On Tuesday the legislature in North West, barring any urgent court applications, is due to hold a confidence vote in the province’s premier and provincial ANC Chairman, Supra Mahumapelo.
Update: The vote of no confidence vote has been postponed after the EFF applied to the North West High court for an urgent interdict to compel the speaker of legislature to hold the vote by secret ballot.
The no confidence vote in North West follows not weeks, or months, but years of instability in the North West ANC, with divisions being incredibly tense. But the vote also marks something else.
Premier Supra Mahumapelo is one of the people who helped to create the Premier League, and fully supported former President Jacob Zuma, along with his friends, the Gupta family. Were he to go, it would be a landmark moment in the bid by President Cyril Ramaphosa to increase his control of the party.
It should be said at the outset that despite all of the pressure on Mahumapelo, it is, on balance, unlikely that he will be relegated from the premiership. The ANC simply doesn’t work that way, and it would be embarrassing in many ways for that to happen. At the same time, he still has the power of patronage in the province, and that can always be used to keep members of the provincial legislature in line. That said, there are still many reasons for him to worry, and to lose sleep this week, and, should he survive, into the future.
The first point to make is that the North-West ANC was riven by divisions and virtually dysfunctional for years before Mahumapelo was able to exert some central control over the factions there. In 2008, just after the ANC’s Polokwane conference, police had to fire rubber bullets to stop people trying to force their way into the provincial conference at Sun City, in what was a foretaste of what was to happen at ANC conferences ahead of Nasrec in December 2017.
The province was for years unable to have any meeting at all, with reports of people using sjamboks to break up gatherings, so that they would not win crucial votes. All of this, let us remind you, was within the same provincial party. In the end, by 2012, the province appeared to be calming down, if you exclude an incident in which the provincial secretary Kabelo Mataboge was shot at just days before the Mangaung conference.
Perhaps the biggest indication of how divided the province has been over the years was what happened in Tlokwe (also known as Potchefstroom) in 2013. There, ANC councillors refused to vote to protect mayor Maphetle Maphetle in a confidence motion brought by the DA. In the end, he lost the motion – not once, but twice. This meant that the DA was able to install its own mayor, Annette Combrink. To solve this problem, the ANC went to extremes it has never had to go to before. Just before the council voted again to elect a new mayor, President Jacob Zuma himself went to the city, and with his then-friend Gwede Mantashe, and met the councillors one by one. Finally, they were able to reelect Maphetle Maphetle as mayor.
All of this means that the tensions in the province have deep roots, and Mahumapelo’s control over it was never as tight as he would have liked.
But he also faces another problem: the SACP in the province has been a strong critic of his for several years. This weekend the SACP there actually called on the ANC’s national executive committee to remove Mahumapelo before the vote in the legislature, an indication that they really do want him out. The reason for this call is exactly what you would expect it to be from the SACP – the fury and frustration over his alleged corruption.
And the claims against Mahumapelo are strong. He has publicly defended the Guptas, and must surely have played a role in engineering a situation in which the province funded the Gupta-owned Mediosa clinics, which have not actually provided any services for the people in the province. National Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaeledi described the scheme as an ATM service for the Guptas, while Mahumapelo, who appears not to fully comprehend how the wind has changed, in return claimed Motsoaledi was “populist”.
Then, of course, there are the opposition parties. While someone like Mahumapelo will have come face to face with the DA for many years, the introduction of the EFF into provincial legislatures has changed the game somewhat. Taking heart from incidents which have occurred in the National Assembly, the party was off to court on Monday afternoon in a bid to force a secret ballot for Tuesday’s vote. Considering how high the tensions are in the province, Mahumapelo would probably be weakened if this vote were no longer in the open.
In the past, the ANC has usually, despite internal tensions, tried to avoid letting opposition parties win any big vote battles like this one. The most famous example was, of course, its continued support for Zuma in Parliament, despite widespread anger against him in the parliamentary caucus. To avoid the embarrassment here, the party has sent Deputy Co-operative Governance Minister Obed Bapela to dissuade members of the provincial legislature from going off the script. Bapela certainly has seniority in the ANC. But what may be missing now is any clear support from President Cyril Ramaphosa. The fact that he would feel little to no inclination at all to help Mahumapelo could well embolden his premier’s critics in the North West ANC.
Mahumapelo could possibly draw some succour from two other aspects:
The first is the presence of Ace Magashule as the ANC secretary-general. He would surely do what he can to support Mahumapelo, as a fellow member of what’s left of the Premier League, and a fellow backer of the Guptas. This could mean personal calls from Magashule to those who may be wavering ahead of the vote.
The second aspect which stands in his favour is the prospect of what would happen were Mahumapelo be voted out. As so often in politics, the question is not whether someone should be removed from office, it’s how would their successor be chosen. In the case of North West, where tensions have been running so high for so long, it is unlikely that there is any available strong candidate who is at the same time seen as neutral. Which would mean that if Mahumapelo were removed, it would surely plunge the province into more factional chaos. That is something that many might like to avoid.
That said, it would surely still suit Ramaphosa quite nicely to have Mahumapelo removed from office anyway. But it might be politically easier for him to wait a little longer, until the NPA is freed from the control of Shaun Abrahams. That would allow the new NPA head to start an investigation into many allegations of Mahumapelo’s illegal conduct. Ramaphosa could simply wait for the moment when criminal charges are instituted, and present the NEC with a situation in which it would have no choice but to remove Mahumapelo.
It should not be forgotten that all of this feeds into a much bigger dynamic, which could well spell much more trouble for many a Mahumapelo-like figure. Ramaphosa’s strategy to deal with some of his perceived political opponents has been to simply sit back and let civil society, journalists and the law enforcement authorities put them under pressure. While Mahumapelo could survive this time, that may not be the case the following week. Or the one after. DM
Photo: North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo at the ANC’s Elective Conference in December 2017. Photo: Leila Dougan