Mondli Makhanya: Last days of Mangope Lite

2018-04-22 06:01
Mondli Makhanya

Mondli Makhanya

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One couldn’t help but cast an eye back to the events of March 1994 as yet another despised Mahikeng strongman faced the wrath of the people.

In those heady days leading up to South Africa’s Freedom Day, Bophuthatswana dictator Lucas Mangope was stubbornly refusing to see the writing on the wall. Most political formations had accepted the idea of a unitary South Africa – although some parties were holding out for a federal state with devolved powers.

Mangope, however, was insisting that Bophuthatswana was an independent state and the republic that was about to be born would be a neighbouring state to his. To him Bop was the reincarnation of the ancient Batswana nation and being part of the new South Africa would amount to the same thing as colonial annexation. Never mind that the people wanted to be part of the greater South Africa and not citizens of a toy country.

Well, it ended badly for Mangope. A rebellion by his public servants wanting to be paid their wages and pensions before the expected reincorporation into South Africa quickly escalated into a full-scale revolt by people demanding the de-establishment of the Bantustan.

Mangope remained steadfast as his capital went up in flames. In the end not even his friends in right wing Afrikaner militia could save him.

North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo has exhibited the same attitude as the rejection of his leadership gained momentum in the province. His response to the mutiny in ANC ranks was to tighten his grip on the party. He became a classic dictator, his behaviour sometimes mirroring that of Mangope.

He centralised power, sidelined or purged those who he believed were threatening his hold on to power. It was alleged he employed an army of goons who intimidated his opponents and disrupted their meetings. In one instance earlier this year a grouping of anti-Mahumapelo ANC activists called the Revolutional were badly beaten up when their press conference was broken up by pro-Mahumapelo thugs. Their leaders were briefly forced to flee into “exile” in other provinces.

The constant reference to his likeness to Mangope was never far from the lips of those who opposed him.

“This is the second revolution. We want to do to Supra what we did to Mangope before 1994 … Supra has become a dictator in a democratic state ... We as the revolutionary council want to overthrow him ... His corruption has to come to an end,” one of the council’s leaders, Thato Magogodi, told News24 earlier this year.

Mahumapelo did not help matters when his government offered the Mangope family an official funeral when the former dictator died early this year.

When he attended the funeral he spoke glowingly of Mangope and appealed to South Africans to emulate Nelson Mandela by forgiving the dead leader. The message did not go down well with those who already saw in him a replica of Mangope.

“Hatred is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. I say this because people have been writing on social media that we must not support the Mangope family and not attend his funeral. Those are people who don’t understand that reconciliation is important in South Africa,” said Mahumapelo, defending his government’s embrace of Mangope. This did not go down well with his detractors.

The fact that former premier Popo Molefe also had gentle words for the former ANC foe counted for nothing at this point.

As reports of widespread corruption during Mahumapelo’s tenure filled the pages of newspapers and flooded the airwaves and social media, opposition became bolder. The handful of activists who had not been afraid to stand up to him were openly joined by thousands of others who were prepared to defy him.

And, in a replay of 1994, one of the catalysts for this week’s uprising was a strike by public servants. Incensed by reports of mega corruption in the health department and in the involvement of Mahumapelo allies in the malfeasance, members of the National Health and Allied Workers’ Union downed tools and shut down health services.

In addition to workplace demands, they wanted the resignation of those fingered in corruption activities. The strike was the match the rest of the community needed. They connected the corruption to the appalling levels of service delivery and crumbling infrastructure. And the man who was responsible for their misery was none other Mahumapelo. As the fire spread through the North West capital, it was clear there was little chance of Mahumapelo surviving the revolt.

But, as with Mangope before, Mahumapelo dug in his heels. Thugs who were in support of him were seen roaming the streets, ostensibly to intimidate protesters. It was hard not to draw parallels with Mangope calling on the right-wingers to save him back in 1994.

When he is gone Mahumapelo will be remembered as the most despised North West leader since the establishment of the province in 1994. North West residents – and ANC members in particular – will remember him as the leader who most reminded them of the brutal days of Mangope. To many of them he was a Mangope Lite, a version of a dictator they once hated.

Read more on:    lucas mangope

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