South Africa

South Africa

ANC Leadership Race: Mpumalanga’s Mabuza reportedly set to endorse Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma

ANC Leadership Race: Mpumalanga’s Mabuza reportedly set to endorse Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma

Mpumalanga Premier and ANC provincial chairperson David “DD” Mabuza has been playing his cards close to his chest about which presidential candidate he’s backing ahead of the ANC’s elective conference in December. With branch nominations nearing completion, word is that the ANC’s kingmaker province could, as soon as this week, give its blessing to ANC MP Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

Millions of rand are said to have disappeared from a farm near Barberton in Mpumalanga in 2010 – R14-million in cash to be exact, although officially the amount was said to have been R1,200. The farm belongs to Mpumalanga premier and strongman, David “DD” Mabuza, and it is from here where, they say, provincial matters have been run ever since.

Mabuza’s tight grip on the levers of power – former president Thabo Mbeki on Friday said it was a mistake linking government positions to ANC positions – has so far meant that his province has been able to drive a convincing “unity” campaign in the ANC. Under him, party membership in the province ballooned – some say in ways that are not always entirely above board. Whereas Mpumalanga had the fifth biggest delegation to the ANC’s 2012 elective conference in Mangaung, it’s now second only to KwaZulu-Natal.

Through the power of patronage and incumbency, loyalty to Mabuza by branch and regional leaders – mostly councillors or public servants – is strong.

Despite the province’s position as a kingmaker – the largest province, KwaZulu-Natal, is mostly behind ANC MP and former African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and the third largest province, the Eastern Cape, mostly backs Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa – Mabuza has not yet pledged support for any prospective ANC presidential candidate.

In fact, in recent months neither of these two leading candidates has been invited to campaign there, although former KwaZulu-Natal leader Senzo Mchunu previously and SACP first deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila on Sunday did address public meetings in the province. They are both pro-Ramaphosa.

In September Mabuza gathered a number of provincial leaders who back different candidates at the Mbombela stadium to talk unity. It was even understood by some that he broke with the “Premier League”, which supports Dlamini Zuma, to throw his weight behind third-way presidential candidate, ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize, who’s been an ally in the past.

Many Mpumalanga branches have, supposedly on his order, simply been writing the word “unity” on their nomination forms where they should have written names of candidates for the party’s top positions.

Some say Mabuza has been quiet in public because he could not afford to sour his relations with either of the two candidates, but playing his cards close to his chest could also pay off for him, as it leaves him in a strong bargaining position. On the slates, he’s on the powerful number two spot with Dlamini Zuma and, in Mpumalanga at least, chairperson or treasurer-general with Ramaphosa.

Detractors in the province said he was after the most powerful position he could get so that he could still exercise control over the province – and its coffers – through a proxy. Others say President Jacob Zuma’s recent appointment of Bongani Bongo, who was close to Mabuza before relations cooled a bit, was a way of keeping a cautionary eye on the province and on Mabuza’s dealings there.

Mabuza’s reaction has not yet been recorded as he is yet to agree to an interview.

Following a recommendation – some would say directive – from an organisation close to him last week that ANC branches should nominate Dlamini Zuma, there is now word that the provincial leadership will in the next week or two declare that the province is behind her. The ANC Youth League in the province could voice such a position as early as this week. (Secretary Pholoso Mbatsane asked for more time when queried by this reporter about the league’s impending endorsement, and never called back.)

Mpumalanga’s ANC branches have until the end of October (Tuesday) to meet to nominate candidates for the party’s national leadership and to choose delegates for the conference. This will be followed by a provincial general council, for which a date is yet to be set, but where such a declaration is likely to be made. Dlamini Zuma’s campaign has pencilled in a visit to the province in two weeks’ time.

There is also talk that she would be invited in the second week of December – that’s a few days before the ANC’s very important conference in Nasrec – alongside Mabuza to explain to a rally what radical economic transformation is. An organisation born from her campaign buzzword, Practical Radical Economic Transformation, or PRET, is planning to host it.

It’s PRET’s Sunday Mathebula, himself a former councillor and demoted chief whip in Emalahleni, who sent out the Dlamini Zuma nomination directive to his members, who are also members of the ANC in the province.

Everyone has an interest in who becomes president of the country. We are advancing practical radical economic transformation, and we are listening to the manifestos of each of the candidates. The only one who speaks to radical economic transformation is Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma,” he said. “She moves in the line with where we want to see South Africa go.”

If this was where it ended, the self-styled non-governmental organisation wouldn’t have attracted any attention, but the chairperson, Emalahleni businessman Themba Sgudla, is close to Mabuza and even okayed the founding of this organisation with him. Mabuza also addressed the organisation’s launch in March.

While detractors say PRET, also dubbed “Mabuza’s EFF”, was only founded to smother the increasing service delivery protests in the municipality, Mathebula said it was meant to help address people’s problems in a practical manner, and a “continuation of my work in the ANC”.

He said: “Radical economic transformation on paper alone won’t work. You need to go from house to house to collect data, to see who is skilled or unskilled, and then go to companies and determine where their needs are for employees.”

However, Ramaphosa supporters in the province said there was a quiet revolt by members in some branches against Mabuza’s vice grip. Other than the nominations for “unity” in the province, there were also a number of branches that nominated Ramaphosa.

These members say they are unemployed or in private business, and therefore don’t need government patronage from “the farm”.

It’s not yet clear what this apparent about-turn could mean for Mkhize’s campaign, as he relied heavily on the prospect of getting Mpumalanga’s support. Although the chances appear increasingly slim, he would like to have us believe he yet has some kind of ace up his sleeve. DM

Photo: Mandela Day Gala Dinner held at Casa do sol Hotel and Resort in Hazyview, Mpumalanga Province. Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (not shown) with the Premier of Mpumalanga Mr David Mabuza, 4 August 2017. Picture byline: Jacoline Schoonees

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