Outgoing Eastern Cape chairperson Oscar Mabuyane is ready to lead the province for another term. The ANC provincial heavyweight and one of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s loyal allies said that when the province holds its conference in December, he will put his hat back in the ring.
Mabuyane leads one of the ANC’s biggest provinces after KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. His winning over ANC delegates and branches when the party heads to its 55th national conference next year, alongside other Ramaphosa allies — the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal’s secretary, Mdumiseni Ntuli, and the party’s Limpopo secretary, Soviet Lekganyane — will guarantee Ramaphosa a second term in office.
Mabuyane said he believed the current provincial leadership had put the once-divided Eastern Cape on a more stable footing.
“If it’s not broken, why do you fix it? As long as people are still available to serve when they are nominated. All of us will be nominated, if possible, by branches. If we are not nominated that would not mean we must go around and fight with everyone. I’ve done my part, I’ve been in the leadership of the province for almost 12 years, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done,” he said.
“As long as I still have the energy to wake up and look at my people and see their situation and believe that there is still a bit of energy to change their lives, I will forever be available to do so and serve our people.”
Rumours that Mabuyane may run uncontested are likely to be heightened after the provincial executive committee (PEC) announced this week that the conference will be held from December 13 to 15.
But some Eastern Cape leaders are hedging their bets on ANC provincial treasurer Babalo Madikizela also running for the position.
Although the ANC was of the view that contestation was a healthy part of its democratic revolution, the 2017 Nasrec conference, which saw eight national executive committee (NEC) members vying to become the party’s president, resulted in disunity.
Some leaders have indicated they would like to avoid this when the party goes to its national conference next year.
The Northern Cape was the first province to run an uncontested conference this year, with Zamani Saul, another Ramaphosa lieutenant, receiving the mandate from delegates.
Mabuyane said the conference should sit within the constitutional time frame and delegates must be ready to accept the outcome to avoid divisions.
“Any conference that is not contested creates this perception that there is stability there and gives an opportunity to any product of that conference a space of focusing on real issues and hitting the ground running,” he said.
The Eastern Cape conference that elected Mabuyane as the provincial chairperson was challenged in court after it degenerated into chaos when delegates threw chairs and many people were injured. Ramaphosa dubbed it “the festival of chairs”.
The Constitutional Court and other courts dismissed the challenge. The NEC instituted its own investigation and tasked former transport minister Sbu Ndebele with investigating the legitimacy of the conference.
The Ndebele report recommended dissolving the provincial executive committee and setting up a task team to rerun the conference.
But the report was rejected by the NEC.
Mabuyane said: “There will still be some members in the NEC today who still question the legitimacy of the conference purely out of factional lines. We have done our part as this collective. We have worked on unity and cohesion but also [paid] particular attention to the structures of the ANC.
“The EC [Eastern Cape] will never be there again. Now we have a PEC that is focused, that is intact. If you compare this and the previous PEC, by now already there were signs and tensions because of the interest of being elected at a structure to a point that we almost abdicated the responsibility of leading that structure. We have normalised that situation.”
Most of the headaches in ANC conferences occur during the presentation of credentials, when the party audits and approves delegates who have voting rights.
“Part of our work, which we started in 2019, [was] trying to solve the historic problem of gatekeeping, factionalism and membership manipulation,” said Mabuyane. “We had to set up systems as a province — some of those that you see at the national level are systems we started in the province.
“The thorough work or verification, audit outcomes, verification of branch general meetings and delegates … is the reason why our conference, even if taken to court, will stand the test of time.”
He has called for the ANC to reassess its decision that chairs of provinces should automatically become premiers.
Both Mabuyane and former president Thabo Mbeki are of the view that the ANC should revert to its Mahikeng conference resolution and allow the country’s president to appoint premiers, much like he does his cabinet.
“Being chairperson doesn’t necessarily mean you are fit for government. The vision of the ANC relies on visionary leadership that the ANC sends to government,” Mabuyane said. “If you have a leadership that can’t think outside the box you will never see fundamental changes that we are articulating in our national democratic revolution.”