Those who have been to Free State premier elect Sisi Ntombela’s house in Tweeling, near Frankfort, tell stories of how her children speak of the family as “the Motsepe’s of Frankfort” – a reference to billionaire mining magnate Patrice Motsepe.
She and her husband Louis Ntombela, are both former mayors of Tweeling’s local municipality. Mr Ntombela is now based in Cape Town as an ANC MP.
The Free State premier post became vacant when Ace Magashule resigned to take up full-time duties as ANC secretary-general at party headquarters Luthuli House in Johannesburg.
The appointment of Ntombela indicates that Magashule intends to maintain his long-standing grip on province’s political affairs.
According to one local, it had been an open secret for a long time, that Magashule wanted Ntombela to succeed him.
Just like Magashule, Ntombela had been a long-serving chairperson of ANC structures, from branch to region and provincial level, since the early 1990s.
Efforts to secure an interview with Ntombela this week were unsuccessful.
The 61-year-old told a local publication in 2015 that Sisi was actually her nickname, which she got when she was young and “very slender”.
Her first name is Sefora, but lately she is just called “MaNtombela”.
Among her strengths, Ntombela’s admirers mention her love and passion for women.
She is a former teacher who has been active in ANC structures for most of her life.
One of the lows of her career is defending the Vrede dairy farm scandal when it surfaced.
The Gupta family allegedly siphoned off most of the government money meant for the project, which was intended to benefit local residents.
Ntombela’s name was among three of the Free State ANC’s interim leadership submitted to Luthuli House for appointment as premier.
Provincial transport MEC Sam Mashinini and social development MEC Limakatso Mahasa were the other two.
But the legitimacy of the ANC’s interim leadership remains in question and disgruntled members in the province have written several letters to Luthuli House to try and get their appointments reversed.
Another “urgent” letter this week addressed to the ANC national working committee reads: “Comrades all over the province wrote letters to the NEC expressing their disappointment and disapproval of the [interim team]. To date all that we have received is acknowledgment of receipt, nothing conclusive which suggest that the NEC is willing to listen to us.”
The same group previously took Magashule to court and got a judgment declaring his re-election invalid.
This resulted in several ANC branches in the Free State and senior provincial leaders being unable to take part at the ANC’s national elective conference at Nasrec in December.
ANC Women’s League secretary-general Meokgo Matuba said Ntombela “loves her province and the people of Free State love her too”.
“She will tell you that Free State is doing well on education and she wishes that it could push more on skills development,” Matuba said.
“It is her priority and belief that an educated child becomes an independent somebody.
“She is not afraid of going into the informal settlements and you will find her among the poor people. She goes to funerals and even helps with the chores.”
Free State EFF chairperson Kgotso Morapela said Ntombela was elevated “to advance [Magashule’s] narrow political interests of running the government of Free State from Luthuli House”.