after his election as deputy president had left a leadership vacuum”.
Mabuza is a fascinating character and one the markets fear most in the event of an early exit by Ramaphosa. But it is interesting that those close to him in his home province say he has no immediate designs on the presidency. He would probably support ANC treasurer Paul Mashatile if he makes a bid for the top job. And it is Mashatile and former treasurer Zweli Mkhize who would be more likely to pursue the post of president than Mabuza.
The third member of the premier league, Supra Mahumapelo in the North West, has been weakened considerably, despite his court victory setting aside the dissolution of his provincial executive.
KwaZulu-Natal leader Sihle Zikalala is doing a solid job in trying to hold the ANC in the province together and has made peace with the fact that Ramaphosa is now in charge.
The Zuma faction is now about the corrupt fighting to stay out of jail and power brokers in the regions and branches scouting around to see which cart will be most beneficial for them to hitch their horses to.
At this stage it is difficult to see where a solid challenge against Ramaphosa would come from.
Once the elections are over, the power blocs will change and new allegiances will be formed. If Ramaphosa hopes to consolidate his support in the party, he should already be preparing for this. As master strategist Sun Tzu said: “The superior militarist strikes while schemes are being laid.”