Mondli Makhanya

Sunset for the ANC Premier League

2018-03-11 06:06
ANC flag. (Thulani Mbele, Sowetan, Gallo Images, file)

ANC flag. (Thulani Mbele, Sowetan, Gallo Images, file)

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After the conclusion of the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung in 2012, Free State ANC chairperson Ace Magashule and his North West counterpart Supra Mahumapelo gathered their delegations in a corner of the conference hall for a pep talk.

The two leaders praised their delegates for remaining disciplined during the conference and ensuring the defeat of the so-called forces of change, who were seeking to replace then-ANC president Jacob Zuma with his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe. Magashule told North West delegates that when they got back home, they should redouble their efforts to get Mahumapelo installed as premier of the province to replace then incumbent Thandi Modise. There was a lot of backslapping as the two provinces pledged to work together.

The next few years were to see a formidable partnership between the two men who, together with Mpumalanga’s David Mabuza, became known as the Premier League.

They controlled everything that moved in the ANC, using their collective power to influence conferences of the women’s and youth leagues and to swing decisions in the party’s upper structures.

As a block they were untouchable and ensured Zuma was untouchable. They were going to own the 2017 elective conference and position themselves for the future. Their factionalist behaviour earned them many enemies in the ANC, as people believed they were distorting organisational democracy.

Mabuza eventually drifted away from the group and established himself as the champion of unifying the ANC. He grew closer to Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile, with whom he worked on the “unity” project. This marriage was to see the two of them elected on to the ANC’s top six – as deputy president and treasurer-general, respectively – at last year’s national conference. Mabuza is now also the deputy president of the republic and in pole position to succeed President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Things have not gone so well for the other two members of the erstwhile Premier League triumvirate. Magashule narrowly won the secretary-general contest, a victory widely seen as dubious. He sits in that office with limited legitimacy, the first time in the ANC’s recent history that a secretary-general does not enjoy universal authority.

Back in the Free State, Magashule’s stranglehold is loosening. While he ruled the roost, he entered into a sordid romance with the Gupta family. He gave them free rein to plunder and literally milk the Free State’s coffers. Now the crumbling of the Gupta empire and the new-found enthusiasm by authorities to deal with state capture is giving him sleepless nights.

Magashule’s first press conference was dominated by questions about his involvement in state capture. The issue has dogged him ever since. With his lieutenants and sidekicks directly implicated in criminal activity, the question on many lips is when – not if – he will join them in the dock.

Magashule’s attempts to manage the Free State transition so as to get a preferred successor is hitting obstacles. There is an open revolt against him – both as outgoing chair and premier and as secretary-general.

The more fascinating fall from invincibility is that of Mahumapelo. Whereas Magashule has always had unchallenged power in the Free State, Mahumapelo was an accidental strongman as North West premier.

Initially a staunch Thabo Mbeki man, he was supposed to leave the ANC for the Congress of the People (Cope) when that party was formed. But the Zuma brigade enticed him to stay. Doing so was the wisest decision he ever took. His reward for staying and helping to disrupt the efforts of the nascent Cope was a move into Zuma’s inner sanctum. This allowed him to deal harshly with his rivals. He was a hard man and many of those he dealt with on the way up walk around with deep mental scars. Just like Magashule, stories circulated about his using his position to build a business empire.

In all his years at the helm, Mahumapelo did not enjoy much respect from leaders and members. But he was feared, a fear that increased as rumours of his ruthlessness spread throughout the province. It was even rumoured that he was not averse to using taxi industry tactics to get his way, but nothing has ever been proven.

The post-Nasrec era has not been kind to Mahumapelo. The outcome of the December conference left him unprotected. The groups of ANC activists whom he had been able to crush and sideline were emboldened to take him on directly.

Under the aegis of the North West Revolutionary Council, they took the fight directly to him, exposing his vulnerability. His loyalists tried to push back the rebellion.

But it was too late. A mountain of evidence of wrongdoing by those with links to him could not be ignored. He and his associates are now firmly in the sights of law enforcement agencies, who raided his office this week and are conducting multiple probes into their affairs.

It might be premature to start penning the political obituaries of these two strongmen, but what can be safely said is that they are not the bulldozers they used to be. Magashule’s elevation should have made him one of South Africa’s most powerful people. Instead, he cuts a pathetic figure. Mahumapelo should be working towards his second term as premier. However, he increasingly seems unlikely to take that oath of office next winter. Just as well. The two men represented a terrible face of politics in South Africa. They reminded us of the Bantustan leaders of yesteryear.



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