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Limpopo premier Cassel Mathale, a close ally of ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, has taken the fight to President Jacob Zuma again.
Mathale fired two ANC national executive committee (NEC) members aligned to Zuma from his provincial cabinet this week and demoted another leader.
It was his second cabinet reshuffle since taking over as premier in May 2009.
The reshuffle was seen by some as retaliation against Zuma and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe for expelling Malema from the ruling party.
Malema is the face of a countrywide network of ANC leaders and activists who want to replace Zuma with Kgalema Motlanthe as ANC president at the party’s national elective conference in Mangaung in December.
Mathale’s reshuffle came weeks after Free State Premier Ace Magashule, another key Zuma ally, removed Motlanthe supporters from his cabinet.
Mathale’s bold move was also considered a consolidation of power by marginalising Zuma supporters and other ANC leaders who were not prepared to toe the line or support Malema’s efforts to topple Zuma.
In a late-night announcement on Tuesday, Mathale sacked Dikeledi Magadzi as health and social development MEC, Joyce Mashamba as sport, arts anc culture MEC and George Phadagi as safety, security and liaison MEC. Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba was demoted from the agriculture portfolio to sport, art and culture. Under Letsatsi-Duba, the agriculture department received a clean audit.
The premier insisted that the changes were aimed at “enhancing service delivery and improving the lives of our people”.
Dr Norman Mabasa, chairman of the SA Medical Association, replaces Magadzi, while Limpopo ANC deputy secretary Florence Dzhombere takes over the safety, security and liaison portfolio.
Jacob Marule, the provincial chairman of the ANC’s Veterans League replaces Letsatsi-Duba as agriculture MEC.
Former ANC Youth League national executive committee member and Malema’s legal adviser, Clifford Motsepe, replaces Soviet Lekganyane, who resigned, as MEC of co-operative governance, human settlements and traditional affairs.
Mathale also shifted an ally whose department was among the five placed under administration by Zuma to another unaffected department.
Former roads and transport MEC Pinky Kekana swopped departments with former economic development, environment and tourism MEC Pitsi Moloto.
The roads department is being investigated for tender fraud and corruption by the Hawks and Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.
Moloto received a clean audit and his department was not affected by the cabinet takeover.
Magadzi and Mashamba are the longest-serving and experienced MECs in Mathale’s cabinet.
Alongside Letsatsi-Duba, an ANC military veteran, the duo were not part of Mathale’s inner circle.
Phadagi, who has no clear political base, was fired after just two years in the job.
He was first included in the cabinet during the February 2010 reshuffle, when Mathale sacked Saad Cachalia as provincial treasury MEC and Mirriam Segabutla as health MEC.
Magadzi’s sympathisers believed she was fired mainly for probing tender irregularities involving Mathale and Malema’s allies and handing over dossiers to the Hawks.
They added that Letsatsi- Duba was kicked out for supporting Deputy Arts and Culture Minister Joe Phaahla’s failed bid to unseat Mathale as Limpopo ANC chairman.
ANC top brass are investigating allegations that Mathale rigged the election.
At a provincial ANC caucus meeting held in Polokwane last week, Letsatsi-Duba is said to have dismissed as “factional” the provincial ANC leadership’s decision to replace legislature committee chairpersons with Mathale’s supporters.
A provincial ANC leader said: “They are purging those who did not support them in December. They started by changing legislature committee chairpersons and now they have moved to the cabinet. They are consolidating their power base in preparation to Mangaung. They are fighting and are not apologetic. They do not want Zuma and are making that clear,” said the leader.
Affected politicians concurred, saying they were pawns in the fight between Malema and Zuma.
“These people are spiteful. They just spite you and wait to see what you can do. In this instance, I think they are poking a finger at… (Mantashe),” said one leader. “It is linked to Mangaung. Obviously a person like me, they know where I stand politically.”
A well-connected ANC source added: “I think he (Mathale) is defying Zuma because I hear they were advised not to reshuffle. But they are operating under the belief that come Mangaung conference, we will remove Zuma and Mantashe and our problems will be solved. They are also retaliating against Zuma for firing Malema.”
It was not clear whether or not Luthuli House gave the reshuffle the thumbs up.
Makonde Mathivha, spokesman for the ANC in Limpopo, dismissed claims that Mathale was purging cadres as baseless.
“It is not about purging. They (the sacked MECs) conveniently forget to ask why they are deployed, but when they are redeployed they want to know the reasons. The same reasons that got them in are the same reasons that got them released.”
He denied that Mathale was avenging Malema’s expulsion, saying: “if Julius is expelled, it is not JZ; it is that committee (NDC).”
Any suggestion that Magadzi and Mashamba should not have been redeployed because they are NEC members smacked of a “personality cult”, added Mathivha.
Even former president Thabo Mbeki was once redeployed by the ANC, he said. - Piet Rampedi