Tshwarelo Hunter Mogakane
Limpopo ANC chairperson Stanley Mathabatha has narrowly dodged a meeting which many believe could have marked the beginning of the end of his tenure as premier.
This follows his fallout with President Cyril Ramaphosa over his support for Dr Zweli Mkhize’s failed bid for the governing party’s presidency at the Nasrec conference in December.
According to correspondence from ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula, which the Sunday World has seen, the National Working Committee (NWC) of the ANC was expected to oversee regional general councils (RGCs) in the province this weekend.
The RGC work was also expected to be followed by a face-to-face meeting with Mathabatha and the rest of his ANC provincial executive committee, or Top 5, tomorrow.
“NWC Members are expected to arrive in Limpopo on Saturday, 25 March 2023 and to visit regions on Sunday, 26 March 2023.
The SGO is aware that a number of NWC members and NEC deployees are attending the ANC Caucus Workshop on 24 – 26 March 2023. The SGO is engaging the Office of the Chief Whip in this regard.
The Agenda and Documentation will be circulated,” said Mbalula in his letter to the Limpopo leadership, dated March 16.
The meeting was cancelled at the 11th hour due to an ongoing ANC Parliamentary Caucus Lekgotla that is running until tomorrow in Midrand.
Mathabatha was the first ANC provincial chairperson to publicly nominate Ramaphosa for a second term, which he did during the 2022 January 8 celebrations in Polokwane, against the protocols of the liberation movement.
While his stance drew criticism from staunch ANC members and Ramaphosa detractors, it made him appear to be one of the president’s strongest loyalists.
The cosy relationship was short-lived when 11 months later, Mathabatha did a U-turn and attempted to persuade Limpopo delegates to join his sudden allegiance to former Health Minister Mkhize, who lost to the incumbent.
Mathabatha’s U-turn, which was rejected by a number of regions in the province, created internal political tensions among the Limpopo ANC’s Top 5, and regional leaders.
Since then, the chairperson has encountered opposition from his own members.
Last month, a rowdy crowd booed him during the belated celebrations of both the 111th ANC birthday and the January 8 Statement at Ga-Masemola Stadium in Sekhukhune, forcing him to go underground.
Sources who spoke to Sunday World on condition of anonymity highlighted that this weekend’s NWC visit to oversee RGCs was being used as a launchpad for a wider strategy to remove Mathabatha after the Nasrec political fallout with Ramaphosa.
The sources said the NWC planned to meet with Mathabatha and other top five leaders to discuss the state of the ANC in the province as pressure mounts for him to resign as premier.
They said some ANC leaders are pushing for Mathabatha’s departure, citing his alleged loss of support within party structures, governance issues and his decision to appoint as MECs leaders who have been implicated in the VBS looting and fraud scandal.
Former Vhembe mayor and current deputy chairperson Florence Radzilani and provincial treasurer and former Lepelle Nkumpi mayor Nakedi Sibanda-Kekana were appointed in the last cabinet reshuffle even though they have not successfully challenged advocate Terry Motau’s damning report against them.
“The leaders wanted to meet the Top 5 in order to assess the state of the ANC in the province. This comes at the backdrop of the 111th and January 8 celebrations, which had been initially scheduled to be held in the Waterberg region.
“When Mathabatha and his key people realised that they might not have warm reception in Waterberg they quickly opted for his home region of Sekhukhune, where he was booed. He was not allowed to introduce the deployees of the ANC,” said one source.
The ANC insider said since the booing incident, Mathabatha had grown “cold feet” when it comes to attending public events.
“He does not (even) want to meet people in public anymore. For instance, there was Human Rights Day on the 21st. For the first time in his history he delegated an MEC.
“On Friday we marked World TB Day and he was the keynote speaker there, but he did not show. Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba eventually gave the address. This was in spite of the provincial government having spent a lot of money advertising that the premier will be speaking.
“The ANC is now under tremendous pressure given the upcoming elections. Internal research has shown the NWC that Gauteng is going and KwaZulu-Natal will go to the IFP. They are now heavily relying on Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Eastern Cape to cover the gaps,” said the source.
He went further to explain that Mathabatha was expected to play a key role in gearing up the ANC to win Limpopo through his governmental position.
“The NWC is now saying, ‘How do you achieve that with a premier who does not want to go to the masses?’ The ANC is now preparing for 2024, so how is he going to campaign?
“Equally, there is a whole lot of anger on the ground, particularly amongst ANC members who view him as someone who has betrayed them towards Nasrec when the province had taken a particular posture but he went against the decision.
“It is very clear that they want him to leave as soon as possible so that they start to campaign. His decision to appoint leaders implicated in the VBS is also resonating badly with the people of Vhembe District who lost their money when the mutual bank collapsed,” the source said.
South African Communist Party secretary in the Vhembe District Sibongile Kotane said the VBS scandal had been buried while politicians enjoyed promotions.
“We have been running the Justice for Musetsho-Mani Campaign for some years now in the hopes that there will be justice for the two comrades who were assassinated because of what they knew about the VBS scandal.
“All we see is that those implicated have been removed as mayors but only to get promoted in one way or another. How do they get appointed and no one is taking action?
“The cases are being postponed left, right and centre while those who benefitted are enjoying themselves. We can’t keep on saying that when you are a whistleblower you must become a victim. It doesn’t matter who is premier, we want justice,” said Kotane, who is also secretary of the Musetho-Mani Foundation.
Limpopo provincial government spokesperson Ndavhe Ramukuela’s phone rang unanswered while he also did not respond to a media inquiry sent via text.
ANC national spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri did not respond to questions sent to her junior, Amos Phago, whom she has named as the receiver of media inquiries.
Attempts to directly contact Matabatha have proven unfruitful.