With just over two months to go before the general election, President Cyril Ramaphosa is putting out fires and fighting off hostile challenges within the ANC.
His biggest headache is coming from the North West, a province with strong ANC electoral support – and from Supra Mahumapelo who ran the province like his fiefdom and is allegedly on the front line of anti-Ramaphosa forces in the party.
City Press understands that Ramaphosa and the ANC’s national leadership are battling to contain Mahumapelo, who has rejected offers of an ambassadorship or seats in Parliament or in the National Council of Provinces.
Mahumapelo, who was ousted as chair by the National Executive Committee (NEC) last year, is emboldened by the recent high court ruling that he and his leadership team be reinstated.
Ramaphosa and his inner circle have yet to implement the court ruling because Mahumapelo is seen as divisive and as being associated with the “Maharani plot” – the meeting at a Durban hotel which he and former president Jacob Zuma held with other ANC leaders, allegedly to plan Ramaphosa’s removal.
Mahumapelo has rebuffed all Ramaphosa’s efforts and remains determined to reclaim his seat as North West ANC chairperson after he was fired last year.
A high-ranking insider said Ramaphosa had not given up hope that he could steady the faction-ridden province like he did in KwaZulu-Natal.
Yesterday, Mahumapelo’s group and the interim provincial leaders met the ANC top brass at Luthuli House, where it was expected that he would be offered the job of his successor, Premier Job Mokgoro, as the head of a new interim leadership group representing all provincial party factions.
A key development before the discussion was that the ANC would abandon plans to appeal the ruling and push for a political solution.
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said: “The NEC meeting last weekend was resolute that the party should avoid burdening the courts with political matters.”
Kodwa’s colleague, Dakota Legoete, said: “The ANC leadership want a win-win solution for both parties. [Mahumapelo] has a court order and the task team has an NEC decision. We want an amicable solution that will help us to reconstitute a new task team to prepare for the elections.”
A senior government official said on Saturday that Ramaphosa would meet Mahumapelo this week, adding that he “has made a commitment to the NEC that he wants Mahumapelo in Parliament. That is the best option Ramaphosa has.”
But Mahumapelo is unlikely to accept his offer.
“He knows that if he leaves the North West, that will be the end of him. He knows investigations into him will be reopened and he might end up in jail. That is why he is causing chaos in the province,” said the official.
He said the Ramaphosa camp “knew” that Zuma and secretary-general Ace Magashule had backed Mahumapelo’s court bid.
Late on Saturday afternoon, a leader who attended the Luthuli House meeting said they had resolved to disband both the provincial executive committee (PEC) and the provincial task team, and form a new joint elections team.
Senior NEC member Obed Bapela and Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane are the convener and coordinator, respectively. This leaves Mahumapelo on the back foot.
The ANC’s apparent tiptoeing around Mahumapelo’s defiance fuels perceptions that while Ramaphosa is strong in government, his grip on his party’s internal affairs remains tenuous.
Mutterings emanating from Mahumapelo’s camp last week indicated that he could take a ministerial post after the elections – on condition that his supporters were also taken care of.
Unlike legislature posts, a ministerial position comes with a budget.
But Ramaphosa allies said this would not happen because Mahumapelo’s association with the alleged plot to topple Ramaphosa meant he could not be rewarded with any resources he might use to boost Zuma supporters’ fight-back campaign.
Mahumapelo declined to discuss the negotiations, merely saying that after spending Tuesday at Luthuli House, he was “warned in no uncertain terms not to speak to the media”.
But on Friday, he reached out to opponents, saying he hoped that “all of us can rise above the fray [and] honestly self-correct as part of renewal”.
“While going to court was necessary, it was also a bit uncomfortable as it was imposed by circumstances that we ought to control as a movement. Now is the time to learn the lessons of revolution and build a better movement going forward,” he said in a brief statement forwarded to City Press.
Solly Mapaila, the SA Communist Party’s second deputy general secretary, said on Friday that the party would reject any settlement involving an executive post for Mahumapelo.
“Any political solution should not be of self-interest to the ANC. It should be of interest to the public that the ANC serves,” he said.
Others suggested that if Mahumapelo lost the court case and the court agreed that the North West’s ANC branches were dysfunctional under his leadership, this could have helped Zuma’s allies to challenge Ramaphosa’s election at the party’s 2017 Nasrec conference, at which more than 400 delegates from that province voted.
‘UBABA PLAYS CHESS’
With Ramaphosa expected to trim his Cabinet after the election and axe a sizeable number of ministers and deputy ministers, many ANC insiders suspect that Zuma’s backers could target disgruntled individuals to galvanise their support.
A suggestion was also floated in Luthuli House corridors that those out of work after elections could be considered for key posts in state entities such as Eskom.
“It would be very easy for the [Zuma] faction to come back because there will be a number of disgruntled individuals. Some are well off and some are vulnerable. After the appointment of Cabinet, that is when you will see people’s true colours,” said a security cluster insider.
The ANC’s national general council, which meets next year, has powers to recall any top ANC leader if at least four provinces support the motion.
If they are successful at ousting Ramaphosa, Zuma’s supporters anticipate that a national task team would take over the running of the ANC, which would grant them access to influence its decisions, including recalling Ramaphosa.
Asked how Zuma’s backers thought about these things, the insider said: “They say: ‘uBaba plays chess.’ He knows when to move a pawn, when to move a queen and when to move a king. He is not as clumsy as people think.”
Another ANC insider said the North West had become a springboard for a Ramaphosa revolt.
“Supra is making a comeback and the first mistake Ramaphosa made was to appoint Mokgoro as premier,” said the source, adding that Ramaphosa should have appointed a stronger person instead of a lightweight like Mokgoro.
“So, Ramaphosa actually handicapped his lobbyists because they do not have any resources or power,” the insider said.
In the Eastern Cape, Zuma’s lobby group was confident that the “marriage of convenience” between Ramaphosa’s backers and those of [former ANC treasurer-general] Zweli Mkhize was on the rocks and that “the provincial executive was divided”.
A lobbyist said the Zuma group was “still solid and making inroads, and our comeback strategy includes winning some of the regional conferences”.
The lobbyist said the Zuma camp’s revival was one reason why ANC treasurer-general Paul Mashatile “found it difficult to deliver the message of support during the provincial manifesto rally” earlier this month.
“Our people can no longer identify with anyone associated with Ramaphosa,” the leader said.
ANC Eastern Cape chairperson Oscar Mabuyane said that there were “some anarchists who wished the provincial leadership was divided”. But provincial secretary Lulama Ngcukaitobi said that talk of divisions was “just imaginary”.
In Limpopo, ANC insiders spoke of an emerging campaign looking at “life after Ramaphosa” and putting both Deputy President David Mabuza and Mashatile as frontrunners to lead the party at its next national conference in 2022.
Before its provincial conference in June last year, ANC leaders in Limpopo managed to get both the Zuma and Ramaphosa camps to work together, but the VBS scandal fallout put paid to that.
There is a strong sentiment in Limpopo that embattled treasurer Danny Msiza and deputy chairperson Florence Radzilani, who were implicated in the VBS scandal, are being treated unfairly.
At last weekend’s NEC meeting, Radzilani’s inclusion on the ANC’s list was disputed. But her supporters argued that if KwaZulu-Natal ANC deputy chairperson Mike Mabuyakhulu was included despite criminal charges laid against him, Radzilani should also be allowed.
Peter Mokaba regional chairperson and Msiza ally John Mpe told City Press about “inconsistency” within the party, with formal action being delayed against accused members. “In the absence of due process, those comrades must continue with their daily work – that of assisting the organisation to prepare for the elections. If the ANC wants to charge these comrades, let them be charged,” he said.
In the Free State, Ramaphosa’s allies lost a court bid last week to remove the pro-Zuma PEC. They are complaining that the NEC has failed them because they are still under siege.
The ANC in Mpumalanga was also due to appear in court at the end of March, following a dispute over bogus branches. This would have had far-reaching implications for Ramaphosa’s election because the same branches participated in the Nasrec conference.
Ronnie Malomane, spokesperson for the applicants, accused the party of delaying the case, knowing it was “unwinnable” after Magashule’s instruction that the irregular branches should be corrected.
Last weekend, Ramaphosa met ANC Youth League leaders, including NEC member Thembi Siweya, during the party’s provincial manifesto launch in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, where he is said to have told the league that it was not protecting the party or its leaders.
Ramaphosa also told the meeting he wanted a young youth league able to defend the party and its leadership. He apparently endorsed former Congress of SA Students president Collen Malatji for the presidential position.
This followed Congress of the People (Cope) president Mosiuoa Lekota’s allegation in Parliament two weeks ago that Ramaphosa was an apartheid sellout – after which the youth league did not issue a statement of condemnation.
Malatji told City Press last week: “There are things the president cannot say. We need the youth league to become the vanguard to protect the achievements of the ANC.”
PLAYING MR CLEAN
Unlike Zuma, said the security cluster insider, Ramaphosa did not use his access to the State Security Agency to benefit himself because “he likes playing nice and he gets excited when people call him a democrat”.
“But intelligence must favour you as a president and it is a plus to have these guys on the ground,” he said.
The insider said that had Ramaphosa done so, he would not have been forced to hug and take pictures with Zuma during last month’s election manifesto launch rally in Durban to avoid offending Zuma’s supporters.
“In your position as president, the spooks should work to protect you and your office. You cannot have a president who does not understand what his benefits are.”