Political pundits in the North West weren’t surprised at the news that a possible assassination attempt had been made on the life of Kabelo Mataboge, the ANC’s secretary for the province. Despite the usual denials, factionalism has been a part of the province since the dawn of democracy, and the ruling party’s cadre deployment “strategy” has made it impossible for these schisms to heal. If anything, leadership politics and the war for resources is making conflict worse. By MANDY DE WAAL, with additional reporting by THAPELO LEKGOWA.
It was 3am on Friday 30 November 2012 when Kabelo Mataboge, the ANC provincial secretary for the North West, arrived home in Mafikeng and got out of a car to open the gates. Fourteen shots rang out in the dark, but none of these would strike Mataboge. Only four lodged in his car. In a province where political in-fighting and factionalism is boiling over, Mataboge was lucky to survive what is being described by the media as a failed assassination attempt.
But Mataboge is more pragmatic. In an interview with Daily Maverick from the North West, the man described as a “radical young Turk” and a “firebrand” by political opponents wasn’t about to make assumptions in public. When asked why he’d been shot at, Mataboge said: “At this point one cannot speculate but rather wait on the law to be accurate.”
However, Mataboge said he wouldn’t ignore the possibility that the shooting was politically motivated. “I cannot rule that out. As we have seen in the case of Moses (Moss) Phakoe, the court was able to prove that his murder was politically motivated.” But Mataboge wasn’t pointing any fingers. “There have been tensions and disagreements in the province. One is not able to point out any individuals, but yes, there are possibilities.”
The provincial secretary was horrified about local gossip that suggested the event might have been a publicity stunt pulled to enhance his popularity. “Why would one engage in such a horrible act to gain cheap popularity? Those who say such statements and those in the ANC leadership might be behind ordering the hit. This was a scare and it affected not me alone but my family. Where the shooting took place there was my wife, my eldest daughter, helper and a two-year-old baby girl. Why would I put them through that for popularity?”
The SAPS has opened a case of attempted murder, and is appealing to members of the public to come forward with information. “According to my information, Kabelo Mataboge didn’t know which direction the shots came from, and he didn’t see anything. Right now the suspects are unknown and the investigation is ongoing,” said Lieutenant Colonel Sabata Mokgwabone, a SAPS spokesperson for the North West Province. Asked if the police would take any further steps to safeguard Mataboge’s life, Sabata said no. “Nothing, as far as I know, unless we confirm that with the ANC, but from our side there have been no instructions.”
When Daily Maverick asked the ANC whether it would be protecting its political asset in the North West, ANC provincial spokesman Kenny Morolong said: “The ANC is worried about every member who gets shot every day, um, I mean who gets shot. We are particularly perturbed by this incident, which was a threat on our own provincial secretary’s life; we were perturbed by it. We conveyed a message of sympathy to the Mataboge(s) and wished them well in this sad occasion,” he said.
“We have also said that we will do everything in our power, together with the police, to make sure the investigation and subsequent arrest is expedited. At the moment the police will advise us about security. But we are very shocked about this incident,” Morolong added, pointing Daily Maverick to a very carefully worded media statement that said much the same, but without the apparent Freudian slip.
What was the cause of the murder attempt? Did it have anything to do with the bitter and violent in-fighting in the province? Morolong baulked at the question. “I don’t know what you are talking about. There is no fighting in the North West. I am not aware of any faction fighting. I am not aware of it,” the provincial spokesman said a number of times.
“We in the ANC are indebted not to become friends, but to lead this society. We don’t have to be friends and we don’t have to visit each other in order to lead society,” Morolong underscored his point. The real challenge, he declared, was one of political etiquette.
“At an organisational level there are challenges with regard to how the organisation is run and so on, but I don’t think we can say that there are two people fighting unless the organisation is torn apart on the basis of their fight. That is not correct. What is correct is that we are dealing with internal challenges that relate to behavioural patterns which are inconsistent with behavioural culture and convention and policy,” Morolong explained.
But those not toeing the party spin line would agree to disagree. “We have been seeing this coming for a long time now. Comrade Supra (Mahumapelo) and Kabelo serve in the same structures, but run different agendas,” Tshepo Chente, ANCYL secretary for Ward 18 in Potchefstroom, told Daily Maverick.
“It is factional politics. Let’s be honest, there is a serious problem in the ANC. No one has the interest of the organisation (at heart); it is all based on individual interests,” he said. According to political experts political factionalism was part and parcel of the North West even before South Africa became a democracy.
Theo Venter, a political analyst at the North West University, says that the political factionalism was now completely out of control, but wouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone who knew the political history of the province.
“If you look back in 1993 going into 1994 there were three factions,” Venter said, and explained that these factions were originally geographically based. “The first faction, that had a very strong Vryburg base, was led by Darkey Africa and all his cronies.” Africa is a former member of the North West government and provincial legislature. “The second faction included Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, and Brits; and was the Moretele faction. The third grouping was Klerksdorp, Maquassi Hills, Potchefstroom, and Ventersdorp,” said Venter.
At the time the latter group was the strongest because it included representation from the National Union of Mineworkers, which was still the most powerful union at the time. Back then the South African Communist Party had stronger membership, which shored up this faction.
“The Vryburg group was mad because they wanted to be a part of the Northern Cape, but were cut into the North West. The Moretele group was mad about being in the North West because they wanted to be in Gauteng, and the Potchefstroom, Klerksdorp, Ventersorp group were jealous of the other two because they took responsibility for staging the coup that toppled Lucas Mangope (the former head of Bophuthatswana).
The three groups found it difficult, if not impossible, to find agreement with each other. “At one point I was involved in a ‘facilitation’ between the three groups, because they couldn’t agree who must be the premier in the province. At one point they had Mandela here to talk to the three groups,” says Venter. Eventually it was agreed that an ‘outsider’ who was broadly associated with that province be brought in.
The answer was Popo Molefe, one of the founders of the Azanian People’s Movement and the United Democratic Front. The ANC hoped that by bringing in a black consciousness stalwart, the schism in the North West would be healed. Molefe was premier of the province from 1994 to 2004.
Molefe, who is currently executive chairman of Lereko Investment Holdings and was awarded the Harvard University certificate for conflict resolution, had an almost Biblical approach to the strife, and that was to make the squabbling factions share the spoils.
“Sharing the spoils has been the culture of the North West ever since Popo Molefe was premier, when the ANC tried to resolve the conflict by ‘sharing the spoils’ or accommodating each of the warring factions. But all that does is to entrench that leadership problem,” said Venter.
The provincial leader of the DA, Chris Hattingh, agreed that this ANC strategy was causing frustration and increasing factionalism in the North West. “Invariably the two senior positions in council and in the legislature will normally be filled by the opposing factions,” Hattingh told Daily Maverick. “The speaker and the chief whip will be from opposing factions, or the mayor and the speaker. The ANC tries to balance things out but it merely perpetuates and underscores the divisions and factionalism,” Hattingh said.
The North West has long been dubbed the ANC’s “problem province”; even ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said the province was “notorious for continued fights among very hostile and antagonistic factions.”
At Polokwane in 2007, the North West was one of the four provinces that backed Thabo Mbeki, and at the province’s elective congress in 2008 there were protests and open fights when Mbeki loyalists dominated elections to the provincial executive committee. The ANC disbanded the committee and dispatched party heavyweights to sort out the problem. New leadership was elected which saw the province coalesce between two leaders, Supra Mahumapelo and Mataboge.
Supra Mahumapelo (originally an Mbeki loyalist who later became a Zuma loyalist) was originally elected provincial secretary of the ANC, but when the provincial executive committee was re-elected in February 2011, he was made ANC provincial chair. Motlanthe loyalist Kabelo Mataboge took the power position as ANC provincial secretary for the North West.
Here it is important to understand the party model the ANC, SACP and Cosatu follow – it is not the leader of the party who is the kingpin, but the secretary or the secretary general. That position manages the party on a day-to-day basis, and is the de facto seat of power. “Nobody cares who the president of the SACP is, because Blade Nzimande runs the show. Nobody cares who the leader of Cosatu is because it is the secretary general who is of major importance,” says Venter.
The reshuffling of the pack and ousting of Supra from the position of power only increased polarisation in the province. “Mataboge was made secretary against Supra’s will because they don’t see eye-to-eye. In June or July this year, in a meeting that Supra wasn’t aware of, Mataboge fired him and four other members of the ANC,” Venter added.
“If you add all of these things up there must be a lot of frustration that boils down to people taking the law into their own hands. By getting the power you get access to resources, to whatever the political arena can provide,” Venter said.
“It is all about power and the control of financial resources,” the DA’s Hattingh said, reiterating Venter’s view. “A vicious form of cadre deployment is evident in government where factions are competing against each other for positions – it is a matter of ‘you got this so we want that’. It is about power, the control of financial resources, tenders, who gets what and who gets deployed. The business of governance and service delivery never comes into the equation. It is all about power.”
Hattingh told Daily Maverick he’d known Mataboge for a long time. “He is much more radical than Supra, but he also has the support of the premier, Thandi Modise, who is much more inclined to support the Youth League and has been seen with Malema on many occasions.”
As the North West’s leadership dramas were playing out, the Julius Malema conundrum was coming to a head. “About 18 months to two years ago, with all these provincial conferences taking place, the ANC Youth League group that supports Julius Malema commenced its strategy to get hold of all the provincial ANC secretaries wherever they could. They got this right in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and the North West,” Venter said of the Malema faction’s move to buoy his power.
“If you get hold of the majority of the provincial secretaries, you get to the point where branches get audited and letters of endorsement get drafted and the true facts of the party are put on the table. That is the key role of a provincial secretary. The Malema grouping rightly saw this as the seat of power and thought that if you had that role in the party, you are actually in charge, and this was their power play.”
And so it is that in provinces like the North West, Mahumapelo (the provincial ANC leader) backs Zuma and Mataboge (the ANC provincial secretary) backs Motlanthe in what could be the most contested ANC leadership battle to date. Insiders say that right now Mataboge holds the most power in the playoff between the two and has the backing of the premier and Motlanthe.
Mataboge is described as a leftist socialist, while Mahumapelo is more of a capitalist and an unashamed entrepreneur with interests in the travel, food and cultural industries. The public servant-cum-gospel singer has been accused using the ANC to get cash for his travel business and to record a CD.
Mataboge is said to be the North West lobbyist for the “forces of change”, a movement by ANC members to support the candidacies of Motlanthe, Phosa, Modise, Mbalula and Sexwale. “The change we advocate for in this platform should stop the DA’s encroaching of the ANC base and it is (a) known fact that with President Zuma, who has lost confidence of the people on the ground, the ANC will receive a reduced number of votes, election after election,” a recent statement issued by the movement read.
“Kabelo’s ‘save our ANC’ campaign is relevant. The ANC needs a rescue but it all depends on the methods used to rescue the organisation. Look at what happened here in Tlokwe,” said the ANCYL’s Chente, referring to the Potchefstroom municipality where factionalism saw history made with the first DA mayor elected in the ANC stronghold of the North West. The embarrassing own goal came after the Mataboge-aligned faction successfully passed a motion of no confidence in the city’s (now ousted) mayor.
“I promise you this will spread across the province if we are not careful. Tlokwe is just a stepping stone,” Chente added. “Supra and them were anti Zuma when we wanted Zuma as president; now they are for Zuma. The support is not based on honesty, these comrades are now desperate and afraid of being left out, (and) they will support anything that will retain their power. Change and transformation comes in many ways and there is a need for change in the ANC. Individuals should move aside and give priority to the organisation,” he said.
The North West was due to announce its nominations for Mangaung as Daily Maverick was going to publish on the night of Sunday 02 December 2012. The nomination process mirrored the various complexities within the province.
Two days after the party nominations were due, there was not one, but two provincial general councils. One was run by Supra Mahumapelo, and was shifted at the last minute from Hartbeespoort to Rustenburg. Another parallel conference was held at Mafikeng. Meanwhile, Gwede Mantashe was saying there weren’t to be two venues, only one, but the problem province did exactly as it pleased. It split the meetings into two.
The North West has been split down the middle for years, and this is being entrenched in the way cadres are deployed. There’s no reason for that to change now.
Meanwhile, the investigation into Mataboge’s attempted murder – and the risk of an explosive climax to the province’s problems – continues. DM
UPDATE: South Africa woke up on Monday 03 November 2012 to discover that Jacob Zuma triumphed in the North West, after the party had nominated him as party leader for a second term. 162 votes went to Zuma in the North West, while Kgalema Motlanthe only got 14.
Zuma’s overwhelming majority came despite a fierce campaign by ANC provincial secretary, Kgabelo Mataboge, to push for the deputy president Motlanthe’s nomination. Cynics could say that the attempt on Mataboge’s life might have been enough to intimidate the Zuma opposition, or to get Motlanthe acolytes to toe the line.
With media reports headlining Zuma’s massive lead, the president looks set for a second term. But political pundits are quick to remind locals that the show isn’t over quite yet.
Photo: A woman sits beneath a recruitment poster for the National Union of mineworkers close to the the entrance of the Royal Bafokeng Platinum Rasimone mine near Phokeng in the North West province October 13, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
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