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Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma’s re-election as ANC leader and Julius Malema’s shipwrecked hopes of returning to the party have raised questions about Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale’s political future.
Mathale’s growing unpopularity within ANC ranks became glaringly evident on Tuesday night during a plenary session held behind closed doors.
Insiders said delegates murmured with discontent when Mathale’s name was announced among nominees for the ANC national executive committee (NEC).
Malema, who is friends with Mathale, now finds himself in the political wilderness, with ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe saying on Wednesday his letter appealing to the conference to reinstate him had not been discussed.
Malema wrote to the conference, saying it should reinstate him immediately with full powers.
But Mantashe said the letter had been received late on December 16, and that it had not been entertained.
“As far as we are concerned, the disciplinary issue of Julius and others has been handled (previously and), completed. The disciplinary committee of appeal is a final structure for discipline provided that the NEC can review the decision,” said Mantashe.
“That case was discussed, exhausted and finished. It has not risen from the floor, a letter was smuggled into plenary late on the 16th after we adopted the programme,” said Mantashe.
Now that Zuma has emerged triumphant, some want him to fire Mathale as premier and disband the ANC provincial executive committee that he chairs.
They cite factions and levels of corruption in the province as major reasons for Zuma to act.
But ANC Limpopo spokesman Makonde Mathivha dismissed anti-Mathale forces, saying the NEC would need reasons to convince everyone to disband the province.
Mathale and Malema, Zuma’s foe, campaigned unsuccessfully for Kgalema Motlanthe to replace Zuma.
Political analyst Professor Susan Booysen said Mathale was under tremendous pressure.
While she agreed that Zuma had been buoyed by the renewed political mandate, she argued that he was compromised.
“If he takes strong action, people can turn around and say ‘we are fine, but what about you? Why are you not doing something about yourself (other) than just being re-elected?’” she said.
“So it’s one of the big ironies. The ANC is so hamstrung by that corruption burden. On the top level there are few people who are really clean, who can take action with credibility,” Booysen added.
Another political analyst, Ralph Mathekga, agreed with Booysen that it would be difficult for Zuma to take action against Mathale.
“There is a possibility that the first step would be to remove Mathale from Limpopo, but I don’t believe (Mathale) is going to take that lying down. He might cement his leadership,” said Mathekga.
“It’s easy to go out and try to remove people. But what matters is how you do it. Are the branches and regions going to buy it? One way or another, (Zuma)] needs to go to those provinces and devise the strategy,” he said.
Mathekga said Zuma’s challenge now was to bring on board provinces such as Limpopo, Gauteng and possibly Free State, which were likely to be used as launching pads for the forthcoming ANC leadership contest.
He said while action needed to be taken over the collapse of governance in Limpopo, Zuma had to be careful about how he dealt with Mathale as premier.
“Otherwise the reprisal might just be severe and may undermine him and his victory,” said Mathekga.
“And if you look at Limpopo now, it is partially a no-go area for President Zuma. The last time he was there (to deliver the Nelson Mandela lecture), we (saw) open protest against his presence there. Let’s see if he can actually, first of all, even visit the province of Limpopo and have calm there,” he said.
On Sunday, Malema and his two lieutenants, Floyd Shivambu and Sindiso Magaqa, wrote to the ANC asking that the sanctions they were slapped with be reversed.
Malema wanted to be reinstated as a member of the ANC and to his position as a member of the Limpopo ANC provincial executive committee. He was expelled in April this year.
Shivambu, the league’s former spokesman, was suspended for five years, and Magaqa, the secretary-general, got a one-year suspension.
They had been found guilty of bringing the party into disrepute.
In the letter, they said they were willing to be “corrected and guided” under ANC principles and remained loyal supporters and members of the party.
They wrote that as “loyal members” they were willing to exhaust all internal ANC processes before exploring a different platform to seek justice.
Youth league spokeswoman Khusela Sangoni-Khawe refused to say why the league’s delegation had not raised the matter at the conference.
“There is a letter that was submitted to the conference (by Malema, Shivambu and Magaqa), and therefore we cannot say much about it.”
The league is currently without three of its top six members, prompting calls for its entire NEC to be disbanded.
Apart from not having a president and secretary-general, the league is also without a treasurer-general, after Pule Mabe was removed from the position in May following a vote of no confidence by fellow NEC members.
Sangoni-Khawe dismissed assertions that the league had been paralysed by the removal of the three leaders.
“The leadership of the youth league functions as a collective, so there is no crisis.” She added that ANCYL programmes were continuing “very smoothly”.