Supra Mahumapelo, the puppet master – ANC NEC fails to select the new North West premier

By Qaanitah Hunter 28 May 2018

The ANC’s National Executive Committee could not decide on who should be premier of North West province because the list of three names of candidates submitted to them were all “compromised” and “closely aligned to former premier Supra Mahumapelo”.

A fierce debate ensued in the NEC meeting in Irene, Pretoria, this weekend over the situation in North West, days after Premier Supra Mahumapelo finally conceded to demands for him to resign from office.

ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule explained it thus:

The provincial Executive Committee is supposed to give us three names, they have done so but we further want to engage with the provincial executive committee as well as other structures – so that we take on board and resolve the problems of the North West once and for all.”

However, sources in the NEC described the three names as “factional” and “Supra’s puppets”. Mahumapelo is leading the charge for him to be replaced by Reverend OJ Tselapedi – a clergyman and former education MEC. Weeks ago, when Mahumapelo resigned and later rescinded that resignation – Tselapedi was added to a list of ANC MPLs to be sworn into the legislature, once a vacancy emerges. At the time, talk in North West was that Tselapedi would have replaced Mahumapelo.

Weeks later the ANC’s national leadership wanted to follow the rules by the book, asking the provincial structure to bring the three names. One provincial leader – who is a known opponent of Mahumapelo – claimed the ANC in North West added two other unlikely candidates to the list of three names so the NEC would be forced to choose Tselapedi.

Second in line was the acting ANC provincial secretary, Susan Dantjie – who is also speaker of the provincial legislature. Dantjie, who started acting in that position in December, is herself controversial. She took ownership of the chaos of Mahumapelo’s non-resignation that turned into a leave of absence earlier in May. Dantjie is known to be an active defender of Mahumapelo, both within the party and in the provincial legislature.

The third option given to the ANC NEC meeting was Agriculture MEC Manketsi Tlhape – who has a terrible track record as MEC and a worse one as mayor. Tlhape has headed the provincial department of agriculture and land reform that has been effectively run into the ground. This week the Hawks confirmed that it has done a search and seizure operation in the MEC and department offices to bolster their investigation of widespread corruption there.

It was under Tlhape’s watch that money was allegedly misappropriated. She features in the Hawks investigation of how Mahumapelo gave cattle – 24 cows and a bull– worth R1.5-million to former president Jacob Zuma. The cows were meant for emerging farmers in the province and the agriculture department paid a company called AgriDelight to deliver the cattle.

After hearing the three names and following the debate that ensued, the ANC’s NEC decided that they could not pick a premier from the three because “it would be a repeat of the same problems”. The Ramaphosa-led side of the NEC want a neutral political figure to take over as a caretaker premier until the 2019 elections.

But it is clear that the other side doesn’t mind an ally to Mahumapelo (if not a puppet) to take control.

This push-and-pull between the two sides has also manifested itself in other ways. The land debate is inconclusive in the party, after the NEC failed to reach consensus on the matter. When Ramaphosa closed the land summit last weekend he promised that after the NEC meeting they would all be agreeing on the party’s stance on land reform. In principle, the ANC has agreed that there should be expropriation of land without compensation but they have been fighting over the modalities.

Magashule told the media on Sunday that they decided they wanted to first consult traditional leaders on the sticky topic of communal land and land tenure before they make a decision. He also said they need to consult their structures and report back to them on the land question. In ANC NEC speak this means that the debate has been going nowhere and they can’t find each other on the matter.

The ANC will justify this as “robust debate” which they claim is “normal for any political party”. But it is clear that the pre-Nasrec divisions still linger and with the political honeymoon now over, it has the potential of spilling over into the state (once again).

This week there were allegations of a fight over the appointment of State-owned Entities’ boards. The anti-Ramaphosa side were (ironically) bemoaning the process of the appointment which came days before the deadline for the public to nominate board members. Pravin Gordhan was accused of being a bully and “the prime minister” for pushing ahead with the appointments. He explained that the advert was meant for the department to replenish their list of CVs for possible board members of SoEs.

While Ramaphosa was said to have been preaching the unity card in his political overview to the NEC, the friction of the political divide is already being felt. The president knows that the divisions need to be delicately managed but at the same time society is growing impatient. Mahumapelo’s resignation, while a good step forward, is clearly not enough to pacify North West. People want a formidable premier who will turn things around. But if any one of the three names submitted is appointed premier, much of the past is likely to persist – and the ANC knows it.

Both issues, the appointment of a new premier and the resolving the land debate, are linked to the 2019 elections. The party’s own diagnosis and research points out that if these issues are not managed and dealt with, the party will face the consequences at the ballot. DM


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