Supra Mahumapelo’s court victory, the ANC’s newest maelstrom

By Stephen Grootes 7 February 2019

Supra Mahumapelo. Photo: Leila Dougan

On Wednesday the High Court in Johannesburg ruled that the ANC’s national executive committee had not followed the party’s own constitution when it decided to disband the party’s North West provincial executive committee. The decision has major implications for the ANC’s short-term future, and raises questions about decision-making processes of the NEC and its future ability to act decisively. While the judgment is a boost to Supra Mahumapelo, it doesn’t mean it necessarily changes the balance of power in the party in the longer term.

The decision by Supra Mahumapelo, and the PEC he led, to challenge the NEC’s decision in court led to some harsh criticism. Mahumapelo had famously said in the past that ANC members should not take their own organisation to court, and should rely on the party’s own processes. That was, of course, when he and his allies, and his major patron, the former president Jacob Zuma, were in the driving seat. Now that he was out of it, he was happy to eat his own words. Now he may well feel vindicated and that both he and his PEC were harshly treated.

In the short term, the key question is whether or not this changes the balance of power within the ANC. In the NEC, almost certainly not; it is now the same body that took the decision to disband Mahumapelo’s PEC in the first place. None of the people on it has changed, and nothing else appears to have happened that could weaken President Cyril Ramaphosa.

That said, there can be occasions when an event like this could make a difference. The NEC often holds what’s called an “extended NEC” to discuss policy or other important issues; for example, a list process. An extended NEC would include the leadership of its provinces. Were such a meeting to be called now, it could mean the inclusion of Mahumapelo and his team. The power to call such a meeting is usually vested in the office of the secretary-general, which means Ace Magashule could have a role to play there. But even then, it is unlikely that such a meeting would be called now, and if it were, it’s hard to see how it could take any meaningful difference to the previous outcome.

In other words, the balance of power remains the same in the ANC structures that matter.

It should also be remembered that this is not the first time an ANC member has taken the party to court and won. But it may well be the first time an ANC leader who told other people not to take the party to court has won, and been reinstated into the ANC office he lost.

All of this raises serious questions about the ANC’s ability to actually govern itself. The NEC is the highest decision-making body between conferences. If the NEC is not able to stick to the party’s constitution when making decisions, then questions may well be asked about its ability to manage the party’s current and future business. Certainly, any other politically contentious decision may now well be challenged in court. This could be a recipe for party-political paralysis, conveniently just in time for the country’s general election.

Meanwhile, there is the situation in North West itself to consider. The ANC has already said it will appeal this judgment. It simply has no other choice. Job Mokgoro would remain in charge as Premier, but politically would be held accountable to the North West ANC, led by Mahumapelo. In other words, he would be in political office, but accountable to someone who appears to be his enemy.

This would not be the first time this has happened. Now Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane was appointed Premier of Gauteng by the ANC’s NEC after the 2009 elections. She then challenged Paul Mashatile for the leadership of the ANC in Gauteng and lost. For the following four years, she had to manage an administration while being accountable to someone she had political differences with.

But their cohabitation came without the backstory of this current situation in North West. There, Mahumapelo was obviously forced to resign. Claims of corruption have flowed thick and fast in the province, and even Ramaphosa himself has suggested that government there has “collapsed”. It would appear unlikely that Mahumapelo would want to make life easy for Mokgoro, which could possibly lead to another collapse of governance, by stymying Mokgoro’s attempts to rebuild government and services in the province, with a repeat of the violent 2018 protests in Mahikeng.

All in time for national elections.

This latest development will ensure that the ANC is even more divided than originally forecast. While the opposition parties have not been able to make a strong showing until now, this time it could be different.

Mahumapelo and his PEC would have gone to court with a specific agenda in mind. And that may not just have been about getting their positions back. It may be that a more chaotic situation in the ANC, the better for them. It certainly is in the interest of some people, who Mahumapelo may well be working with, to make the ANC harder to govern. This decision surely furthers that agenda.

If ever you thought that fixing the ANC would be easy, think again. DM


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