The EFF’s decision to embrace Michael “Ngrayi” Ngwenya, a polarizing figure known for his aggressive tactics and suppression of opposing viewpoints within the ANC in Mpumalanga, has sparked a wave of controversy.
On Sunday, Ngwenya was paraded as one of the 3,000 former ANC members recruited to join the red berets as part of an undoubtedly calculated strategy to bolster their electoral prospects within the Nkomazi sub-region.
According to Ngwenya, the ANC drove him to the EFF.
“No one in the EFF approached me. I approached the EFF and asked if I could assist with their groundwork. So, yes, it is true. I have signed up for EFF membership as I have been patient after being suspended from the ANC for three years on spurious charges. My sin was supporting President Jacob Zuma and Ace Magashule when they were appearing in different courts.
“I have not been participating in any ANC affairs, and I tried to appeal when late ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte was still alive. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the current ANC secretary-general publicly called me a donkey. I then realized that I’m no longer needed in the ANC after giving them 25 years of voluntary service,” said Ngwenya.
Ngwenya’s extensive leadership experience, having previously led both the Ehlanzeni region from 2011 to 2019 and the Nkomazi sub-region before that, adds significant weight to this strategic decision.
The regional politician established himself as a staunch supporter of David Mabuza, the former Mpumalanga ANC chairperson and premier, who later ascended to the position of deputy president within the governing party and the Republic of South Africa, before making way for his successor, Paul Mashatile.
When Mabuza left the province to assume high office, his association with Ngwenya had significantly soured due to rumours about Ngwenya allegedly betraying Mabuza to then-president Jacob Zuma.
These rumours claimed that Ngwenya had divulged Mpumalanga’s plot to replace Zuma with Kgalema Motlanthe at the ANC’s national elective conference in 2012 in Mangaung, Free State. Ngwenya was again unhappy when Mabuza’s faction voted for incumbent president Cyril Ramaphosa at the Nasrec conference in 2017.
However, Mabuza and Ngwenya managed to reconcile their differences and forge ahead with their collaborative efforts to maintain their stronghold over the political landscape of the Lowveld region.
Several court appearances involving criminal charges stemming from his alleged involvement in physical altercations with fellow comrades who held opposing views marked Ngwenya’s leadership of Ehlanzeni.
His unwavering allegiance to Zuma proved his downfall, as he found himself entangled in a web of political turmoil within his own party. In 2021, Ngwenya openly criticized the ANC in front of the ex-president’s residence in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, a move that divided opinions within the party.
Then-acting ANC provincial secretary, Lindiwe Ntshalintshali, announced Ngwenya’s suspension from the party on charges of bringing the ANC into disrepute and also flagrantly violating COVID-19 regulations that strictly prohibited public gatherings. Ntshalintshali’s announcement was, however, seen as revenge, as she once accused Ngwenya of assaulting her years earlier.
Unhappy members of the ANC and the EFF took to social media platforms to share past videos featuring EFF President Julius Malema, wherein he passionately vowed to rid Mpumalanga of allegedly corrupt figures such as Ngwenya.
Malema castigated Ngwenya in one video, alleging his orchestration of a mass exodus of Mbombela Local Municipality mayors and managers. Malema said the resignations of the public officials reflected their steadfast refusal to partake in Ngwenya’s alleged grand scheme of embezzlement.
When asked about working with someone who once branded him a criminal, Ngwenya said whatever Malema said about him was all in the past.
“The EFF leaders know me well because I worked with them before they were removed from the ANC. Malema used to invite me to support him during his days as an ANCYL leader. One thing that makes us gel is our commitment to groundwork. I love Malema and the EFF because of their approach to engaging communities. That is what I know how to do best.
“Those who called me a donkey are the ones who should be worried. They have no idea how much they hurt ANC supporters on the ground. They even expelled seven councillors in Nkomazi because those councillors were supporting me. They are thankless, and for that reason, they won’t see 50% of the Nkomazi vote next year,” Ngwenya said.
Ngwenya’s suspension from the ANC effectively barred him from engaging in any ANC political activities, thereby creating a void that the EFF capitalized on, successfully gaining ground in Nkomazi, and ultimately securing victory in Ward 11 during the by-election held in October 2022.
While the ANC expressed sadness over losing the ward to EFF leader Mafia Fane, this lamentation has failed to bridge the divide between the ANC and Ngwenya, who has now officially joined forces with the EFF.
An ordinary member of the ANC in Mpumalanga, Nathi Sithole, admitted that they had lost a strong comrade.
“We lost a true ground force here. He used to hire taxis from Mpumalanga to Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal to attend President Zuma’s court appearances with branded ANC T-shirts. He was so committed to the struggle,” said Sithole.
The presence of Ngwenya within the ranks of the EFF has elicited unease among certain members, who argue that his inclusion poses a potential liability and raises concerns about his alleged involvement in criminal activities.
Some were brave enough to use social media to speak out against the move, resulting in EFF Mpumalanga chairperson Collen Sedibe responding with caution to his party members, advising them against labelling Ngwenya as “a mere thug.”
Sedibe pleaded with his members to recognize Ngwenya as a valuable asset in their quest to overthrow the ANC in the Nkomazi region.
He suggested that members of the EFF who reside outside the province lack the necessary insight to fully appreciate the significance and worth of politicians like Ngwenya.
“Fighter Michael Ngrayi Ngwenya is an EFF member in good standing. Ngrayi is very good at mobilization. He will destroy the ANC in that [Nkomazi] sub-region. The EFF will deal with him decisively if he [messes up] and he knows that very well,” said Sedibe.