Lights! Com­rades! Ac­tion!

The ANC’S Lim­popo con­fer­ence is a pre­cur­sor to its national one, writes Mar­i­anne Merten

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

IT’S BEEN four years to the day of the wa­ter­shed ANC national con­fer­ence when, af­ter a tough but strate­gi­cally or­gan­ised cam­paign, del­e­gates ef­fec­tively ended Thabo Mbeki’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer and ush­ered in Ja­cob Zuma as party pres­i­dent. And the fo­cus is back on Polok­wane, the cap­i­tal of Lim­popo.

Now it’s a provin­cial ANC con­test, but one that can’t be ig­nored, be­cause of its im­pact on the ANC elec­tive con­fer­ence next year in Man­gaung, as well as the do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal arena. This is be­cause the Lim­popo con­fer­ence is in­ter­twined with fac­tions in the rul­ing party push­ing not just for posts, but also for lead­ers more in tune with SA’S in­creas­ingly younger pop­u­la­tion and for poli­cies to break per­ceived bot­tle­necks in de­liv­ery and tackle the con­flu­ence of party, state and busi­ness.

National govern­ment’s re­cent take-over of five of 11 Lim­popo de­part­ments led to talk of this be­ing a ploy to use state struc­tures to set­tle po­lit­i­cal scores in a prov­ince which has not been shy of ex­press­ing a wish for lead­er­ship change to oc­cur at the cen­te­nary Man­gaung ANC con­fer­ence next De­cem­ber.

Tak­ing place in what has been termed the “hub of cor­rup­tion”, the Lim­popo ANC con­fer­ence has all the char­ac­ters and twisted sub­plots of a tele­vi­sion soapie.

The lead play­ers: Cas­sel Mathale, the in­cum­bent party boss, premier and busi­ness­man with 16 ac­tive di­rec­tor­ships, in­clud­ing one in Ei­land Spa, which he de­clared in 2010, along­side a farm and three houses, ver­sus Joe Phaahla, deputy arts and cul­ture min­is­ter, party se­nior and busi­ness­man with shares in six com­pa­nies and di­rec­tor­ships in eight dor­mant ones, ac­cord­ing to his 2011 dec­la­ra­tions to Par­lia­ment’s reg­is­ter of mem­bers’ in­ter­ests.

The sup­port­ing cast: Cosatu and the SACP, which have thrown their weight be­hind Phaahla, ver­sus the ANC Women’s League and youth league root­ing for Mathale.

The god­fa­ther: ANCYL leader Julius Malema, a close ally of Mathale, and power-player in his home prov­ince where, over the past few years, he al­legedly had a large say in who goes where, but is now in po­lit­i­cal limbo pend­ing the fi­nal­i­sa­tion of his ap­peal against a five-year sus­pen­sion for sow­ing di­vi­sions in the ANC.

The bit parts: An as­sort­ment of in­di­vid­u­als who lost out in provin­cial power plays, in­clud­ing a group of dis­grun­tled busi­ness­men and ex­pelled ANCYL Lim­popo chair­man Lehl­o­gonolo Ma­soga, who lost his seat in the provin­cial leg­is­la­ture, but is now on the come­back trail. He was re­cently elected un­op­posed as chair­man of the ANC’S branch in Polok­wane’s Ward 20, which in­cludes Flora Park, the sub­urb dubbed “Ten­der Park” for the num­ber of its res­i­dent ten­der­preneurs.

As for the story line, this could de­velop ei­ther way. Should Mathale lose the party post, it would in­di­cate wors­en­ing for­tunes for those as­so­ci­ated with a push to pre­vent Zuma from a sec­ond term as party pres­i­dent. Such a de­vel­op­ment could bring Lim­popo un­der the po­lit­i­cal con­trol of a group with close ties to Zuma, dat­ing back to his elec­tion in 2007.

Should Mathale trounce the out­sider – although Phaahla once served in Lim­popo govern­ment struc­tures, he’s long been gone – it may well sig­nal a boost for moves against the cur­rent lead­er­ship. It could strengthen the po­si­tion of those back­ing Sports Min­is­ter Fik­ile Mbalula, a former ANCYL leader who en­sured Malema suc­ceeded him in 2008, and deputy pres­i­dent Kgalema Mot­lanthe for the top party posts in De­cem­ber 2012.

Also fea­tur­ing in Lim­popo’s sto­ry­line are the elite po­lice unit, the Hawks, prob­ing al­le­ga­tions of ten- der rig­ging, in­clud­ing awards made to com­pa­nies in which Malema is in­volved; the national anti-cor­rup­tion task team; and the Spe­cial In­ves­ti­gat­ing Unit (SIU). The pub­lic pro­tec­tor is also look­ing at al­le­ga­tions of abuse in ten­der ad­ju­di­ca­tion by On- Point En­gi­neer­ing, a com­pany with reaches into the roads and trans­port depart­ment and has links to Malema’s fam­ily trust.

An ear­lier pub­lic pro­tec­tor probe of SGL En­gi­neer­ing, an­other com­pany as­so­ci­ated with Malema, found ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties could not be de­ter­mined “due to poor pro­cure­ment record keep­ing by the said (three) mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties” which awarded the com­pany ten­ders.

Cosatu gen­eral sec­re­tary Zwelinz­ima Vavi this week cau­tioned again ten­der­preneurism and that “ac­cess to govern­ment power that brings its lead­ers closer to state ten­ders” di­vided the ANC and its al­liance part­ners, not dif­fer­ences over ide­ol­ogy or po­lit­i­cal views.

“Un­less we scale up our cam- paign against the scourge of cor­rup­tion, we face a dan­ger that no one will be able to do busi­ness with the state with­out greas­ing the hands of cor­rupt gate­keep­ers who de­mand bribes and who, un­less they are stopped, may sys­tem­at­i­cally use their power to con­trol large ar­eas of the econ­omy,” Vavi told a Cosatu anti- cor­rup­tion march in Polok­wane this week.

There was no call for the Lim­popo govern­ment to re­sign this time. When the SACP made such a call last month, it was met with a sharp tongue-lash­ing by the ANC and the Lim­popo women’s league,.

As min­is­ters and national of­fi­cials in­sisted the take- over of provin­cial govern­ment de­part­ments was nec­es­sary – the prov­ince ex­hausted its R757 mil­lion over­draft and faced not be­ing able to pay its work­ers this Christ­mas – Cosatu main­tained the protest was just one of sev­eral planned for var­i­ous prov­inces.

But in an environment where the state, party and busi­ness ap­pear to be rather cosy, it’s eas­ier to close the laager amid po­lit­i­cal para­noia and a them-and-us at­ti­tude. Thus it was easy for Malema to hit all the right notes this week when he said the ANC was “out to get” Mathale.

All this is part of the sub-plot: Mathale re­mains pop­u­lar among the youth and, if as re­solved at its June con­fer­ence, ANCYL mem­bers have “in­fil­trated” ANC branches, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of the 1 086 del­e­gates rep­re­sent­ing more than 480 branches may well be sup­port­ive of the in­cum­bent.

And Mathale, an ex- Lim­popo youth league leader, re­mains close to the league if his po­lit­i­cal re­port to the provin­cial gen­eral coun­cil (PGC) in July is any­thing to go by.

Of the 46- para­graph re­port, al­most half is ded­i­cated to the bomb­ings in Libya fol­low­ing UN Res­o­lu­tion 1973, SA’S sup­port of which the ANCYL stren­u­ously crit­i­cised. Ten para­graphs talk about the league’s Eco­nomic Free­dom in our Life Time pro­gramme, cau­tion­ing “we must not wish to reach the worst case sce­nario of as­sas­si­na­tions”. There are seven para­graphs on the lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions and two on south­ern Su­dan’s in­de­pen­dence. An­other seven para­graphs cover cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions, unity and govern­ment spend­ing pri­or­i­ties.

In what could be a scene-set­ter for this week’s con­fer­ence, the PGC dec­la­ra­tion talked as much about the ANCYL as the ANC. It dis­missed claims of cor­rup­tion and that “the Youth League pres­i­dent (Malema) has a cor­rupt re­la­tion­ship with the ANC Lim­popo provin­cial govern­ment”. In­stead it talked of “po­lit­i­cal forces” which would try un­der­mine “the ANCYL’S rad­i­cal po­lit­i­cal pro­gramme as sup­ported by the ANC in Lim­popo”, in­clud­ing the na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of mines.

“The cur­rent unity and co­he­sion within the ANCYL and ANC in Lim­popo presents a for­mi­da­ble force to in­flu­ence the lead­er­ship and pol­icy di­rec­tion of our move­ment in the national pol­icy con­fer­ence as well as the national elec­tive con­fer­ence next year,” reads the PGC dec­la­ra­tion. The bat­tle lines are drawn. But per­haps there is a les­son from the late Polok­wane born-and­bred Peter Mok­aba. This fire­brand youth league leader turned MP and deputy min­is­ter trig­gered con­tro­versy with his “Kill the Boer, Kill the Farmer”, crit­i­cism of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies for us­ing “toxic” an­tiretro­vi­rals to make prof­its and his close re­la­tion­ship with strug­gle stal­wart Win­nie Madik­izela-man­dela when she was not read­ily wel­comed at the ANC hearth.

Yet he also en­joyed the re­spect and es­teem of party lead­ers. It was a fine bal­anc­ing act.

There are some re­al­i­ties, which can­not be glossed over. While the Lim­popo govern­ment spin for months high­lighted clean au­dits and de­liv­ery, even while ad­mit­ting that its mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties were in a fraught state in Au­gust, its cof­fers were run­ning dry. ANC mem­ber­ship in the prov­ince is de­clin­ing – down to about 84 000 from just over 101 000 last year, as the ANC pushes to reach the one mil­lion mem­bers mark.

In Polok­wane a few days ago, Vavi warned that the pol­i­tics of di­vi­sions lead to a change of face in of­fice, but not to the at­ti­tude that “It is our time to eat”.

This raises fun­da­men­tal ques­tions for the ANC, not just in Lim­popo, about whether the fight for a bet­ter life is for all or just a few po­lit­i­cally- con­nected want­ing to play in party, busi­ness and govern­ment, all at the same time.

PIC­TURE: AP

WEARY HUG: Thabo Mbeki and Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma em­brace at the Polok­wane con­fer­ence in 2007 where Zuma took over as ANC pres­i­dent.

CON­TENDER: Joe Phaahla will be up against Zuma for the top post.

PREMIER: Cas­sel Mathale’s vic­tory may spell doom for Zuma.

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