South Africa

ANALYSIS

Getting rid of Supra – not easy, not quick

Getting rid of Supra – not easy, not quick

Last week, the North West capital, Mahikeng, saw violent protests and the burning down of significant buildings in the city. In order to to calm the situation in the province, President Cyril Ramaphosa had to cut short his participation at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The core demand of the protesters is that Premier Supra Mahumapelo leave office. Over the weekend, the Sunday Times produced evidence that Mahumapelo sent cows to Nkandla that were purchased as part of a government empowerment scheme. For the moment, at least, it appears Ramaphosa has been unable to shift Mahumapelo out of his powerful position. It appears there is still much internal ANC politics at play, regardless of the situation on the ground.

Even for South Africans who have unfortunately become almost inured to the daily images of violence in our mainstream and social media (the video clip of a female security guard being kicked in the head during a soccer match on Saturday night was particularly awful) the situation in Mahikeng has been disturbing.

City Press reported that some protesters were shot at with live ammunition, and at least one person has died. At the same time, it appears that there is an organised force violently attacking the anti-Mahumapelo protesters. The same paper said that a group of men in a bakkie assaulted anti-Mahumapelo protesters in full view of police, with a group of cars driving around and removing barricades.

At the same time there are reports in both that paper and the Sunday Times that Mahumapelo was warned by the intelligence services that he was fomenting trouble by purging people and ignoring complaint against him. This, once again, raises questions about the involvement of the intelligence sphere in our politics. It is probably generally accepted now that they do play a significant role, the exact nature of which is not fully understood.

Either way, they will have to explain why they would be appearing to help a particular politician in this way, unless they can show that the advice was given with the express aim of preventing violence and damage to our society. Intriguingly, this could all be about to change, with reports that former National Prosecuting Authority head Advocate Vusi Pikoli, former Hawks boss Anwa Dramat and former State security director-general Gibson Njenje could be going to the State Security Agency. Were that to be shown to be true, it could be the strongest sign yet that the agency was going to be cleaned up at a rapid pace.

Then, there is the report, with photographs, that Mahumapelo essentially gave former President Jacob Zuma a herd of cattle costing R1.5-million which was meant to go to small-scale farmers. The 25 Bonsmara cattle were delivered to Nkandla in 2016. This is exactly the kind of corruption that people in North West may see as part of a pattern consistent with Mahumapelo’s previous behaviour. It’s the kind of thing that kind of politician would do – cream government money to give the Number One politician a gift. Unfortunately, the end of the Bonsmara is now over, it is now the age of the Ankole. And that means the era of buying favour with other people’s money could be over too.

Taken together, this all paints a picture of Mahumapelo as a patronage politician, someone not too bothered by morality or political principle, interested only in power for the sake of power and money.

So why is he still in office, despite a series of meetings over the weekend at which the dominant message was for him to go?

The answer to this probably has most to do with internal ANC politics. It is unlikely in the extreme that Ramaphosa would believe that Mahumapelo should remain in office.

Mahumapelo, for his part, claims he’s being targeted for having supported that well-known Twitter-hacking victim Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at Nasrec.

That said, there are several other considerations that have to be taken into account.

The first and obvious point is that it would probably be best for Ramaphosa for the ANC’s national executive committee to be involved in the decision. While this does delay any action, it would also mean any decision obtained in that was actually and ultimately final. There is no point in making a rushed decision only to find the NEC not signing off on it later.

Then there is the usual political problem that you find in these circumstances: there may be general agreement for a certain person to leave, but who will be the replacement?

There does not at this stage seem to be an obvious choice. The ANC in North West has a long history of divisions; anyone taking over would immediately have to contend with multiple problems not of their own making.

Then there is another problem that Ramaphosa may be wary of. Mahumapelo, and some of the forces ranged against him, appears to have demonstrated that they are prepared to use violence to further their political ends. Any quick decision could result in more blood being shed, and more destruction in Mahikeng and possibly the rest of the province.

Everyone has to tread carefully.

However, with all of that said, it is also obvious that this situation cannot last much longer. The complaints against Mahumapelo will not stop coming, and it is likely that more proof of wrongdoing will emerge. Also, the premier’s claims that he is not to blame for allegedly corrupt acts, including dodgy deals with the Guptas, simply won’t stand up to closer scrutiny. He himself is beginning to give the impression that he is on the defensive. And now that people in Mahikeng have realised they can get the president to cut short an international trip by causing violence, it would seem likely that they will repeat the tactic. This means that Ramaphosa also cannot be seen not to act.

There are now a few options of how this tense situation will play. Ramaphosa can wait for the next NEC meeting, while making promises (that would have to be believed) that the action will come sooner rather than later. Or he can hold an urgent meeting of the NEC, and let this situation be debated as soon as possible. But he could also let the situation play out a little longer, just to show to everyone in the party just how politically untenable it will be to retain Mahumapelo, especially with the 2019 elections approaching.

In other words, he can show how North West could even be lost to the ANC next year if this continues. That would have the impact of aligning the interests of almost everyone on the NEC with those of Ramaphosa, or more clearly, it would mean the majority would want Mahumapelo to leave office, and as soon as possible.

It is easy at this stage for many to be highly frustrated at this. Why should the violence be allowed to continue just so that ANC processes can be completed? But in this situation there really is no easy way, not when the emotions are so inflamed and the sides are so far apart. Any decision to remove a premier would have to have broad support. And the person who would replace him would have to count on that broad support to have any chance of managing the province.

This is a culmination of years of patronage politics – it could take years to properly resolve the problems. DM

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