The new Free State provincial leadership: Treasurer Sisi Ntombela, deputy chairperson William Bulwane, chairperson Sam Mashinini, secretary Paseka Nompondo and deputy secretary Mamiki Qabathe. Picture: Andrew Moses
Bloemfontein -  Trade unionist Sam Mashinini is the new ANC Free State chairperson following his election at the  provincial conference which ran into the early hours of Sunday.

The former Cosatu provincial secretary was elected unopposed in an election that was largely closed  to the media. This election could see Mashinini taking over as the Premier of the province after next  year’s general elections if the party follows its principle of having one centre of power.

The deputy chairperson is William Bulwane, who is the former party secretary in the province under  the Ace Magashule administration.

Paseka Nompondo was elected secretary and Mamiki Qabathe, who is also the speaker of the  provincial legislature retained her position as deputy secretary of the party. Premier Sisi Ntombela is  the new treasurer.

Curiously, the new top five of the provincial executive – who were nominated unopposed - are former  members of Provincial Task Team (PTT) which was established to run the affairs the province after  party’s provincial conference held in Parys in December last year was nullified by the courts.

Nompondo was the convenor of the PTT while Bulwane was the co-ordinator and Mashinini,  Qabathe, Ntombela were also part of the structure, which had over 20 members including  representatives from the party’s leagues.

The media was initially promised access to the conference during the nominations process but this  was later changed, with the media only allowed in when the winners were announced.

No explanation was given for the sudden change which saw journalists braving the chilly weather for  over eight hours waiting for the results. This was after the meeting started about five hours late.

PTT spokesperson Thabo Meeko could not explain the change when approached by the media but  only said it was decided by the conference not to allow the media in during nominations.

“It’s an internal ANC process,” he told journalists who had grown impatient after being kept in the  dark about developments at the conference for several hours.

Pushed to explain further, Meeko could only say: “It’s an internal party process that saw the  conference arrive at that decision. I cannot explain further.”

The media was immediately asked to leave the conference hall after the announcement. 

Additional  members to the provincial executive were yet to be noted.

The conference was held under very tight security as it was feared it could be disrupted by some  disgruntled members who have threatened to take the party to court citing numerous irregularities  ahead of the conference.

The aggrieved members led by Lehlohonolo Chris Jan, Nomveliso Mapisa and Matshepo Ramakatsa  wrote to the PTT through their lawyer last week demanding an explanation on how the meeting was  arranged and the credibility of the delegates.

Dexter Selepe, the attorney for the disgruntled members, wrote to the PTT demanding to know  "whether they (the PTT) were involved in the decision to hold the conference on the May  18 and 19", " Whether the announcement of the conference was a collective decision or not, and the factors  taken into consideration when making the decision to go to conference".

Meeko told journalists during the conference that the PTT had written back, asking for the  credentials of the people concerned in order to establish whether are actually active members of the  party.

About 300 delegates are said to have attended the conference which was initially expected to have  over 400 from across the province.