South Africa

South Africa

Potchefstroom: ANC North-West’s OK Corral and the new DA sheriff

Potchefstroom: ANC North-West’s OK Corral and the new DA sheriff

In that city they used to call Potchefstroom, history's been made with the first opposition mayor elected in the ANC stronghold of the North West. The events of the last week may be a bruising lesson for the ruling party, but in a province where ANC's own have been at each other’s throats since the dawn of democracy, not much will surprise. BY MANDY DE WAAL.

ANC heads look set to roll in the North West after the ruling party scored an embarrassing own goal in the Tlokwe (Potchefstroom) City Council, during high drama which saw one of their own ousted, making way for the province’s first DA mayor.

Long-standing conflict between two factions in the Tlokwe Council came to a head on Thursday 22 November 2012, when a motion of no confidence was successfully passed against the city’s (now former) mayor, Maphetle Maphetle. 

“What happened is that a motion of no confidence in the mayor and the speaker was proposed by one faction of the ANC in the council. The group to which the mayor and the speaker belong is the smaller group of the two, so when the DA supported this motion the mayor was voted out by a count of 37 to 12,” DA councillor Annette Combrinck tells Daily Maverick during a telephonic interview. 

On Monday 03 December 2012, Combrinck will be voted in as the first opposition mayor in the North West after defeating the proposed ANC candidate, Lucky Tsagae, by a razor-thin margin of 20 votes to 19.

“Following the successful no confidence motion, the former mayor left the council in ‘high dudgeon’ with 12 of his supporters. This left 20 opposition members behind (the DA, FF+ and COPE), and 20 ANC members.” Nominations for a new mayor were immediately put forward, with Combrinck and Tsagae proposed.

“I was nominated and there was a nomination from the faction that brought the no-confidence motion. I got 20 votes, and at the critical stage the speaker decided to abstain from voting. The rest, as they say, is history,” Combrinck says.

Legally, the Tlokwe City Council has ten working days to react to the motion of no confidence, failing which Combrinck (who will be sworn in within days) will stay on as mayor for the next three months.

The North West is a province plagued by ANC in-fighting, which political analyst Andre Duvenhage says is currently coalesced between two groups. “There are two rival groups in the North West Province,” says Duvenhage, who explains that these factions are aligned behind two provincial ANC heavyweights.

“The first faction is the group aligned behind Kabelo Mataboge, the current provincial secretary of the ANC, while the other group supports Supra Mahumapelo, the ANC’s provincial chairperson.” Duvenhage adds that the Mataboge alliance is supports Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, while those with allegiances to Supra Mahumapelo are aligned with Jacob Zuma’s bid for a second term in office. 

“I have heard that there are attempts are being made by the ANC to see if they can amend the rules to try and get rid of Professor Combrinck. It is also expected that the ANC will act against the remaining members of the ANC,” say the analyst, who is a professor at the University of the North West. Duvenhage suggests that the remaining councillors who helped stage the ‘palace coup’ can expect consequences. 

“Those members on the ANC proportional list could be removed pretty easily, but 11 of the ANC councillors are from the wards, which means by-elections would have to be held to get them out.” By-elections are unlikely, given that they’re expensive and the Mangaung’s proximity makes this process difficult.

ANC provincial spokesperson Kenny Morolong tells Daily Maverick that the ruling party was shocked, disappointed and taken aback by what happened in Tlokwe. “The ANC is disappointed that the actions of our own councillors have brought such shame and embarrassment to our movement. We will do everything in our power to make sure that comrade Maphetle Maphetle is reinstated to his position as mayor,” Morolong says during a phone interview.

“We had a meeting with all our councillors on Thursday (22 November – the day of the ousting – Ed) and there was renewed commitment by these councillors, and a determination for the reinstatement of comrade Maphetle as mayor. We have also assembled a team of legal minds to look into the resolution to remove the mayor, and advise on the next course of action,” Morolong says, adding that the ANC will conduct an investigation to find out “what really happened” at Tlokwe.

“It is alleged that it (the motion of no confidence) was brought by ANC councillors, but in fact we are saying that it is unknown to the ANC what really happened there. These actions are definitely inconsistent with our organisational culture, policy and convention. Disciplinary action will be brought against those who brought the organisation into disrepute,” the ANC spokesperson said.

Morolong denies that the ousting of Maphetle has anything to do with faction fights within the province or the ruling party. “This has got nothing to do with divisions in the ANC. It has got to do with a behavioural pattern which is foreign to the ANC. It is about members of the ANC not conducting themselves in accordance with their policy dictate.”

But why was the ANC mayor ousted? There are minor rumblings of corruption and the mismanagement of a provincial payment circa the 2010 World Cup, but Duvenhage says Maphetle actually performed fairly well. “From a general perspective, I will put Maphetle Maphetle above average in terms of performance. If you look at the condition of the Tlokwe city in general, it is a lot better than other towns or cities in the province, and we must give him credit for that. But we know he is not very popular in certain circles, and he is strongly aligned to the Supra Mahumapelo group.”

Duvenhage describes Mahumapelo – who is a gospel musician, an entrepreneur and the ANC provincial chairperson – as the ‘Ace Magashule’ of the North West. “Supra Mahumapelo is very influential, he is a popular leader, he has support at a grass roots level, and at this point he is strongly aligned with the Jacob Zuma faction in the ANC.”

Despite Mahumapelo’s influence, Duvenhage believes that at this stage of the game the Kabelo Mataboge/Kgalema Motlanthe alliance (also known as the rebel alliance) has the upper hand. “If you look at the ANC provincial secretary Kabelo Mataboge, he is closer to the ANC Youth League in the province and has a lot of support from them. We also know that a couple of weeks back in this province the youth league gave their support to Kgalema Motlanthe as their candidate for Mangaung.”

At Tlokwe, that meant the Mataboge/Motlanthe faction wanted their man in, and the Mahumapelo/Zuma man out. In the fighting and manoeuvring to oust Mayor Maphetle, the DA walked away with the prize.

ANC faction fighting is nothing new in the North West, and has been a prominent part of democracy in the province since 1994. But in the build-up to Mangaung, this in-fighting has escalated to full scale warring.

Mail & Guardian reports that when Kgalema Motlanthe attended a meeting in Tlokwe in July, a group of Mahumapelo supporters invaded the hall with the intention of embarrassing the Deputy President. A fight broke out with the Mataboge faction who wanted to protect Motlanthe. Police had to be called in to separate the warring factions and only did so with the aid of tear gas

“The profound divisions in the provincial ANC structures appear to have compounded service delivery problems and are thought by provincial officials to have played a part in the highly publicised killing of ANC councillor Moss Phakoe in 2009,” the Mail & Guardian reports. 

“Factionalism is a very difficult phenomenon to deal with and is responsible for high levels of instability; for service delivery protests; and for poor service delivery in general,” says Duvenhage. “The moment you have political instability it affects the structures of the state on both the management and on the governance levels, and the result is poor service delivery. Basically we can speak about the ‘weak state phenomenon’ but some analysts will even tell you that it is even a form of a collapsed state.

“In the North West this is moving beyond conflict and we are now entering raised levels of violence where if there’s a need to nominate or elect someone  at branch meetings chairs are thrown, people bring guns to meetings and recently an ANC member was killed,” the analyst says.

Has this factionalism created growth opportunities for the DA? 

“The normal argument is that this will provide opportunities for the opposition, but the DA will find it hard to capitalise on these processes and the reason has to do with the political sentiments attendant with the ANC. This because of the perception that the ANC is the only party that can represent South Africa’s black majority. Indications are that the DA is mobilising some support, but it is a slow, gradual process.”

Duvenhage says a tipping point will only come if Mangaung results in an ANC break-away. “The South African National Congress has already been registered as a structure with the IEC (Independent Electoral Commission), and this could be used to accommodate certain groups that don’t win at Mangaung. My assessment is that Jacob Zuma is going to win, but that there is the possibility of anti-Zuma lobbies mobilising themselves into another structure, which may prove to be very interesting dynamic in South African politics.”

Meanwhile, back at Tlokwe, the DA’s Combrinck isn’t missing a beat to show those in the ANC stronghold what the official opposition is capable of. The former Potchefstroom University rector is new to politics, but says she’s been a part of Tlokwe for 50 years. “Will there be a passive resistance? Funnily enough, at the level of functioning, there isn’t a hassle. I have instructed, I have requested, and things are being complied with, and most of the time quite cheerfully,” Combrinck says. 

“From the DA side we are now weighing in with as many useful, constructive and visible projects as we can. The municipality has been hamstrung by the fact that there are a lot of vacancies for senior people who haven’t been appointed because of the infighting. We are going to get this sorted out within the next three months because we feel that it really affects service delivery,” she says.

Immediate attention will also be given to corruption, wasteful expenditure, fruitless expenditure and supply chain management to ensure compliance to the letter of the law. Combrinck adds that the DA will also affect visible programmes to “show people that we’re serious about making a difference.”

And so the lone opposition mayor rides into town, as members of the ruling party fire repeatedly at each other, hardly looking up long enough to notice that that the ‘enemy’ has now taken over. For the DA, which has its sights set firmly on Gauteng, Tlokwe is a symbolic victory. 

Regardless of whether it lasts three weeks or three months, you can bet that the official opposition is going to utilise this high noon for everything it’s worth, and will have every right to do so. ANC’s North West is a microcosm of many a thing that’s wrong with the ruling party nation-wide. They’d better pay attention soon. DM

Read more:

  • Red faces for ANC as DA secures mayor’s seat in Tlokwe on BDLive 
  • A province in disarray at City Press  

Photo: ANC’s outgoing mayor Maphetle Maphetle and the DA’s mayor-elect Anette Combrinck


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