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Road to ANC's elective conference: Lessons from the Eastern Cape

From Raymond Mhlaba up to current Premier Oscar Mabuyane, there have been seven premiers in the Eastern Cape in the space of only five provincial administrations. This indicates political instability in the ANC and the need to secure the province as a power base for the party, says the writer. African News Agency (ANA) archives

From Raymond Mhlaba up to current Premier Oscar Mabuyane, there have been seven premiers in the Eastern Cape in the space of only five provincial administrations. This indicates political instability in the ANC and the need to secure the province as a power base for the party, says the writer. African News Agency (ANA) archives

Published May 15, 2022

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Prof B Dikela Majuqwana

In appraising the last conference of the ANC in East London on May 6, we need to remember how far we have come.

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After 1994, the Eastern Cape was cobbled together out of parts of the Cape province, and the Ciskei and Transkei homeland governments led by Oupa Gqozo and Bantu Holomisa, respectively.

To make a clean break with the past, the ANC chose Robben Island veteran Raymond Mhlaba as the first premier. Mhlaba served during the presidency of Nelson Mandela in a largely ceremonial role.

In 1997, Mandela had the Revd Arnold Makhenkesi Stofile appointed as the second premier of the Eastern Cape. Stofile was the first premier to stamp his authority and as a political leader in the province. Unlike Mhlaba, who probably knew little about the goings-on in his administration, Stofile set the tone for political discussion and played an active role in policy administration.

His influence went beyond provincial government matters to include trade unions, sport and academic institutions. It was during Stofile’s administration that the likes of Oscar Lubabalo Mabuyane cut their teeth in Eastern Cape politics as students at the University of Fort Hare, a place that featured very close to Stofile’s heart.

After nearly seven years at the top of the Eastern Cape, in 2004 Stofile had to be wrested out of his role by then president Thabo Mbeki because of concerns by some in the ANC that he was corrupt.

According to former state-employee-turned-businessman Sipho Pityana, such rumours were untrue. From the departure of Stofile, the Eastern Cape premiership entered a period of instability when Nosimo Balindlela who had replaced Stofile was unceremoniously replaced in 2008 by Mbeki, while on a trip to the People’s Republic of China.

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Subsequently, the ANC appointed Mbulelo Sogoni as premier for only a year. Sogoni was later replaced by Noxolo Kiviet who, according to the Department of Public Administration, earned the title of being the worst performing premier in the province.

Kiviet served for five years from 2009 to 2014 to be replaced by Phumulo Masualle, who came in as a hopeful and a trusted member of the SACP.

The notorious “festival of chairs” in the ANC provincial conference in 2017 marked the end of Masualle’s time as premier, as he was unceremoniously thrown out by delegates representing the current Premier Oscar Mabuyane.

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In other words, from Mhlaba up to Mabuyane, we can count seven premiers in the Eastern Cape. That is in the space of only five provincial administrations. If anything, assuming Mabuyane manages to complete his hard-won second term, he will become the longest-serving premier since 1994.

This is a picture not of a thriving province but one under serious political instability. Observing the conduct of the proceedings of this provincial conference in East London last week, in particular the presence of a huge contingent of senior leaders from Luthuli House, it is difficult to deny that such instability is still with us.

However, listening to the ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe and President Cyril Ramaphosa making sanitised comments throughout their stay in East London, it is easy to think my account is a product of my imagination. Mantashe, as the ANC chairperson and Mineral Resources and Energy Minister, tried in vain to encourage discussion of policy questions at the East London conference, citing as an important goal the need to explore and develop gas reserves on the Wild Coast.

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Frustration in Mantashe’s face was far from hidden as delegates either had no interest in such grand topics or they did not even care to understand what he was on about.

Mantashe, along with his colleagues from Luthuli House, knew that their real mission was to go down there to secure the Eastern Cape as a power base for the re-election of Ramaphosa as ANC president. Also, over half the delegates at the conference were similarly briefed to secure a second term for Mabuyane.

This is what mattered to them more than questions over ANC policy, which are due to be discussed in July, only five months before the December national elective conference to reinstate Ramaphosa.

What makes matters worse and is far more alarming is that the ANC never had a national general council. At the same time its secretary-general Ace Magashule has been slapped with the step-aside rule to prevent him performing his role, and possibly frustrating plans to re-elect Ramaphosa.

While it is easy or tempting to see factional battles as a mark of ANC conferences, we may be long past that. After all, factions never render a governing political party totally dysfunctional and unable to perform its role.

Very often, factional battles that matter are about policies and not about destroying an organisation. What we have in the ANC today, goes way beyond factional fights and comes close to rendering the ANC rudderless and dysfunctional, only serving as a means for the likes of Ramaphosa to become president in South Africa.

What value is a president of the ANC if the party is no longer capable, willing and ready to execute its mission to serve the oppressed people, according to policies inspired by the Freedom Charter?

* Majuqwana is the Head of Engineering at the University of Zululand. He writes in his personal capacity

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