A political realignment appears to be taking place within the Limpopo ANC, with speculation that Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba has switched political allegiance after a fallout with Premier Stan Mathabatha.
According to two sources in the province – one a unionist and another a provincial ANC leader – Ramathuba has joined a camp led by provincial secretary Reuben Madadzhe, which has complicated her political relationship with Mathabatha’s dominant faction in the province.
It is believed that ANC leaders, members and alliance partners opposed to Mathabatha have been rallying behind Madadzhe since he broke ranks with Mathabatha’s camp on the eve of the Nasrec conference over support for President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Sources said Ramathuba recently switched sides and dumped Mathabatha, whom she had supported for years after realising that his political fortunes were dwindling. Ramathuba is currently fighting for her job and political career after the National, Health and Allied Union (Nehawu) in Limpopo marched on Mathabatha’s office in Polokwane two weeks ago, demanding that he fires her.
The union has accused her of running down the department, failing to fill funded vacancies, and failing to act against officials who allegedly rigged the outcomes of job interviews. So intense is the fallout that it has sparked rumours that Mathabatha encouraged the Nehawu march to get a reason to sack Ramathuba, a claim denied by the union.
“It is very clear that Phophi’s days as MEC are over. Information is that Phophi has ditched Mathabatha, and she is aligning with the ANC’s provincial secretary [Reuben] Madadzhe. That is why there have been fanatic moves from Madadzhe’s side to get the leadership of Nehawu to drop both the night vigil and the march in exchange for negotiations,” said a source who preferred anonymity.
A provincial ANC leader confirmed the fallout between Mathabatha and Ramathuba, saying they believed that it had everything to do with her switching political allegiance and the broader re-alignment in Limpopo. Mathabatha’s camp has been under siege in recent weeks, with Limpopo ANC Youth chairperson Tonny Rachuene leading the assault on his leadership and government.
Rachuene recently accused Mathabatha’s government of bribing the youth with EPWP job opportunities instead of creating real and permanent jobs for them. Moreover, the provincial ANC Veterans League, Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP) have demanded action and accountability over the VBS scandal, which has implicated senior party leaders close to Mathabatha.
“There has been a movie by the Youth League who want positions in Mathabatha’s cabinet. Mathabatha is being cornered because these boys can pronounce that he must go. Now Mathabatha is pressured to make vacancies available to accommodate the Youth League, and it’s very difficult for him to find this vacancy because all the people who serve in his cabinet are still loyal to him except Phophi.
“Phophi crossed the floor after realising that Mathabatha’s days are numbered. She was also not impressed that they were not able to deliver at the national executive committee of the ANC as she was in the slate. She is also with the ANC Women’s League slate that is going to [the] national conference, and this slate is not supported by Mathabatha. Mathabatha is supporting a different candidate, but this candidate’s name is not flying,” the source said.
Madadzhe failed to respond to a request for comment.
Mathabatha’s spokesperson Willy Mosoma denied any plot to remove Ramathuba.
“The Office of the Premier normally communicates when the premier decides to reconstitute his EXCO. To date, we have not issued any statement regarding the reconfiguration of EXCO. Therefore there is no basis to clarify on this matter,” said Mosoma.
He, however, did not respond to questions on Mathabatha’s relationship with Ramathuba following the Nasrec conference.
Nehawu provincial secretary Moses Maubane dismissed suggestions that the union’s demands for Ramathuba’s head were partly motivated by her fallout with Mathabatha, and the changing ANC politics in Limpopo, saying that was none of Nehawu’s business.
“The premier is not the one who is turning a blind eye on allegations of tender rigging and rigging of posts in the Department of Health, the collapse of the public health system, the dilapidated building of our hospitals, the rats found in our hospitals, the returning back of health budget which could have been used to improve health services to the citizens of the province,” Maubane said.
He said the current relationship between Mathabatha and Ramathuba was not Nehawu’s business.
“Our struggle is to protect and advance the interest of our members from the employers, including Ramathuba, who is masquerading as a heroine on her social media platform when in essence, she is failing in her fiduciary responsibilities of doing oversight in the administration of the department.
“Hence, even our demands have got nothing to do with who supports who in the ANC politics but focused on the brutality meted against our members by the MEC of health, of all the MECs in the province,” Maubane said.
Limpopo Department of Health spokesperson Neil Shikwambana said they were not aware of any information linking Mathabatha to the concerted efforts to remove Ramathuba.
He said the rumours seemed fueled to create a wedge between Mathabatha and Ramathuba.
“We don’t know of any move to remove the MEC. The MEC is busy with her work of serving the people of Limpopo and she does not have time to entertain media gossip.
“The premier has been very supportive of the work that the MEC is doing and has, on several occasions, publicly affirmed the MEC for doing good work as the MEC for health,” said Shikwambana.
“As far as the MEC knows, the premier does not need a campaign or a plot to remove her from her post because, in the first place, she is serving as the MEC on the behest of the Premier.”
Ramathuba said she agreed with Shikwambana’s responses on her behalf.