Power

About five months ago, Premier Mabuza fell gravely ill, but he’s back in form and as fe­ro­cious as ever

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set­tle­ments de­part­ment had his whole man­age­ment team dis­man­tled af­ter Mabuza said they were “pol­i­tick­ing” and fail­ing to meet dead­lines and tar­gets to build RDP houses.

A for­mer MEC, who de­clined to be named, dif­fers with Ny­oni about Mabuza’s “kind-heart­ed­ness”.

“No. If he was, he could not have de­stroyed so many com­rades and de­rive joy from do­ing so. He’s just para­noid and nar­cis­sis­tic. Ev­ery­thing is about him­self,” he says.

“He’s like a child who catches a fly, clips its wings and lets it walk. No com­rade has been empowered by him be­cause he gives and he takes. But he has a sweet charm. There’s a time when he charmed and made me drop my guard, and that’s when he’s dan­ger­ous.” A few weeks af­ter the ANC’s birth­day party, I’m sit­ting op­po­site Mabuza at Nut­ting House Lodge, 5km out­side Mbombela. He’s been chair­ing a gov­ern­ment lek­gotla in­volv­ing nine pro­vin­cial de­part­ments and 23 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties for the whole day, but has agreed to a one-on-one in­ter­view. Later on, he changes his mind. Ex­hausted, he sees three jour­nal­ists at once. Mabuza raises the is­sue of his ill­ness again, sharply this time. His eyes bulge, in­can­des­cent with anger. The Hur­ri­cane is rag­ing and his spokesper­son, Zi­bonele Mncwango, un­com­fort­ably fid­dles with his pen.

“I got ques­tions from you!” Mabuza says, point­ing at me, “while I was at the low­est point of my life in hos­pi­tal.

“I was sur­prised by your be­hav­iour. I didn’t know that you hate me so much that not even one of you wished me well while I was ly­ing on a deathbed. Does it mat­ter now to talk about what I went through?” he says, ges­tic­u­lat­ing wildly.

Af­ter he calms down, he tells us how he fell ill last Septem­ber while cel­e­brat­ing his 53rd birth­day at his ru­ral birth­place of Phola vil­lage near Hazyview. He started sweat­ing, suf­fered from di­ar­rhoea and lost weight rapidly. He in­sists he was poi­soned.

“There might be peo­ple who are my en­e­mies. Some of them I dis­ci­plined. I’m not sure of the en­vi­ron­ment in which I live and work. Doc­tors said I ate some­thing,” he says.

He says he is a leader to­day be­cause of God’s in­ter­ven­tion.

Of all the mul­ti­tudes of leg­ends that have been told about Mabuza, none about piety has ever come up. He has been ac­cused of ruth­less­ness, but never of be­ing a reli­gious man.

“It’s not be­cause of our mak­ing that we’re cho­sen as lead­ers … Some­where there is God’s in­ter­ven­tion … There’s di­vine in­ter­ven­tion all the time,” Mabuza says.

A sti­fled smile flits across his face as I ask a flat­ter­ing ques­tion: “How have you man­aged not to lose a sin­gle con­fer­ence de­spite hav­ing so many es­tab­lished po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists as your op­po­nents and de­spite so many scan­dals?”

Mabuza replies: “I at­tribute that to lov­ing peo­ple. I have a big heart and I’m for­giv­ing and hon­est.” Lov­ing peo­ple, yes, there may be truth in that. De­spite what his ri­vals and for­mer al­lies say, Mabuza is loved by or­di­nary peo­ple. He fore­goes sleep to re­ceive peo­ple from all over Mpumalanga at his home who come to raise ANC branch is­sues or ask for as­sis­tance like bur­saries for their chil­dren.

Two years ago, he started the David Mabuza Foun­da­tion to of­fer ed­u­ca­tional fund­ing and build houses for the poor.

Mabuza de­nies dis­pens­ing pa­tron­age, or hav­ing stacks of cash in his house, or play­ing chess games with al­lies who he uses and dumps in the po­lit­i­cal wilder­ness.

“The be­hav­iour of my deputies [in the ANC] Charles Makola and, re­cently, David Dube changed. I think it was am­bi­tion and they did cer­tain things for peo­ple to vote for them. I never dump peo­ple, that’s not cor­rect.”

He has pub­licly stated that he was ac­cused of or­dered the as­sas­si­na­tion of po­lit­i­cal ri­vals and cor­rup­tion-bust­ing com­rades, such as Mbombela speaker Jimmy Mohlala, who blew the lid on cor­rup­tion re­gard­ing a World Cup sta­dium ten­der. So did he? “No,” Mabuza replies. “One day,” he says, “peo­ple will get clar­ity when they lay hands on priv­i­leged in­for­ma­tion I have about the po­lit­i­cal mur­ders. Just re­mem­ber the name Pro­ject Jan­uary 8. This in­di­vid­ual bought peo­ple to kill peo­ple and al­lege that I killed them. They wanted me ar­rested … to be out of the way.” Mabuza cuts the in­ter­view short. To try to get another, I write him an email apol­o­gis­ing for be­ing a jour­nal­ist first and not wish­ing him a speedy re­cov­ery while he was in hos­pi­tal. This ap­pealed to him, and he per­son­ally con­firmed re­ceiv­ing my “love let­ter” when we briefly met the next day at the lek­gotla.

I wanted to ask him about his poor up­bring­ing in Phola, his work as a maths teacher, how he en­tered pol­i­tics, his im­mi­nent na­tional role in the ANC and his many scan­dals.

I also wanted to ask him about two of my favourite projects of his: the four state-of-the-art board­ing schools he built for chil­dren of farm work­ers, and the com­mis­sion of in­quiry he re­cently ap­pointed to in­ves­ti­gate the work­ing con­di­tions of farm labour­ers. He’s the first premier to tackle this is­sue.

Phola vil­lage, between Hazyview and White River, is a mish­mash of rick­ety, mod­est and grandiose homes. Un­der­de­vel­oped and dusty, the vil­lage’s first proper streets are now be­ing built.

Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers (EFF) posters dom­i­nate walls, street poles and tree trunks.

Aside from Mabuza, the vil­lage is home to two other prom­i­nent Mpumalanga lead­ers: ANC Youth League deputy pres­i­dent Des­mond Moela and EFF pro­vin­cial leader Collen Sedibe.

Phola’s res­i­dents rarely see Mabuza or his lat­est wife, Pam Gold­ing es­tate agent Pa­tience Mnisi, nowa­days – ex­cept on his birth­day, which he cel­e­brates with vil­lage chil­dren.

Try­ing to un­der­stand his po­lit­i­cal up­bring­ing, peo­ple point you to the Monareng fam­ily.

I speak to Sipho Monareng, who rose to promi­nence with the Save Mpumalanga ANC fac­tion, Mabuza’s staunch op­po­nent. Monareng, who also bit the dust when try­ing to un­seat Mabuza, has now joined the EFF.

Mabuza was very close to Monareng’s el­der brother, Themba. As a teacher in the 1980s and 1990s, Mabuza was ac­tive in teach­ers’ union Sadtu.

“He was a very hum­ble per­son,” says Monareng of days gone by. “And a leader who wanted things to be done in an or­derly way so that the or­gan­i­sa­tion couldn’t be com­pro­mised. He talked harshly with me for be­ing naughty as a po­lit­i­cally ac­tive high school pupil with a ten­dency for or­gan­is­ing vi­o­lent civil dis­obe­di­ence cam­paigns.

“To­day, I see many strange things about him. He has changed, but the pol­i­tics in South Africa has changed too.”

Monareng rem­i­nisces that when he came back from ex­ile, Themba was pop­u­lar among ANC branches, and they had to con­vince him not to stand against Mabuza for the po­si­tion of chair­per­son of the Nel­spruit re­gion in 1995, sim­ply be­cause Mabuza was his po­lit­i­cal se­nior.

“He was not con­tested in that con­fer­ence,” Monareng says. From then on, Mabuza has been en­trenched in the ANC’s lead­er­ship.

And he has yet to lose a con­fer­ence.

PHOTO: HERMAN VER­WEY

THE HUR­RI­CANE David Mabuza is no­to­ri­ous for be­ing a ruth­less politi­cian who de­stroys op­po­nents and dumps the clos­est of his al­lies when they are no longer use­ful to him

PHOTO: HERMAN VER­WEY

COM­RADES David Mabuza and Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma dur­ing an elec­tion rally at Em­balenhle Sta­dium on April 22 2014 in Se­cunda

PHOTO: VELI NHLAPHO

NINE LIVES Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza (right) out­side the North Gaut­eng High Court dur­ing the hear­ing of his civil case against Mathews Phosa last week

David Mabuza in 2014

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