Mpumalanga ANC factions have taken a stance to isolate Deputy President David Mabuza’s allies and keep them at arm’s length as the campaign for the elective conference gains momentum.
City Press understands that five factions led by Mpumalanga Premier Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane, acting provincial ANC chairperson Mandla Ndlovu, former deputy chairperson David Dube, Deputy Tourism Minister Fish Mahlalela and Mpumalanga government acting director-general Peter Nyoni are prepared to negotiate and reach consensus among one another on the top five leadership before the conference takes place next month.
However, they are all averse to getting into any negotiations with the Mabuza-aligned Ngci faction, led by former provincial secretary Lucky Ndinisa.
Although Ndinisa, who replaced Mtsweni-Tsipane as the face of the Ngci faction, is generally a likable comrade among all the factions, for being disposed towards the unity of the organisation, the fatigue towards Mabuza’s legacy in the province is working against him because his group is seen as an extension of the deputy president.
Mtsweni-Tsipane fired the first salvo at Mabuza when she reshuffled her cabinet last month and dismissed all MECs affiliated with the Ngci faction – Pat Ngomane (finance), Gillion Mashego (public works), Gabisile Tshabalala (safety and security) and Norah Mahlangu (human settlements).
She dismissed them when she realised that power and control of the province was slipping out of her hands because the MECs and department heads were loyal to Mabuza and were allegedly taking instructions from him and defying her.
The Ngci faction removed Mtsweni-Tsipane as its candidate for ANC chairperson after she refused to mend her broken relationship with Mabuza. The two are allegedly no longer on speaking terms.
Mabuza led Mpumalanga from 2008 to 2017 as ANC chairperson and premier, and throughout his reign he was not contested in three provincial elective conferences.
Since he left the province for national office in 2017, Mpumalanga has failed to convene an elective conference. But now the conference is scheduled to take place on May 22. Not since 2008 has a conference in the province been contested by so many candidates.
Nyoni told City Press that his group had thrown its full weight behind Mtsweni-Tsipane’s RMT21 campaign. He has been the only voice critical of Mabuza’s leadership style in Mpumalanga, and at some point formed the Save Mpumalanga ANC group to topple Mabuza from the chairpersonship and premiership.
“Mtsweni-Tsipane is the only woman who challenged the system when everybody could not. We have collapsed my campaign to support her as she is not going to be taking us back to the R40,” he said in reference to the R40 road from Mbombela to Barberton, where Mabuza’s farmhouse is situated.
“Many who claim to have political credentials have been quiet over the past 10 to 15 years. We are working with the premier on the basis that she has acted and we can work with anyone with the same vision,” Nyoni said.
Ngci lobby group spokesperson Sipho Siwela said the group was prepared to negotiate with the other factions despite their reservations.
“All these lobby groups have different comrades and you can ask yourself how they became leaders after 2008. In fact, all these lobby groups are the deputy president’s legacy and if some people say they want to remove his legacy in the province, what are they actually saying?” Siwela asked.
“We will, however, persuade everyone because we don’t believe we are loyalists of anybody, but loyalists of the ANC,” he said.
Ndlovu, according to ANC insiders, had no problem working with Ndinisa because they shared the same ideal of uniting the ANC, but was put off by the Mabuza loyalists in the Ngci faction.
“The problem is the people behind Ndinisa. The two of them can work well, but the Mabuza people are a problem,” said a member of Ndlovu’s Focus faction.
The RMT21 group has agreed in principle to work with Focus, but is aiming to canvass its own support in branches to increase bargaining power.
Mtsweni-Tsipane is, according to a lobbyist from her faction, prepared to settle for a deputy chairperson position and use her branches to support another candidate. Ndlovu is in pole position to get support from the RMT21 faction.
“We have done exceptionally well in branches,” said the RMT21 lobbyist, “and we are going to decide which way this conference will go. Our votes will help whoever we support to win the conference.”
The lobbyist said Ndlovu was being lobbied to contest as secretary, which is his current position, so that Mtsweni-Tsipane could remain premier.
“He is undecided yet. We are talking to everyone except the Ngci faction,” they said.
Dube’s campaign organiser, Cathy Dlamini, said they were prepared to talk to anyone, but with conditions.
"We will talk with anyone who is prepared to take the ANC out of people’s pockets. We will not talk to people who will say you can’t touch our top five, and the issue of bringing corrupt individuals is non-negotiable to us,” Dlamini said.
Senzeni Ngubeni, spokesperson for Mahlalela’s Mayibuye iANC lobby group, said the Ngci faction had already taken a posture that it had won the conference.
“We’ve never had any interaction with them. Their posture is that they have someone in their corner from whom they are taking instructions. If they’re still holding to that mentality, we will see if it is still applicable now,” Ngubeni said.