THE ANC is faced with yet another complicated exit of one of its leaders since Jacob Zuma left office in February.
The impending departure of North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo is becoming a headache for the party. Mahumapelo is North West’s strongman — a street fighter whose exit as premier needs to be handled very carefully to avoid adverse implications for the party’s performance in the 2019 elections.
As far as winning the elections is concerned, North West Province has been a “home run” for the ANC. In the 2004 elections, it secured a resounding 80,71% of the electoral vote in the province. That was followed by another convincing victory in the 2009 elections, with the party securing 72,89% support in the province. Its winning streak was carried into the 2014 elections where it secured 67,39% of the vote.
The picture that comes out of the last three provincial elections in the North West shows that the ANC has been shedding an average of 4,3% of its electoral support in each election. This is not too bad, given that the party had set an abnormally high base in terms of electoral performance in that province.
The challenge that the ANC faces in the 2019 elections is that it could experience a severe decline in voter support, way higher than the average loss it experienced in each of the three previous elections.
This makes Mahumapelo’s exit and replacement vital to avoid a major shift in electoral support in the North West in 2019.
A few names have been put forward as possible replacements for Mahumapelo. The list has a few people who are political nobodies in North West as well as one of the usual suspects when it comes to provincial power brokers in North West. The difficulty for the ANC is whether to replace Mahumapelo with someone who is a political nobody, or someone who is a seasoned power contender in the province, such as China Dodovu.
If the party opts for someone who is not well-supported in North West’s political factions, such a person might just be a proxy for big power contenders within the ANC in the province, including Mahumapelo. Such a person will not necessarily be able to stabilise the factions that exist in the province.
Even worse, replacing Mahumapelo with someone who might be held to ransom by factional interests in the province also poses the danger of the ANC going into elections without a strong figure who can rally the broader membership of the party — across factions — to campaign fully for the party. In other words, a weak premier who does not have a strong power base in the ANC will be a weak link in rallying the party for the 2019 elections.
Alternatively, the ANC could opt for a strong replacement for Mahumapelo; a strong power contender with a strong base upon which to help the party drive its 2019 election campaign. Someone like Dodovu seems just right for the task.
The challenge with such a figure is that he might fuel factionalism and further divide the party in the province. This could result in a scenario where the losing faction might not campaign for the party, or might even sabotage the party to prove the point that the faction in charge has failed to deliver an electoral victory for the party. A perfect replacement for Mahumapelo would therefore have to be someone who has a strong power base in the province and yet is capable of uniting factions and stabilise the province in time for the 2019 elections. Such a figure may not exist in the North West Province.
The reality of the ANC’s electoral share declining rapidly in North West is imminent. Opposition parties such as the EFF are circling the province with the intention to further punish the ANC.
The North West has suddenly become another province where the ANC is facing the possibility of failing to secure a resounding victory in the 2019 elections.
• Ralph Mathekga is a fellow at the SARChI chair: African diplomacy and foreign policy at the University of Johannesburg, and author of When Zuma Goes .