Former Gauteng health MECs Qedani Mahlangu and Brian Hlongwa have been instructed to step down from the ANC’s provincial executive committee (PEC) after the party’s national working committee (NWC) overruled a decision from the party in the province.
ANC Gauteng Deputy Provincial Secretary Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko wrote to Mahlangu on Monday informing her of the NWC’s decision.
“Please note that while the PEC had decided that you should remain a member of the PEC, the NWC has decided that you should step down,” Nkomo-Ralehoko wrote.
Mahlangu was instructed to step down immediately, but her ANC membership will not be affected. News24 reported that a similar letter was sent to Hlongwa.
Nkomo-Ralehoko attached a letter from ANC Deputy Secretary General Jessie Duarte that said: “both Comrade Brian Hlongwa and Comrade Qedani Mahlangu should step aside from the PEC”.
As health MEC, Mahlangu was central to the Life Esidimeni disaster, while during his tenure Hlonwa was accused of widespread corruption.
National and provincial ANC spokespersons did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
DA Gauteng shadow health MEC Jack Bloom welcomed the decision but had some criticism for the ANC.
“It reflects poorly on the failing ANC in Gauteng which wanted to retain (Mahlangu) on the PEC but has now been over-ruled by the ANC’s NWC,” he said.
Bloom said the NWC’s decision was probably motivated by the 2019 elections and noted that President Cyril Ramaphosa embraced Mahlangu at a Thuma Mina walk in March 2017.
Professor Susan Booysen, director of research at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection and a visiting professor at Wits School of Governance, said ahead of the 2019 elections each move by political parties is likely an attempt to win votes.
“The ANC has to prove it’s Ramaphosa’s new ANC and I think it has a huge task, especially in Gauteng, to persuade voters that it’s a new ANC,” said Booysen.
In the long-term, Booysen said instructing Mahlangu and Hlongwa to step down could restore the ANC’s “aspirational identity”, is a small move towards tackling the layers of disrepair in the party, and will serve as a warning to other members.
The ANC drew criticism after members re-elected Mahlangu and Hlongwa to the Gauteng PEC in July. In October the provincial body rejected a recommendation by the party’s integrity commission to suspend them.
At the time, the PEC said it wanted to first see how the party’s national leadership handles issues related to the integrity commission.
Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba in his investigation and former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke in his arbitration both said that Mahlangu was at the centre of the Life Esidimeni disaster, where 144 patients died after the provincial health department moved them into NGOs and community care.
Moseneke was scathing: “She acted with impunity thinking that she will get away with murder because the users and their families were vulnerable and poorly resourced. She acted with an ulterior motive that remains concealed even after many days of evidence before the hearing.”
The former health MEC was repeatedly warned about the potential consequences of the Gauteng Health Marathon Project and Moseneke awarded relatives of deceased psychiatric patients R1.2-million in compensation and relatives of survivors R1.18-million.
Life Esidimeni family members marched to Gauteng Premier David Makhura’s office and the ANC’s Luthuli House on Monday after the government had failed to pay compensation to outstanding claimants by the agreed date.
A Special Investigating Unit (SIU) report released in June 2018 linked Hlongwa and 11 others to R1.2-billion in alleged corruption and fraud while he was health MEC between 2006 and 2009. The report outlines a range of kickbacks, luxury trips and other benefits he received.
The NPA and Hawks are still investigating the matter, a probe which has been defined by lengthy delays.
Hlongwa resigned as ANC chief whip in the provincial legislature in October, saying remaining in the position would have distracted the public from the ANC’s efforts to develop society. Mahlangu resigned in February 2017 when Makgoba released his Life Esidimeni report.
Gauteng is expected to be hotly contested in 2019 and the NWC’s instruction could improve the party’s image in the province. Unlike other provinces such as North West, however, the PEC is yet to act against mayors of municipalities that invested in the failed VBS Mutual Bank. DM