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Premier shuffles Eastern Cape cabinet ‘with eye on ANC December conference’, says opposition

Premier shuffles Eastern Cape cabinet ‘with eye on ANC December conference’, says opposition
From left: Former Cogta MEC Xolile Nqatha. (Photo: Supplied) | Veteran municipal manager Zolile Williams. (Photo: Twitter) | Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane. (Photo: Gallo Images / The Times / Masi Losi) | Former head of social development Siphokazi Mani-Lusithi. (Photo: Supplied)

Two Eastern Cape MECs have been axed and several political heads of struggling provincial departments have been shifted around. Opposition parties claim the reshuffle has nothing to do with service delivery and that Premier Oscar Mabuyane is simply ‘cleaning house’ before the ANC’s elective conference at the end of the year.

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane has dismissed the MEC for transport and community safety, Weziwe Tikana-Gxothiwe, and the MEC for sport, recreation, arts and culture, Fezeka Nkomonye. He also appointed a veteran municipal manager as the political head of the province’s struggling municipalities.

This comes after Mabuyane’s main rival in the ANC’s recent provincial council elections, Babalo Madikizela, had requested to be released from his position as the MEC for public works and infrastructure.

eastern cape madikizela

Babalo Madikizela. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily Maverick)

Speaking at a media briefing on Tuesday, Mabuyane said the cabinet shuffle was triggered by Madikizela’s resignation, as “this necessitated that I undertake an intense process of finding a long-term solution of filling the vacancy to the conclusion of this term… we are halfway through the term of the 6th administration… 

“Our prize at the end of this term is the achievement of the ANC 2019 manifesto commitments. We want to go bafck to our people in 2024 and say we achieved what they sent us to do.”

In a province with scores of municipalities either on the brink of collapse or having already collapsed, debilitating strikes affecting water security and a high number of initiate deaths, Mabuyane has appointed veteran municipal manager Zolile Williams — who was elected as the party’s provincial treasurer — to the portfolio of cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta). Under Williams’ watch, the Joe Gqabi District Municipality obtained several clean audits.

eastern cape williams

Zolile Williams. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily Maverick)

Williams, who was nominated from the floor at the conference, took the treasurer position from controversial politician Andile Lungisa who was convicted of assault and jailed in 2020 after hitting a fellow councillor over the head with a water jug during a heated council meeting in Nelson Mandela Bay. Lungisa, meanwhile, has won a seat on the ANC’s Provincial Executive Committee and will have his work cut out for him.

eastern cape lungisa

Andile Lungisa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Lulama Zenzile)

Dysfunctional municipalities

Of the 39 municipalities in the Eastern Cape, 11 are regarded as dysfunctional, 14 are regarded as high risk and only 14 as low risk. 

With political instability, the serious threat of drought and Day Zero looming in the province’s biggest metro, former Cogta MEC Xolile Nqatha had been unable to complete a systems change that he had claimed would bring stability.

Communities in the central part of the province were left without water for the better part of a week after a strike by workers in the severely cash-strapped Amatola District Municipality, which remains under administration. The strike ended on Monday.

In her report on municipal finances, the Auditor-General sounded several alarms for the province’s municipalities, including the troubled Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality based in Komani, the Chris Hani District Municipality and the Makana Local Municipality.

Williams, in many respects, inherits a province where municipalities are in deep trouble, with dysfunctional debt collection — R22-billion owed in rates and taxes — a bloated wage bill that many local governments are struggling to pay and the blatant disregard of a Treasury instruction that electricity fees must be ring-fenced

Weziwe Tikana-Gxothiwe

Mabuyane said he had decided to move former Cogta MEC Nqatha to Transport and Community Safety to replace Weziwe Tikana-Gxothiwe.

In 2020, Mabuyane resisted pressure to fire Tikana-Gxothiwe after it was revealed by UDM leader Bantu Holomisa and the Cala University Student’s Organisation that she had links to a guesthouse that had been selected to serve as an isolation site for Covid patients. She unsuccessfully sued Holomisa. She also took Makhanda anti-corruption activist Lungile Mxube to court for making several allegations about her on Facebook.

Former Eastern Cape MEC for Transport, Safety and Liaison, Weziwe Tikana-Gxothiwe. (Photo: Supplied)

Holomisa pulled no punches in his view on Tikana-Gxotiwe’s dismissal: “Good riddance,” he said. “Long overdue.”

Mxube, however, said that his fight with Tikana-Gxotiwe was never personal. 

“Despite being surrounded by the wrong people, she was one of the hardest-working MECs… highly visible, hands-on. 

“It is unfortunate that Premier Oscar does not walk the talk and fails to practise what he preaches. During his acceptance speech, he acknowledged her and others as part of the leadership in their own right, and that they would not be purged. 

“What you see now is nothing but purging and political retaliation against those who opposed Oscar and his faction.

“It is clear that in the premier’s frame of mind, you are only good when you are in his faction,” said Mxube. 

Funeral funds

Mxube said he wondered if the resignation of Babalo Madikizela had anything to do with the Hawks indicating that a decision was imminent about possible prosecutions for the alleged abuse of funeral funds allocated after the death of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

eastern cape mxube

Activist Lungile Mxube. (Photo: supplied)

Both Mabuyane and Madikizela were investigated after charges were laid by the EFF in connection with the alleged theft of R1.1-million.

“The reshuffle of the cabinet has nothing to do with service delivery. It has got to do more with the consolidation of power by a dominant faction ahead of the ANC’s elective conference in December,” Mxube said. 

“I hope this is not going to translate into the siphoning of millions of taxpayers’ money from the government to finance the bankrupt ANC in its December conference,” he said.

Human settlements

Meanwhile, Nonceba Kontsiwe moves from human settlements to sports, recreation, arts and culture.

This is the second MEC change in the troubled human settlements department in two years. Kontsiwe was moved to that department in 2021 after  Nonkqubela Pieters was removed. At the time, the Democratic Alliance said that Mabuyane had admitted the department had suffered greatly under her [Pieters’] stewardship.

Under Kontsiwe, the situation did not improve and the department again missed its delivery targets for the 2021/22 financial year.

Now the political leadership of this embattled department will be handed over to Siphokazi Mani-Lusithi, the former head of social development. She leaves behind a department in tatters, with the portfolio committee stepping in and asking for monthly reports to clean up a mess in almost all areas, including her own much-vaunted programme to distribute sanitary pads to young women. Most glaring, though, was the department’s failure to provide sufficient emergency food parcels to families in need.

Social development

eastern cape fanta

Bukiwe Fanta. (Photo: Facebook)

The provincial chairperson of the ANC Women’s League and chairperson of the multi-party women’s caucus in the Eastern Cape legislature, Bukiwe Fanta, was appointed MEC for social development. Mabuyane described her as an activist for women’s empowerment.

“We believe she is the right person currently to lead our efforts of serving our vulnerable groups. We have many families that live in poverty and inhumane conditions, with some headed by children. She will work with her team and NGOs to alleviate the plight of such families.”

Ntombovuyo Nkopane is the new MEC for public works and infrastructure.

“This team ticks the right boxes in terms of the requisite leadership skills — the 60%/40% gender equity in favour of women MECs, and the geographic spread of the province… Williams, who is now MEC for Cogta, was a serial achiever of clean audits at the Joe Gqabi District Municipality,” said Mabuyane.

The premier said he had high expectations for the new MECs. “I have told them unambiguously that I expect them to be amongst the communities and stakeholders we serve all the time. We are not in office to sit in air-conditioned offices… we are here to serve the masses out there. We must know what the situation is on the ground where our people reside.”

The DA’s Bobby Stevenson said Mabuyane had missed the opportunity to make more extensive changes to his cabinet, choosing instead to purge his opponents rather than bring hope to the people of the province.

“Health and education are in serious crisis, where a change of leadership desperately needs to occur… yet these posts remain untouched.

“The newly appointed cabinet members will be under huge pressure to deliver quality services in the run-up to the 2024 elections. We will closely oversee the performance of the new MECs, particularly that of Cogta MEC Zolile Williams, who will have to take bold measures to rescue the collapsing local government.

“Until the ANC ditches cadre deployment and holds the current administration to account, the people of this province are unlikely to experience any fundamental change,” Stevenson said. DM/MC


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