/ 17 April 2023

ANC provincial committee saves Stan Mathabatha at party meeting

Limpopo premier Chupu Stanley Mathabatha is upbeat about the future of the province.
Limpopo premier Stan Mathabatha. Photo: Supplied

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and secretary general Fikile Mbalula were allegedly reluctant to show Limpopo provincial chair Stan Mathabatha the door during marathon meetings with the provincial leadership this past weekend. 

Insiders privy to the discussions said that while ANC branches called for his head, the provincial executive committee (PEC) came to Mathabatha’s aid, asking that the ANC top brass refrain from axing him as premier. 

Mathabatha, who, in the build-up to the ANC elections last year was the favoured son of the province, has been fighting for his political survival after he changed allegiance at the 11th hour and endorsed Zweli Mkhize without the approval of the branches or the PEC. 

His shift shocked ANC members because Mathabatha was the party’s first provincial leader to endorse Ramaphosa for a second term. He made his alliance to Mkhize known at Nasrec in December just a day before delegates were scheduled to vote for the new ANC president. 

This angered Limpopo members, who booed him when he addressed the party during the provincial leg of the 8 January birthday celebrations. 

The national working committee (NWC) made its first stop in Limpopo last weekend, following calls for the leadership to intervene in the provincial “disunity” — the result of Mathabatha’s “betrayal”.  

At least five PEC members who spoke to the Mail & Guardian said that during the first phase of meetings, Ramaphosa and his NWC peers had to deal with the branches’ dissatisfaction over Mathabatha. 

They said the branches also indicated that there had been no serious intervention relating to provincial service delivery issues such as the decay of roads and water infrastructure. 

The branches are said to have also relayed their frustration over municipal infrastructure grants (MIGs) being returned to the treasury, which exacerbated service delivery backlogs. 

According to a PEC member, the branches said the provincial government had taken no action against municipal leaders who were responsible for the return of MIGs to the treasury.  

Another insider said that at a second meeting held on Sunday between the PEC and the NWC, Ramaphosa said he was “happy with the ANC politically”, satisfied that the PEC was able to meet and implement decisions, and therefore was discharging its obligations in terms of the constitution. 

The insiders said the NWC requested that the PEC meet to discuss Mathabatha’s last-minute change at the Nasrec conference because this still angered some provincial leaders.

“Some feelings were that branches were sold out, they no longer have trust in the leadership, particularly the chair. If it was wrong it’s wrong. If we need to apologise, we must apologise and move on, but our failure to engage frankly and honestly is likely to hang on to us. There is some discomfort around the premier continuing in his tenure but the provincial leadership is of the view that not all is lost, [because we can live with him for the remaining months].” 

The NWC is said to have agreed to return to the province after six months to assess whether Mathabatha and his administration had made progress in terms of grant spending, service delivery and consequence management of slack officials. 

“At this stage, we do not see any reason for the premier’s removal. But [as for] all the deficiencies that are pointed out as far as the government is concerned, we are expecting that there must be intervention [expeditiously],” a second PEC member said. 

“[There are] incomplete projects, incomplete roads, a lot of money spent on water reticulation but there are no results. Contractors must be fired. No people must be paid for work that is not satisfactory.”

Another PEC member said that part of the reason the provincial leaders came to Mathabatha’s defence was out of fear that the structure might be dissolved. 

They said Ramaphosa was scathing in his assessment of the government’s performance in the province. 

“They have accepted that there is a government in place, but there are deficiencies. All that we ought to do is for the provincial government to deal with those deficiencies and consequences. If we attend to those, even when they return back in six or seven months, we are on the right track in resolving all those identified issues, there will absolutely be no reason to remove him and us. 

“For now we might say we are temporarily off the hook, but at the centre the president  emphasised that branches of the ANC must respected as the basic unit of the organisation.”

Another PEC member said some PEC members expressed their dissatisfaction with the provincial leadership charged with administration. 

The PEC member added that some provincial leaders who lost at Nasrec felt betrayed and were intent on exacting revenge.  

The NWC is expected to make its final recommendation to the NEC, which sits next week.