Deputy President David Mabuza was the ANC's provincial chairperson in Mpumalanga for nine years. Photo: Ayanda Ndamane African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - As the country inches closer to elections next month, various political parties are vying to snatch Mpumalanga province away from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) since the party's previous provincial strongman is now preoccupied with matters of national government. 

David Mabuza, ANC provincial chairperson for nine years until he was elected as the party's deputy president in 2017, has left a big gap in Mpumalanga, and this is the void opposition parties are looking to exploit. 

The fact that the ANC in Mpumalanga is basically led by a skeleton structure after failing dismally on numerous occasions -- at least four times since the Nasrec conference that capitulated Mabuza to national government -- to hold its provincial general council is testament to the turbulence the party is facing in the province.

Independent political analyst, Lukhona Mnguni, said this was proof that Mabuza's departure from the province has opened up political competition within the party, and that this could have serious consequences for the ANC in Mpumalanga.

"This means there is no longer a central force in the province that holds the party, by coercion or persuasion, united on a singular political programme. The cracks to this hold became visible already in 2017 when some branches acted in defiance and refused to nominate comrade Unity," Mnguni says.

"The political competition, if not well handled, has the potential to dishearten some comrades from applying themselves selflessly to the election campaign, thus opening up space for the presence of the ANC not to be felt as it used to be in previous elections."

While the ANC may be battling its own internal dynamics, new kids on the block are seizing the moment like committees of vultures seeing prey gasping for air, and they are looking at capitalizing on this apparent show of weakness. 

Mnguni says the entry of a formation like the Forum for Services Delivery (F4SD) onto the national ballot paper poses an interesting twist for the ANC in Mpumalanga, as this formation had a good showing in some pockets of the province during the 2016 municipal elections. 

"The ANC ought to be finding ways to act in unity and really pull off a convincing election campaign. However, without a Mabuza and his ability to hold everyone together and use his influence to mobilize resources for elections, the ANC in Mpumalanga might be weakened," Mnguni says. 

"The entry of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and slight growth of the Democratic Alliance (DA) from 2009 to 2014 does indicate that this trend might continue, and with the addition of the F4SD, the ANC could see its support weakening."

But Mnguni says small parties will find the road to victory in Mpumalanga a little tricky as the ANC is moving from quite a high base. From 2009 to 2014, the ANC's support reduced from about 85 percent to 80 percent, showing that it still enjoyed a very strong base in the province. 

"So even with a 10 percent loss for example the ANC would still remain in a significantly healthy position. So the ANC in Mpumalanga remains fairly intact and its decline is gradual, leaving the party with prospects of remaining in power comfortably for this upcoming election," Mnguni said. 

One critical issue that captures the imagination of many voters in this election is "expropriation of land without compensation". Land has proven to be an emotive issue in South Africa, with patterns of land ownership still resembling apartheid spatial setting. 

Both the ANC and the EFF claim to be championing this issue even though the Parliamentary process to pass laws to this effect has been left incomplete. 

Mnguni says the message for land expropriation might boost electoral prospects for these parties as they might be viewed as tackling issues at the core of people's existentialist dilemmas in the province. 

He says that even business has a mixed approach to this policy proposal, with some sections like Business Leadership South Africa endorsing expropriation of land especially on how the extractive industries get to hold the mineral rights but without the land rights.

"The land expropriation without compensation campaign would be important for voter patterns if the owners of the industries like farmers, mining companies and the tourism industry, were also in the majority of the electorate," Mnguni says. 

"So for the workers who live under undesirable circumstances in farms, mines and game lodges, calls for a different and speedy form of land reform are important to them. Business too has an interest to be more secured."

African News Agency (ANA)