Mpumalanga’s premier elect, Refilwe Mtshweni, is largely unknown and has no high political profile.
She’s a self-effacing individual who quietly does her job.
Mtshweni, nevertheless, gained enough of former premier David Mabuza’s trust for him to let her act in his place whenever he was unavailable.
Mabuza, now deputy president, used to appoint his agriculture MEC Vusi Shongwe to act in his place.
But since Mabuza returned from three months of sick leave in 2016, he has appointed Mtshweni to hold the fort.
This comes as a surprise because Mtshweni neither sits on the provincial executive committee nor on the regional executive. She has previously been active in the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) in the province’s Nkangala region.
When Mabuza appointed Mtshweni cooperative governance and traditional affairs MEC in 2014, the decision took many in the party by surprise. Mabuza’s whole cabinet was unknown and inexperienced in government.
“It’s a bit of a problem,” said a senior ANC member. “We know she participated in the ANCYL, but not in the organisation’s higher structures in Mpumalanga.
“Comrade DD [Mabuza] favours her a lot,” he said.
This is backed up by the brief existence of Mtshweni’s profile on the People’s Assembly website. According to the site, she became a member of the Mpumalanga legislature in May 2014 and an MEC in June that year.
Most in the party had expected a more senior woman to take over. For years, the names of International Relations Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule, Rural Development and Land Reform Deputy Minister Candith Mashego-Dlamini and disgraced former communications minister Dina Pule have been bandied about.
Mtshweni’s spokesperson, Zibonele Mncwango, said she would not give interviews until the Mpumalanga legislature formally elects her next week.
The ANC’s national working committee (NWC) appointed Mtshweni Mpumalanga premier elect this week.
She is going to be the province’s first woman premier since 1994.
For Free State, the NWC appointed another woman, Sisi Ntombela, to replace ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule.
Although Mpumalanga now has its female premier, what will happen after next year’s national and provincial elections is still unknown.
This is because Mtshweni’s name does not feature among contenders for the province’s top six ANC positions.
In addition to Mtshweni, four men are jostling to succeed Mabuza: Mandla Ndlovu (ANC provincial secretary), Peter Nyoni (cooperative governance department head), MP Fish Mahlalela and David Dube (Mpumalanga legislature member).
The provincial executive committee (PEC) will submit three names to Luthuli House, which will make the final decision.
Ndlovu said although Mtshweni has not served in the PEC, she is experienced and the right candidate for premier.
“She’s a seasoned comrade who grew up within ANC structures and a strong woman who will assist our province. She was serving the ANC at provincial level in the Mpumalanga legislature. There’s no requirement that she must be in the PEC to be premier,” Ndlovu said.
Mtshweni (45) is married with two children. She grew up in Lynville, Emalahleni, where she went to primary school before completing her secondary education in Atteridgeville, Pretoria.
She has a human resources diploma from Tshwane University of Technology and a leadership and governance certificate from Wits University.