Mpumalanga Premier Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane’s hopes of becoming ANC provincial chairperson were struck a blow this week when her key lobbyist, suspended ANC Ehlanzeni chairperson Ngrayi Ngwenya, appeared in court on charges relating to the stabbing of a female party member last year.
Ngwenya, who was suspended by the ANC national executive committee (NEC) last month over an alleged assault on ANC acting provincial secretary Lindiwe Ntshalintshali, has been central to the campaign to elect Mtsweni-Tsipane, an ally of former chairperson and premier, David Mabuza, now the deputy president.
The province will hold its long-awaited elective conference in December this year after Mabuza’s ascent to national politics in December 2017.
Mpumalanga sent the second-largest delegation to the ANC’s last elective conference in Nasrec — it surpassed the Eastern Cape’s delegation size and is seen as a key province to control to influence national politics in the party.
It is understood that although Mabuza — who still has significant influence in the province — has been talking to potential candidates, his preference for the post of chairperson remains Mtsweni-Tsipane. ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is understood to prefer the current acting chairperson and former secretary, Mandla Ndlovu.
On Tuesday, Ngwenya appeared in the Tonga magistrate’s court on grievous bodily harm assault charges stemming from the stabbing of ANC member Faith Makumo at a party meeting in KaMhlushwa in June last year.
The case was postponed until October 9 for further investigation.
Earlier this month, Ngwenya and fellow Ehlanzeni regional executive committee (REC) member Phindile Nkuna were suspended by the ANC NEC for allegedly assaulting Ntshalintshali at a regional general council meeting in Mbombela on July 17 this year.
The meeting had been called to brief chairpersons and branches from the Ehlanzeni and Bohlabela regions that the structures were being dissolved and merged into a single entity to bring them in line with the ANC constitution.
At its Mangaung conference in 2012, the ANC resolved that each region should be based on a district municipality, but the two regions had continued to exist, despite the fact that both fall under the Ehlanzeni district municipality.
However, Ntshalintshali was attacked and assaulted with a chair at the meeting, at which the decision to replace the two regional executive committees with a 20-member task team was to be announced.
The NEC subsequently suspended the membership of Ngwenya and Nkuna and is understood to be processing similar action against ANC Youth League members allegedly involved in the assault.
The move is a blow to Mtsweni-Tsipane, who is understood to be Mabuza’s choice to succeed him as chairperson.
The two regions and the Gert Sibande region had been expected to back the premier as chair, and their dissolution and the suspension of Ngwenya, viewed as untouchable in Mpumalanga for the past decade, is set to disturb this.
Last year, the Mail & Guardian exposed the existence of cloned ANC branches and ghost members who had died, but had “voted” at branch general meetings after their death, in both regions. An investigation by Luthuli House resulted in the parallel structures being merged after a membership audit ahead of the decision to dissolve and merge them.
A member of the provincial faction in the that had taken the ANC to court, and who asked not to be named, said they were happy with the developments, as this allowed a fairer run-up to the provincial conference.
“We are happy that the ANC is doing the right thing now. Because of this we withdrew our court application. Things are taking the correct direction now and we will wait for a date before deciding who to back. For now, we need to concentrate on building the ANC in the province again,” they said.
However, they questioned why Ngwenya had been supported at court by ANC members in party colours and vehicles on Wednesday.
“The province needs to implement the terms of the suspension letters,” they said. “There can’t be a situation where the party is endorsing a person accused of stabbing a female comrade,” he said.
Ngwenya, Ntshalintshali and Ndlovu had not responded to calls from the M&G at the time of publication.