/ 11 June 2024

ANC in Limpopo under pressure to choose premier candidates

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa Signs National Health Insurance Bill Into Law
Phophi Ramathuba looks set to become the Limpopo premier. (Photo by Frennie Shivambu/Gallo Images via Getty Images).

Just days away from the first sitting of provincial legislatures on Friday, the ANC in Limpopo is racing against time to decide on its preferred premier candidates, with provincial health MEC Phophi Ramathuba set to take the top position after Tuesday’s interview with party leaders.

This week, the ANC’s top seven officials, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, began interviewing potential premiers to be presented to the legislature. This is after the party’s  extended provincial executive committees (PEC) were mandated to sit ahead of the  national executive committee’s (NEC) first meeting after the 29 May elections. 

The PECs discussed, and voted on, the most eligible candidates and handed their names to the ANC’s national officials for interviews and vetting last week. The chairperson of the ANC’s electoral committee, Kgalema Motlanthe, was given observer status during the interviews, which began on Tuesday.

The ANC received its highest support by province in Limpopo, where it won 73% of the  vote. The extended PEC last week recommended three names for the highly contested position of premier: Ramathuba, MEC of co-operative governance, human settlements and traditional affairs; party deputy secretary Basikopo Makamu and sport, arts and culture MEC Nakedi Sibanda-Kekana.

Ramathuba — who topped the nomination list presented to the Electoral Commision of South Africa (IEC) — has been tipped as frontrunner against Makamu, who has the backing of the provincial leadership.

Sources close to the matter told the Mail & Guardian that prior to the shortlisting of the three, Ramathuba — who has the support of the ANC Youth League in the province — was working on the ground to replace outgoing premier Stan Mathabatha who recently concluded his second term.

The sources said Ramathuba started lobbying for the position with the help of the provincial youth chairperson Tony Rachoene. This was after deputy chairperson Florence Radzilani failed to obtain the numbers she needed to participate in the process. 

Radzilani has been fighting for political survival after she defected to the Zweli Mkhize camp in 2022. At the ANC’s national elective conference that year, Radzilani and Mathabatha announced that the province would vote for Mkhize for party president, against Ramaphosa.

“What is currently happening is that those that supported Radzilani are now backing Makamu because they feel it is unfair that Ramathuba will get the position because she is female. Makamu has more to offer than Ramathuba but the NEC guidelines will definitely favour her,” one source said.

Ramathuba said she was open to whichever position she was deployed to. “If the ANC says, ‘Go there Phophi,’ I’ll go. If the ANC says, ‘Don’t go,’ I won’t go,” she said.

The NEC has tasked the party’s top seven with appointing woman premiers in the three provinces where the ANC received a majority of votes in the provincial elections, as stated in the 2023 NEC selection criteria, which calls for the leadership to nominate two women as premiers.

They also stipulate that incumbent woman premiers serving their first term of office are automatically included in the list of three candidates. 

Sibanda-Kekana, who has the backing of the provincial women’s league, has received little support, having been implicated in corruption after the Lepelle-Nkumpi local municipality deposited over R150 million in the collapsed VBS bank in 2018. She was forced to resign from her position as mayor of the municipality. 

Sibanda-Kekana’s connection to the VBS scandal has also prompted demands for accountability from the party’s leadership regarding the removal and replacement of five members of the PEC with individuals associated with the VBS bank saga.

Highly placed sources confirmed to the M&G that five people who were fraudulently added to the legislature list — including Thabo Mabotja, an ordinary ANC member; Nandi Ndalane, the MEC for social development; Che Selane, another ordinary member; Dowelani Nenguda, a member of regional executive committee in Vhembe and Mihloti Mhlophe, the Vhembe treasurer — were all close to Sibanda-Kekana.

They replaced Reggie Molokomme, Danny Ndlovu, Frans Mokwele, Rosemary Molepo and Jeremiah Ngobeni. 

Party insiders in Limpopo believe the names submitted by the province to Montlante’s office were tampered with by someone in the ANC secretary general’s office. 

“Limpopo had its provincial extended list meeting and decisions were taken at that level. It went to the NEC extended meeting. In that meeting, the product coming from Limpopo was endorsed without any changes. What became a problem was when registration was made with the IEC,” one insider said.

“If you take what was submitted by Kgalema [Motlanthe]’s office to the SG [secretary general] you then find that the chronological sequence of names is no longer in the manner in which it was submitted by Kgalema. The problem is not on our side but the problem is with the one who we trusted to capture with the IEC.”

ANC Limpopo provincial spokesperson Jimmy Machaka confirmed that five people were indeed removed but declined to give details, saying the list submitted to the national ANC remained confidential.

Machaka said the province would wait for the outcome of investigations to determine how such misplacement took place. 

ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula has publicly confirmed the lists were manipulated, citing “glitches” that affected several provinces during the process of uploading them.

“The national working committee has resolved to establish an investigation into what happened in terms of those provinces,” Mbalula told journalists on 5 May.

In the Eastern Cape, incumbent premier Oscar Mabuyane leads nominations, alongside provincial legislature speaker Helen Sauls-August and human settlements MEC Siphokazi Mani-Lusithi. Mabuyane is expected to secure the position, given his instrumental role in the ANC’s 62% victory in the province last month.

In North West, provincial legislature speaker Susan Dantjie has emerged as the frontrunner among nominees, supported by ANC deputy provincial chair Lazzy Mokgosi and PEC member Lizzy Mokua and securing 44 votes in the process.

In the Free State, Mxolisi Dukwana is looking to retain the premier position against competitors deputy provincial secretary Dibolelo Mance and ANC Women’s League treasurer general Maqueen Letsoha-Mathae. The ANC experienced a decline to 51.9% in voter support in the province from 61.14% in 2019, and lost three legislative seats.

In Mpumalanga, where the ANC secured 51.1% of the vote, provincial chairperson Mandla Ndlovu, women’s league task team convener Cathy Dlamini and premier Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane are nominated, with the latter set to return to the post.

The ANC is expected to announce the names of the premier candidates before Friday’s sittings.