ANC Mpumalanga chair hopefuls look to conference in Mabuza's shadow

Competition for head of the Mpumalanga ANC is heating up and it seems to be a three-horse race - but it can't shake off David Mabuza.

FILE: ANC Mpumalanga provincial members gathered to marched on Luthuli House in Johannesburg, calling on the NWC to dissolve the provincial leadership on 27 August 2018. Picture: Sethembiso Zulu/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The race to replace former Mpumalanga African National Congress (ANC) chairperson David Mabuza is gaining speed - with lobbying for at least three possible candidates intensifying.

With political activities now allowed under lockdown level one, the party in the province is hoping to hold the much awaited elective conference as early as May.

Mabuza’s once firm grip on the province he led as chair for nine years appears to be loosening, with some sources in the province claiming that there was a growing “revolt” against his continued influence.

Mabuza moved to Luthuli House in 2017 when he was elected ANC deputy president but it was always understood he had anointed successors.

While no date set yet for the provincial conference, Eyewitness News spoke to several people in the province, including acting chairperson Mandla Ndlovu and former provincial secretary Lucky Ndinisa this week, as the province prepared for conference.

Ndlovu and Ndinisa have been labelled as front-runners in the race to finally replace Mabuza as chairperson.

The two have very different views on the current state of the party. The acting chairperson described the province’s problems as no worse than other party structures across the country while Ndinisa, who is said to have Mabuza’s backing, said the ANC had “damn near collapsed” following the longtime chair's departure.

“Because I am a [provincial executive council] member, I will start with us. We are not facing one direction… it tells you that also there are challenges,” said Ndinisa.

He raised concerns about branch general meetings where violence became frequent over the years but said it would be unfair to lay blame for the state of the province with the branches and regions alone.

He placed blame for the eroding state of the organisation, on the provincial leadership.

“My belief is that if the PEC is united, then the regions and branches will be united. I am putting the issue of divisions squarely with the PEC,” continued Ndinisa.

A THREE-WAY RACE?

Ndlovu is said to be leading a faction named Focus, which enjoys the support of several PEC members, while Ndinisa is the preferred chair by a lobby group named Ngqi, which once called for Premier Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane to become the first female provincial chair. It has since abandoned Mtsweni-Tsipane following her own fall out with Mabuza.

Ndlovu, who was the province’s secretary until Mabuza’s rise to national office, said the past year had been difficult as COVID-19 scuppered plans to elect new leaders across its branches and regions.

He expressed hope that once a roadmap was adopted, the province could have new leadership by the end of May.

The acting chairperson, who was seen as “anointed” by Mabuza as his replacement at one point, refused to confirm whether he wanted the top post, arguing that it went against the party’s traditions and saying that one only made this pronouncement when asked during the provincial conference.

While Nldovu and the rest of the PEC has struggled to escape the shadow of Mabuza, he rubbished claims made by many that the deputy president still had control over the running of both the ANC and the government in Mpumalanga. He said the former chair would remain connected to the province but that he was no lame duck chair either.

“It’s a sign of disrespect, a sign that people are undermining me as an individual and acting chair of the ANC,” said Ndlovu.

“I am in charge here in the province, and together with the PEC, we are managing the affairs of the ANC,” he added.

There is talk across parts of the province of a possible third grouping, known to some as Forces of Change, which has been said to be in its infant stages and attempting to revive Mtsweni-Tsepane’s campaign. Eyewitness News understands former allies-turned-foes of Mabuza have been pushing for the premier to challenge the two men, a move said to have been emboldened by the likes of Peter Nyoni, the recently appointed acting director-general in her office.

Mtsweni-Tsepane fired four MECs in February after months of infighting, removing Mabuza loyalists from the cabinet and a move seen as her readiness to ready to tackle him and his allies for the leadership position. The ousted MECs were Community Safety and Security MEC Gabisile Tshabalala, Human Settlements MEC Norah Mahlangu, Economic Development and Tourism MEC Petrus Ngomane and Public Works MEC Gillion Mashego.

Nyoni himself told Eyewitness News of a need to unite and clean up Mpumalanga, emphasising a need for the organisation to shift from being self-serving to focusing on the needs of the people.

Nyoni said: “Our priorities have to be, how do we clean the government, how do we project an image that says we are serving the interests of the people as opposed to serving our own interests?”

The acting director general has been punted by some as an ideal provincial secretary due to his vast experience.

Mabuza’s former lieutenants in the province are drawing lessons from Free State after the departure of that province’s strongman Ace Magashule to Luthuli house as secretary-general.

There are some pushing for a united front to dislodge the Mabuza grouping.

A provincial leader who did not want to be named said conversations were happening across the different lobby groups, adding that people shouldn’t be surprised to see a leadership collective made up of individuals from the different slates being bandied about.

This leader also praised Mtsweni-Tsipane for her cabinet reshuffle last month, claiming she showed commitment and courage where many men had failed, arguing that this should earn her a seat as chair of the ANC.

Ndinisa has personal mannerisms that could easily be compared to that of Mabuza, but he insists he is his own man and not an extension of the former leader.

In a sit-down with Eyewitness News, he said his branch had long nominated him to contest for provincial chair and that he remained available to serve in that regard.

But Ndinsa said he would be willing to get behind whomever branches of the province elect, including Mtsweni-Tsipane, if she is successful.

Mpumalanga's ANC PEC is expected to decide on a date for the elective conference at the end of the week.

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