Lights! Comrades! Action!
The ANC’S Limpopo conference is a precursor to its national one, writes Marianne Merten
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.
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.