[OPINION] State capture began in Limpopo with Malema in the mix

In December 2015, I published a book with the title Tenders and the Fall of Limpopo. In the book I chronicled political events in the Limpopo province from the earth-shattering outcome of the 2007 ANC national conference held in Polokwane in which Jacob Zuma pulverised Thabo Mbeki to claim the mantle of president of the African National Congress, and the rise of Julius Malema to the presidency of the ANC Youth League and the financial collapse of the Limpopo government under Premier Cassel Mathale. Two of the most important campaigners for Zuma in the countdown to Polokwane were Cassel Mathale and Julius Malema, who in 2008 had become chairperson of the ANC in Limpopo and President of the ANC Youth League in South Africa respectively. Zuma, Mathale and Malema were in the same WhatsApp group.

In a strange twist of fate, two years after assuming office as president, Zuma turned against his chief campaigners for Polokwane and dissolved the Mathale government for bankruptcy and bad governance. This did not sit well with Malema, at the time the president of the Young Lions of the African National Congress. Zuma was seeking re-election as president of the ANC and his two comrades Mathale and Malema wanted him replaced by Kgalema Motlanthe. The scene was set for a thrilling broedertwis [Broedertwis is an Afrikaans word meaning a fight among broeders or brothers. It means more than brother. It is brotherhood and Afrikaner solidarity].

On 5 December 2011, President Jacob Zuma stunned the nation when he invoked the much-dreaded Section 100 of the Constitution and placed the government of Limpopo province under administration. Allegedly owing to massive tender irregularities, maladministration and reckless spending, the province had run out of money and was unable to provide services required from the provincial government. Zuma had assembled an inter-ministerial intervention team led by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. The other ministers involved in the team were Angie Motshekga, Aaron Motsoaledi, and Thulas Nxesi. It was Gordhan who led the charge and appointed his managers to take over the finances of the province, rendering Premier Mathale a ceremonial head of provincial government without powers. Apparently, Julius Malema, allegedly the real power behind Mathale, was not amused by the fact that Gordhan had tampered with his meal ticket. This perhaps explains why there is so much hatred between the two men today.

It was the first time since the dawn of democracy that national government had taken drastic action against an errant province. It is also significant that it was the ANC government led by Zuma that was taking over an ANC-led provincial government that had financially collapsed. Limpopo's failure was the ANC government's first real embarrassment since it came to power in 1994 under the leadership of Nelson Mandela. The allegations of corruption against the Limpopo government that led to financial collapse signalled the end of the innocence of the glorious movement. The sins of incumbency were beginning to catch up with the people's movement.

At the time of placing Limpopo under administration in 2011, Premier Cassel Mathale, who was also chairperson of the African National Congress, was a close associate of the president of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema. Although only five departments were put under administration, they accounted for about 80% of the budget. In a celebrated article published by City Press in August 2011, Piet Rampedi and Adriaan Basson described Limpopo's political elite as “The Mafia” and elaborated as follows:

"A small but powerful clique of politicians, senior bureaucrats and businessmen led by Premier Cassel Mathale and ANC Youth Leader Julius Malema has entwined business interests and has tightened the grip on the fiscus of Limpopo.”

Although it is true that Julius Malema was not in government, his grip on the Limpopo government and its fiscus was indisputable to those who understood the mechanics of power in the province. The young man from Seshego was more powerful than even the premier of the province, it was alleged. Having single-handedly catapulted Mathale to power by installing him as chairperson of the province in 2008, Malema pulled the strings in a manner that thrillers are made of.

In the book, I argue, based on basic research, that with Malema leading the charge, Mathale's victory over then Limpopo ANC chairperson and Premier Sello Moloto was meticulously planned and ruthlessly executed. In the countdown to the provincial conference in 2008, fortified by his position as national president of the ANC Youth League, Malema launched a no-holds-barred all-out war against Moloto to ultimately hand over the crown to Mathale. Drunk from his victory in Thohoyandou, Malema became the most powerful ANC leader in the province and called the shots. His youth league storm troopers, like the current EFF army, rode roughshod over everybody in the ANC and government, thus giving him total control of the impoverished province. The Limpopo government had been captured. The captors looted it into submission. This was indeed the first case of state capture of government, albeit a provincial one.

It is, therefore, necessary for Judge Zondo and his team to study the history of Limpopo province as the first case of state capture to learn some lessons that would be helpful in providing a credible narrative of what state capture is in democratic South Africa. Other lessons of state capture can be learnt from the shenanigans of the so-called Premier League in the three provinces of Mpumalanga, Free State and North West. In these provinces, three strong men emerged as ANC chairpersons and premiers and organised themselves into a formidable force that captured the ANC and the provincial governments they led. David Mabuza, Ace Magashule and Supra Mahumapelo were the Premier League. Never in the history of the ANC had a faction organised so ruthlessly and so openly as the barons of the Premier League. They were so powerful that even they referred to themselves as the Premier League. They also captured the Youth League, Women's League and MK Veterans League to prop up President Jacob Zuma, who himself was captured by the Gupta brothers. It's time to connect the dots Justice Zondo.

What is worrying, particularly about Limpopo, is not just that it was the first province to be captured, it is also the province that has given the country VBS and all its aftermath. What is wrong with the province of Makhado, Sekhukhune, Ngungunyane, Makgatho, Motsoaledi, Shope, Phokanoka and Mokaba? The biggest ANC scandal in which the democratic government of the glorious movement has stolen from the poor and vulnerable largely occurred in the Great North. The national ANC leadership, with its toothless Integrity Commission, is failing to decisively deal with this crisis. There are rumours that ANC members opposed to this VBS looting are beginning to die and Premier Stan Mathabatha threatened fire and brimstone to all the looters of VBS at the funeral of one of the “assassinated” outspoken opponent VBS looting in Burgersfort. This is a tragedy in the making if Limpopo is to descend into an orgy of political assassinations between the pro-and anti-VBS forces in the province of peace. VBS is proving to be too costly for the ANC government.

There is no doubt in my mind, that the state capture commission and VBS will provide this nation with the catharsis it requires to deal with the demons of the past. President Ramaphosa and the ANC leadership must ensure that whatever outcome that emerges out of these two episodes leads to the crafting of a new ethos for our country. The ANC has already taken a decision that the raiders of VBS should be punished. However, as usual, it has shown little will to implement its decisions. There is uncertainty as to what exactly is going to happen to the culprits. The current suspension of officials in VBS municipalities is unacceptable. The real decision-makers about the reckless and corrupt investments in VBS was the decision of mayors and it is only that it appears action will be taken against the political principals. Poor officials, seeking to spinelessly retain their positions by taking verbal instructions from politicians are hung out to dry. The ANC must understand that its inaction and hypocrisy will have a political cost in the 2019 elections.

Finally, the Zondo commission is hotting up and the likes of Ngoako Ramatlhodi, Cheryl Carolus, Pravin Gordhan, Mcebisi Jonas, Themba Maseko and Barbara Hogan have demonstrated rare courage as patriots, to rid our country of corruption and state capture. Their bravery must not be in vain. For the love of their country, they have testified against their life-long corrupt comrades who in the service of the treasonous Jacob Zuma were complicit in selling out their country to the Guptas. A new nation must be born.

The book Tenders and the Fall of Limpopo can be ordered at info@selecom.co.za.

Sello Lediga is a social commentator, author and leader of the independent Thuma Mina Movement.