Is Mlibo Qoboshiyane a true kingmaker in Eastern Cape ANC conference?

In last-minute horse trading on the first day of the ANC Eastern Cape conference, chairperson contender Mlibo Qoboshiyane threw in the towel, joining the Babalo Madikizela faction in a bid to cause an upset against the incumbent, Oscar Mabayane. 

The new alliance was announced to the media and Madikizela delegates on Saturday night in what was meant to be a show of might. Qoboshiyane considers himself a kingmaker and hopes to gain a seat at the table in the provincial executive committee. 

The provincial election conference ended abruptly on Saturday evening after delegates spent almost seven hours discussing possible ghost delegates. Delegates said to be in the Madikizela camp were demanding a head count of each individual to ensure there would be no voter manipulation. 

Madikizela supporters also delayed the start of the conference, refusing to come into the venue until the guests left. These included chiefs, kings and clergy from the Eastern Cape.

In the days leading up to the conference, many believed it was a neck-and-neck race but events at the start of the conference suggested Mabuyane was the firm favourite. 

This includes a court application to possibly interdict the conference by five disgruntled members in the WB Rubusana region who believe there were irregularities in processes at branch general meetings. 

These individuals have been linked to the Madikizela slate and their move is seen as a last-ditch attempt by Madikizela and his supporters to tilt the numbers in his favour. 

One of them, Ondela Sokomani, insists the aim of the application was not to disrupt the conference but rather to get clarity and prevent any future litigation. He told the Mail & Guardian that the court should be able to interpret its April judgment in the matter.

But even as talk of a clean sweep by the Mabuyane camp ensued, there are concerns that Lulama Ngcukayitobi, who has been described as a weak provincial secretary, might bolster the chances of Madikizela ally Teris Ntutu. Some believe Ntutu could give the province a more robust presence under his watch as the head of day-to-day operation at the ANC’s Eastern Cape Calata House headquarters.

A back-and-forth tussle also characterised the build-up to this conference, with the provincial task team meeting no less than six times in two days to discuss the state of the WB Rubusana and Chris Hani regions, where 47 branches representing more than 100 votes were tainted by allegations of manipulation. 

Outgoing task team coordinator Lulama Ngcukayitobi told journalists that some of the votes in these branches would be quarantined. Even with that, by late Saturday the odds continued to favour Mabuyane winning a second term as provincial chair.

Negotiations between the factions were snubbed mostly by regional leaders in the Mabuyane camp, despite attempts by the ANC’s alliance partners to form a unity slate. 

This was another indicator by Mabuyane supporters that they believed they had a firm grip on the conference. 

The M&G has also reliably learnt that Madikizela has seen the writing on the wall, but is hoping that Qoboshiyane’s move might tilt the scales back in his favour. 

But, no matter how popular Qoboshiyane might be as an individual politician, it is unclear whether this has found expression among the province’s branches.

Even with the odds stacked against him, some of Madikizela’s supporters believe that the margins of loss will not be huge, sending a firm message to national leaders looking to this province for support ahead of their own personal bids at the ANC’s December national elective conference. 

But Mabuyane’s camp has debunked this, saying the Eastern Cape’s 2017 conference amply showed that their man could unite the party in the province behind President Cyril Ramaphosa.

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Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa is a political journalist with a keen interest in local government.

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