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Panyaza Lesufi’s populist ‘toughness’ mirrors the rise of provincial disregard for ANC’s central power

Panyaza Lesufi’s populist ‘toughness’ mirrors the rise of provincial disregard for ANC’s central power
From left: Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart) | Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi) | Minister of Police Bheki Cele. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Comments by Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi that a national minister’s ‘days are numbered’ because of their refusal to legally recognise his crime prevention wardens may open another front in the contestation between the national ANC and its provinces. For a provincial premier to publicly oppose a national minister in this way is virtually unheard of. At the same time, there is plenty of evidence that Lesufi and the Gauteng ANC are prepared to disobey decisions of the national ANC if they believe this will help keep them in power.

On Monday, Maverick Citizen editor Mark Heywood reported on comments made by Lesufi at a South African National Civic Organisation meeting on Sunday.

‘Your days are numbered’ – Gauteng premier launches extraordinary attack on Police(?)/Justice(?) minister

In particular, he quoted Lesufi as saying, “We have trained these young people to be police wardens. You, as a police minister, are refusing to recognise them.

“Your days are numbered.”

He also went on to say “…this minister, give us the power for these young people to have the power to get guns so they can protect our townships and chase away criminals in our own areas”.

Presumably, he was talking about Police Minister Bheki Cele (the only other possibility is Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, who has to formally gazette these wardens).

Lesufi has publicly responded to the publication of his comments late on Monday, blaming the leak itself: 

Regardless of what happens next, Cele (if indeed it was he who was addressed by Lesufi) is unlikely to simply lie back and accept the original threat.

The police minister regularly refuses to take criticism, including telling Action Society’s president Ian Cameron to “shut up”. When Parliament ruled that he must apologise, he said he would go to court to fight that finding.

Cele is also not scared of publicly disagreeing with other leaders in his party.

In 2017, when he was supporting Cyril Ramaphosa’s bid to be leader of the ANC against those in Jacob Zuma’s camp, he once referred to Nomvula Mokonyane as a “little girl”, directly contradicting her in a public meeting, while she was in the room.

While Lesufi may feel that he has power in Gauteng, there can be no doubt of the power that Cele has. He has survived reversals of fortune and is a tough political operator.

Apart from the personalities, there are many other dynamics to consider here, however.

Political future

The first is that it is clear that the crime wardens are important to Lesufi for his political future. He has now tied himself to the issue.

While many voters may support any move to fight crime, the idea of giving people with just one month’s training a firearm will surely have disastrous consequences. Many potential ANC voters live in areas that suffer high levels of gun violence – giving young, untrained people guns is hardly the solution to the problem.

At the same time, this also suggests there is nothing Lesufi will not do to win power. His critics will now argue that he is prepared to break the law with the institution of these wardens, just to win votes, while Cele and others in the ANC will have good reason to be wary of yet another police force in South Africa.

Already there is the national SAPS, some provincial traffic officers, and in many places, Metro Police which are run by cities.

In the past, there has been violent conflict between officers from the SAPS and Metro Police officers, with shots being fired in some cases.

For Cele, to now allow virtually untrained crime prevention wardens into the mix can only make things even more unstable.

With wardens’ salaries coming from the provincial government, the whole programme is on unsound ground should Gauteng in the future be run by another party.

Choppy waters

But politically, this is also another issue on which Lesufi is happy to fight the national ANC.

Already the ANC province that he leads, Gauteng, has appeared to defy the sentiments of the national ANC through his insistence on continuing with the coalition agreements with the EFF.

As Daily Maverick’s Queenin Masuabi and Ferial Haffajee have previously reported, it appears the Gauteng ANC is dragging its feet after the ANC NEC decided the party should no longer work with the EFF.

Also, the timing of Lesufi’s comments about Cele may be significant.

It was just last week that ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula told ANC structures that they should not engage in “public spats” ahead of the election.

It is likely that the main spur for this letter was the fight between the KwaZulu-Natal ANC and the ANC Women’s League over the mishandling of the Rugby World Cup trophy by KZN ANC leader Siboniso Duma.

Lesufi has now clearly defied Mbalula just days after he made that request.

Regional powers

All of this may be an indication of another dynamic which could soon dominate our politics and affect all parties.

While there has been much discussion about how political parties are now battling to maintain coherent political identities amid the rise of independent political personalities within our party system, there may be another, deeper, dynamic underneath this. It may be that a tide leading to greater power for regional and provincial formations may now be unstoppable.

This is a process that began in 1994 and has seen ANC provinces and regions steadily taking power from the centre.

Analysis: The rise of provinces as criminal enterprises and future political threats

Lesufi’s actions may well be a part of this dynamic and he appears to believe the ANC will not be able to stop him.

There may still be limits to how far the Gauteng ANC can go, because if it loses power in Gauteng, or even if it can cling to power only through a coalition, it is likely to lose influence within the ANC as a whole.

This is, of course, the story of the Western Cape ANC, which has been increasingly marginalised within the ANC after losing political power.

It is also not clear what impact the Gauteng ANC would continue to have in the ANC if it were to be seen as dependent on another party. Certainly, if it formed a coalition with the EFF, and thus was seen as closer to the EFF than some parts of the ANC, this could lead to a very difficult dynamic within the party nationally in the future.

In the short term, Cele may well respond publicly to Lesufi, or Luthuli House will try to find a way to smooth things over.

But, with voters deeply concerned about the huge impact of violent crime on their lives, and the continued failure of the police to contain it, and with a murder conviction rate of just 15%, the issue of crime is likely to be strongly divisive again and again in the near future. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Henry Henry says:

    One can trust Grootes to dig that little bit deeper regarding events and their meaning and implications.
    Always a worthwhile read.

    • Malcolm Mitchell says:

      Surely this is not the same Stephen Grootes who supports the ANC to the hilt on the radio and at the same times takes any opportunity to denigrate the DA. Perhaps there are two persons with the same name?

  • Maria Janse van Rensburg says:

    From a distance it seems to me that Mr. Lezufi does not have the requisite respect for the rule of law – and it will be his undoing.

    • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

      The law permits him to set up such a structure provided he gets permission from the Minister of Justice in term of Section 333 of the Constitution. The fight he is having is that he has applied for the force post facto and the Minister as usual is sitting on the issue. The issues of screening can be part of the authority by the Minister. I think you need to familiarise yourself with the issue before commenting.

  • Jennifer D says:

    The fact that he feels empowered to disregard government is simply a sign of the anarchist state we have become. The ANC has lost power and the next step is total chaos.

    • Hiram C Potts says:

      Fully agree.
      I do fear the ensuing chaos. Assuming that a coalition, other than an ANC/EFF coalition, does come to power in the next election, they’ll inherit such a shambolic mess. How do they even begin to fix the disaster & trail of destruction that the ANC has created in SA?

      • Libby De Villiers says:

        They have no wish to fix anything. The less law and order, the more they can stand at the trough. The bigger the shambolic mess, the easier money laundering, drug smuggling, rhino poaching, land grabbing and stealing become
        This is their dream.

  • Denise Smit says:

    Lesufi speaks the same language as the “supreme leader” fascist threatening of everything and everybody. Makes his own laws and thinks he can get away with everything. That is why it is the ANC/EFF. In more than one way they are one in their actions. Beware. Denise Smit

  • Brian Cotter says:

    Are these wardens being introduced for a longer term election marshalling role. Zimbabwe example.

  • davidramol says:

    I struggle to access comments

  • Cornay Bester says:

    Humpty Dumpty had a great fall ….
    I live in hope!

  • Podu Kgomo says:

    The power dynamics between national and provincial started changing when the practice of the Chairperson of a province became premier. Since then, provincial Chairs seem to believe they can defy National.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Interesting read. My view of Lesufi – quite possibly wrong, but his gargantuan ego suggests otherwise – is that he has very, very high national ambitions: all the way to the top. If he successfully carves a fiefdom out for himself in Gauteng now, what doe the future hold? If he makes that leap from populist provincial premier to national leader, will he be left with foundations of clay in the provincial structures, assuming that other provinces (NW already has, and KZN is always a law unto itself) also forcefully disengage from the centre? There’s also a matter of the ultimate bombast occupying an office with the same initials as the author, who may not take kindly to competition for being the emptiest vessel with a megaphone. Interesting times.

    I suppose what the rest of us would like is for the ANC to lose power in the key provinces – Gauteng, W Cape (already has), possibly KZN if the IFP can carry on making inroads and force the ANC to become a rump, rural party with dwindling support and fewer patronage opportunities, which will reinforce the downward spiral into oblivion.

    • Lawrence Jacobson says:

      Hilariously well written and insightful.

      I am not convinced that oblivion is a near-term possibility for the ANC or if such an outcome is what we need as a country. Maybe I am just being sentimental or nostalgic but my hope is that the ANC will still play a part in SA’s political future, just not as a more than 50% majority party. They should have to work as hard to win/maintain their voters as other parties.

      My fear is that an ANC implosion would leave a large vacuum in our politics, and I don’t believe that centrist ideologies are capable of filling that space. Populists seems to be able to have travelled the world twice before centrists have even got their pants on.

      • D'Esprit Dan says:

        Thanks Lawrence! I don’t think the ANC will implode in the near-term, but I do hope for its eventual irrelevance in our body politic: the ANC you’re nostalgic over has long since been crushed in the stampede for bling by the current (last 15 years) degenerate mob, who looted Madiba’s funeral money, wrecked Robben Island as a memorial and valuable tourism site, and couldn’t keep Winnie’s house in Brandfort from falling into wrack and ruin. There is nothing, other than the party paraphernalia, that connects this ANC to the one you feel for. Nothing.

  • Nic Bosveld says:

    Both are arrogant, racist, with huge misplaced egos.

    An absolute birdbrained idea to arm these untrained youngsters, but not surprised from whence the idea comes from.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    All I know with absolute certainty is that allowing another “policing body” – and I use the term extremely loosely – is going to result in more deaths and more chaos over time. As they are already being paid the sanest win:win solution is to train all eligible members properly and induct them into an existing legitimate policing body.

    Then Lesufi gets more police so can shut up and we avert the policing anarchy which is otherwise certain.

  • Con Tester says:

    All of this talk about more training for Lesufi’s so-called “crime prevention wardens” is premissed on two dodgy assumptions. First, that these wardens will in fact be effective crime fighters, and second, that whatever training they receive will ensure that they conduct themselves professionally.

    The mindboggling multitude and ubiquity of corrupt cops of various types and to a lesser extent SANDF members, are instructive here. They militate persuasively against both of those assumptions. If Lesufi’s wardens are deployed with firearms, you can be sure that the ANC bunfight will soon turn into a gunfight to the detriment of SA’s industrial heartland and its people.

    Lesufi’s egotistical megalomania is a clear and present red flag, one that is strongly reminiscent of Hitler’s Brownshirts. His association with the EFF in defiance of official ANC policy only strengthens this historical parallel.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Ever since it came to power, the ANC has been a fragmented movement. The only connecting factor for the last fifteen plus years has been the stealing of states assets.

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    Let’s be practical here. While I do not support wardens with arms, Lesufi is just implementing some form of a sentry system. Something many private citizens and wards are doing anyway due to the incompetence of SAPS. The reason it will not work is because government is doing it. Otherwise the idea is not that bad. Just keep firearms away. Anyway, I also wish Cele’s days are numbered. While Lesufi gives me no comfort, Cele has been a lost case since I remember.

    • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

      I support the idea of Wardens as a force multiplier to the under resourced police and to have some form of presence in communities of a police force. Johannesburg is trying to do its best with a 30 percent under collection of revenue that Dada Morero juggles under competing demands of the City budget. I think however, they should have firearms under police supervision and they should be people who have been properly screened. We have security with the same period of training with fire arms and I do not know why make an issue of this except to set proper rules.
      We must get the Minister of Justice to approve in principle and set the requirements. We can minimise criminality when you have people doing a good job in fighting crime.

      • Rod H MacLeod says:

        Of course, the best way forward is to denationalise the SAPS into provincial police forces under the auspices of provincial governments.

        • Sunet Solutions says:

          There has been dangerous precedents so far from the African perspective. The current civil conflict in Sudan is precisely due to fragmented security agencies. There is a real security risk wherein local, regional police chiefs either from SAPS or Crime Wardens in Gauteng or other provinces get manipulated by ambitious political players, or themselves spotting power gaps and therefore compelled by human desire to rule others, that they then declare their fiefdoms as liberated zones, out of reach of constitutional imperatives. It is in this context that everything which happens in provinces, particularly on security issues should be firmly controlled by national structures otherwise you will be sowing the seeds of civil strife. Granted, devolution is the way to go in empowering provinces to tackle socio-economic issues especially from budgetary allocation angle, but let us not kid ourselves on how power corrupts and the tragic consequences of a gun in a wrong hands. Our safeguard on this one is to follow the law, the Constitution of the Republic.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    Whist one is critical of the failure to follow due process on the issue of the Wardens we need to put this into perspective. You have a Premier who has the reality of crime in the Province and has been to several townships to address the residents on the issue of crime that has become a mobilisation issue for Coloured votes by Gayton Mckenzie in the Coloured townships. As a Premier and Chairperson of the ANC who is faced with the prospects of losing the Province in the next elections he has been forced to respond. Unlike the Western that demands the devolution of police powers, he decided to be creative but in his creativity he may not have followed some of the processes in setting up the structure but he was well intentioned. His frustration with regards to crime that is on the ballot next year, resulted in the set up of the wardens instead of relying on the flamboyant pick and pay general who is always on publicity stunts. One does not think he is defying the ANC leadership like the DA that wants to undermine the architecture of our constitution. What he needs to do is to address the issues that are being raised and the national Ministers should not be sleeping on the job because crime is a reality in this Province. You have a lot of townships simmering because of crime from Diepsloot, Riverlea, Westbury, Eldorado Park, Soweto, Kagiso and other townships from a variety of sources let alone the criminality of hijacked buildings. We must not read what is not there.

    • Middle aged Mike says:

      Who is ‘one’?

    • John Nicolson says:

      “- – – like the DA that wants to undermine the architecture of our constitution.”
      What are you talking about? The DA and the Multi-Party Charter they lead are about the only practical pro-constitution movements that can offer first-world clean government to South Africa.

  • Iain Maricich says:

    Please spell Lootthuli house properly.

  • Mzamo Adoons says:

    The very essence of the principle of legality derived from the rule of law enshrined in the Constitution is to ensure that state officials – including Panyaza Lesufi and his colleagues in the provincial government- exercise and perform only those powers and functions assigned to them by the law and within the law.

    The basis of the principle of legality is to ensure that state officials do not consider themselves to be above the law when performing their officials duties but that they always remain subject to it. I there is no law permitting the premier to establish a police force then he cannot establish one. FINISH AND KLAAR.

  • Modise M says:

    Lesufi is hellbent on having his pet project approved by national government. Given the history of our politicians, it makes one wonder who stands to reap the financial benefits. The resources directed towards this venture could have possibly been better spent on improving the intelligence and investigative capabilities of the police. Criminals are no longer afraid to commit crimes as they know that the state is incapable of investigations that ultimately lead to a successful conviction.

  • Colin Braude says:

    While Lesufi is correct to disregard ThugInAHat’s crime-fighting enthusiasm, what does this racist’s remark “so they can protect our townships and chase away criminals in our own areas”

    Cde Panyaza needs to remember that he is premier of *everybody* in Gauteng — I have just had my house burgled; why are the anti-crime wardens not serving everybody, rather than chasing the crooks out of “our townships” and “our own areas”?

  • Andre Swart says:

    After 30 years of the rule of lawlessness in SA, all of a sudden Lesufi appoint 6000 “wardens” to fight crime … just a few months before the decisive 2024 election?


    Undercover militia to manipulate the election results?

    Or worse … to take power by force … should they be voted out?

    Now Lesudi demand guns for his militia?

    For what?

    To shoot the Gauteng residents who oppose him and his fellow cadres?

    Nkosi silelele Egoli!

    • Sunet Solutions says:

      Your fears are valid, not from the current incumbent per se, but rather from the old adage that, “Lets be wary of what we allow our rulers to do, for one day a fool shall occupy the throne!”

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