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Hugging the hyena – A guide to Mpumalanga horse-trading politics


In March 1984, during a press conference, the former President of the African National Congress (ANC) Oliver Reginal Tambo, was asked by a journalist Martin Bailey (The Observer) about Mozambuque’s decision to sign the Nkomati Accord with the apartheid government. The agreement was aimed at preventing the ANC from operating military training camps in Mozambique in exchange for halting cross-border raids and support for RENAMO activities in Mozambique.

Tambo’s reply was “The leadership of Mozambique, were forced to choose, as it were, between life and death. They chose life, and life meant talking to the butchers of southern Africa, it meant hugging a hated hyena, and they had to do that. For the rest of us, we must accept that position, but defend our own positions, defend our struggle.”

As the contest for the leadership of the African National Congress in Mpumalanga is rapidly gaining momentum, many leaders, some known, others unknown will emerge as they scramble for the 23 positions in the Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) of the ANC.

Political horse-trading has started which unlike the conditions that were faced by Mozambican leaders, is informed by greed and self-enrichment, with well respected leaders “embracing the hyena” to secure positions for themselves under the new regime that will be taking over the reigns of government after the 2009 general elections.

Unlike Polokwane, where the contest was between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, in Mpumalanga it seems clear that only one candidate, David “DD” Mabuza is the frontrunner, after he was endorsed by the “kingmakers” the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL), South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

The seemingly overwhelming support for Mabuza suggests that he is almost guaranteed that he will be the next Premier of Mpumalanga Province. The only obstacle to Mabuza being the next Chairperson of the ANC and the Premier of Mpumalanga could be the ANC Constitution as adopted at Polokwane, which states that:

“If any Provincial Chairperson or Secretary is elected to the NEC in his or her own right or as a national official, such person shall vacate the Provincial position, provided that the Province has the right to make representations to the NEC, in a special case, where extraordinary circumstances may warrant an exception to this rule.”

The question is whether the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC will agree that Mabuza be allowed to lead the Province and be an NEC member simultaneously. Another alternative would be for Mabuza to opt for the risky and opportunistic route of resigning from the NEC before the Provincial Conference.

There are those who believe that his support for Jacob Zuma leading to Polokwane has earned him the respect of the NEC and that his comrades would return the favour, but the genuine ANC politics are not about returning favours, but about addressing the concrete conditions.

Notwithstanding these uncertainties, Mabuza’s popularity has not stopped many comrades and his enemies from opportunistically flocking to Epulazini, as Mabuza’s farmstead is commonly known among comrades. Some of them, Ziwaphi has learned, have been going there “cap-in-hand” to beg for inclusion in the new dispensation.

There is, however, a silent revolution breeding which is aimed at propelling former Provincial Secretary of the ANCYL, Lassy Chiwayo into the most “prized” provincial chairperson position. Some activists told Ziwaphi that they hold two views about the leadership contest, the public view, which is informed by the “what’s in it for me factor” and the private view, which is informed by “objectively analyzing the qualities of an ANC leader who is capable of leading the movement in the current phase of the National Democratic Revolution.”

The question that is in the minds of many serious revolutionaries, including Ziwaphi, is “what informs the leadership choices that branch delegates to the ANC Provincial Conference to be held n July this year will be making?”

Karl Marx seems to have an answer for us when he says people “make their own history…but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past”. In simple English, people have to know their history to understand how society is developing in order to intervene in the process. [This is what communists refer to as historical materialism].

The African continent is known for its rich oral history, however, the account of our past which is transmitted in this form runs the risk of intended and unintended distortions. The accurate political history of our liberation struggles, particularly in Mpumalanga, has yet to be told and recorded to assist our society and newly recruited political activists to understand how our province has reached the state that it is currently in.

The absence of appropriate institutions, such as universities in Mpumalanga, has not assisted the situation either. However, at times, we may not need titanic buildings and towers. Ziwaphi, as an institution, was established as a forum for political and intellectual engagement, and we cannot wait for a university before we can start engaging with issues that are aimed at shaping our society.

In the words of the late SACP and ANC revolutionary intellectual, Comrade Mzala (Jabulani Nxumalo), “Blank pages in history should not be allowed.”

Many of the delegates to the ANC Provincial Conference, particularly those who are new and have never been exposed to the rich culture of political education and engagement in the ANC and its alliance partners, will be taking critical programmatic decisions which will include the election of the new leadership that will lead the ANC over the next four years.

Since the inception of Ziwaphi in April 2007, almost every leader of the democratic movement has been “lamenting” that the culture of political education and engagement was lacking. This state of affairs, however, is not new. It first surfaced in 1998, when the former Provincial Secretary of the ANC at the time, January “Che O’ Gara” Masilela harshly criticised the absence of political education in the movement, “the real casualty we have suffered in our province is the seminal absence of intellectual rigour in the ideological and political thought of our leadership and cadres, a tendency to materialistic wooliness and self-centred pedestrianism,” he said.

The question is, “Can the ANC be able to reverse the damage that has been caused over the past fourteen years in less than two months?”

In 2001, when faced with similar challenges, the ANC’s National Working Committee (NWC) released a leadership bible “Through The Eye of The Needle – Choosing the best cadres to lead transformation.” The literal definition of this phrase is found in the Bible (Matthew 19:24), “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” What it means in this instance is that very few people can pass the test of being leaders of the ANC as stipulated in the document.

The document itself confirms, “These guidelines indicate the broad parameters within which every member of the ANC should exercise his/her right to shape the leadership collectives of the movement and ensure that it meets its historical mandate. In one sense they make it difficult for individuals to ascend to positions of leadership in the organisation.”

Some of the challenges that the organisation faced almost a decade ago and the tendencies that the ANC bible is warning about, are still visible and have in fact been intensified, namely, factionalism, divisions, political opportunism and patronage, among others. These tendencies have even spilled into the Alliance structures.

Interventions by the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC and the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and even COSATU and the SACP, following resolutions taken at the Zithabiseni conference in 1998 brought about more confusion instead of solutions.

The first intervention led to the appointment of Ndaweni Mahlangu who was handpicked by President Thabo Mbeki to the post of Premier and the removal of Mathews Phosa and January “Che Ogara” Masilela from the Provincial Executive Committee (PEC). To date, the reasons for the removal of these two leaders are still not known to the branches, and probably to the ANC leaders in the province.

Masilela was later elevated to the ANC NEC, while Phosa was suspended from the ANC for three years.

In Mpumalanga, the NEC intervention led to the removal of DD Mabuza, Lassy Chiwayo, BJ Nobunga and others, leading to speculations that these were the bad guys and that those who remained behind such, as Fish Mahlalela, William Lubisi and Lucas Mello were the good guys.

Chiwayo resigned from Parliament, while Mabuza returned triumphantly to the province to get the all-powerful Deputy Chairperson position which made him to be able to determine who must be deployed where. In this case, again, it was the branches that made their own decisions, as the NEC did not bother to tell branches what the comrades had done.

When it was becoming clear that Mbeki’s handpicked former Bantustan leader was not capable of leading an organisation such as the ANC, another intervention ensued, led by former Youth League leader, Thabang Makwetla. While Makwetla was a highly respected leader nationally, his decision to contest for leadership in the Province had a serious dent on his role as a mediator in the resolution of the challenges facing the ANC in Mpumalanga.

His [Makwetla] initial attempt for the provincial chairpersonship failed when Fish Mahlalela humiliated both him [Makwetla] and Mahlangu at Elijah Mango College in 2002.

He made another attempt when he sided with Mahlalela’s opponents in 2005 to be elected as the Chairperson at the provincial conference held at Pretoria University of Technology (PUT). We shall call this process, the first hugging of the hyena. Hugging a hyena essentially means courting with danger. It is not informed by any principle except the appetite for power and self-aggrandizement. A year earlier, President Thabo Mbeki had already anointed him as the Premier of Mpumalanga.

Mahlalela and all those who contested against Makwetla and his supporters were humiliated in almost the similar manner as was Thabo Mbeki by Zuma. The conference was characterised by block voting, with Makwetla getting 460 to Mahlalela’s 243 votes. Mabuza (444) to William Lubisi’s (245) and the pattern was the same with all the other positions with Lucas Mello defeating Bucks Mahlangu, Dina Pule defeating Busi Coleman, David “Desert Storm” Mkhwanazi was the only candidate who was elected unopposed.

What was worth observing about the conference was that some virtually unknown “leaders” were elected into the PEC. In one instance, a person was elected into the PEC while she has (to date) miserably failed to relaunch her own branch ever since the ANC established the “ward based” branches.

We must emphasise, however, that all these developments were not a direct result of smooth, normal lobbying and regular political processes as determined by the ANC bible. It was characterised by, among others, vote-buying, political horse-trading, patronage, making false promises, cliques, factions, personal loyalties driven by corrupt intentions. These are the same tendencies that the ANC bible warns against.

Marriages of convenience resulting from political horse-trading have a short lifespan, and the PUT conference marriage was no exception when cracks started showing when expectations and promises were not kept. When Ehlanzeni Region held its conference, it seems there was only one resolve – REVENGE!

Inevitably, this fight spilled into government and the Ehlanzeni District Municipality (EDM) and some local municipalities in Ehlanzeni became the terrain for internecine political power struggle which almost effectively paralysed governance. Mbombela and EDM were the hardest hit. The tensions are still continuing at the EDM, while at Mbombela the ANC PEC had to intervene, by deploying Chiwayo as the Mayor.

The PEC also seems to be unable to manage the factions.

In June 2002 the ANCYL under the leadership of Mthandazo Ngobeni, a young and brave revolutionary intellectual of our time, published a futuristic and hard-hitting pamphlet, Is The Revolution Safe In Your Hands (ITRS).

The content of the pamphlet, Is the Revolution Safe In Your Hands (ITRS), gives the impression that Mthandazo and his comrades had just witnessed the above-mentioned developments which are now characterizing the liberation movement.

Mpumalanga, unlike some provinces, does not have a rich political history and therefore does not have a culture of political debate and engagement. The ANCYL, however, made a break with that past. The authors of that document, some of whom are still alive, such as Jomo Nyambi, Luka Sandlane, Busi Zulu and Screamer Skosana, predicted that the document may not see the light of day and almost three pages are dedicated to this fear.

Their fears were finally confirmed when they tried unsuccessfully to have the document adopted as a discussion document in the build up to the ANC Provincial Conference of 2002. This deprived the province of one of the most historical and critical interventions to have come out of the province which would probably have contributed towards the resolution of the current leadership challenges.

The ANCYL document was unveiled when it was becoming clear that the NEC interventions were also fraught with problems. The league, however, declared, “this [intervention] is unique, as it attempts to download the broad frameworks provided into the material conditions prevailing in Mpumalanga. We can read globally, but we must act locally.”

The league started by looking at its own role in the political challenges that were (and  still are) confronting the province.

“The leagues still have in its (sic) fold elements who subscribe to the politics of divisions and factionalism, for, that is the only way to sustain the luxury and comfort of deployment to strategic and senior positions in government and elsewhere. Those in the ANC who thrive when the organisation is divided and when the movement weakens are still prepared to use the league to advance their divisive and self-enrichment egos. It is therefore against this background that some within the league view this opportunity to once more campaign for candidates who will in turn give them senior positions as it has been happening previously.”

The ANCYL under Ngobeni, were mindful of the consequences of challenging the “foreign tendencies” that were manifesting themselves within the ANC. Most of them, however, had been hardened products of the liberation struggle. Others were previously involved in waging semi-insurrectionary street battles against forces of the apartheid regime and could not be easily bought. Theirs was a just and moral struggle for the transformation that would benefit the whole society and not themselves as they declared in the document:

“We are aware that there will be sponsored activities by certain ANC comrades aimed at discrediting and weakening the league contribution on this matter. However, we are determined and convinced that these elements both in the ANC and the league will stand alone and exposed even if it calls for agony, suffering and denied access to resources like employment to our members who vehemently refuse to be co-opted and be subjected into dirty agendas. The political stability of the youth league must be used to propel the steady movement forward in ensuring that the ANC is strengthened to lead the social transformation struggle.”

There seems to be the same determination from the current leadership of the league, particularly the Provincial Secretary, Isaac Mahlangu. In an interview he told Ziwaphi that the recent Provincial Conference of the league was characterised by strange conduct on the part of some of the delegates who were not using the common accommodation that other ordinary delegates were using. He, however, assured Ziwaphi that these tendencies would be defeated through political education.

The fact of the matter is that the so-called foreign tendencies are “celebrating” 10 years since they first surfaced at the Zithabiseni conference in 1998, and the ANC provincial conference is only two months away. Can the league undo the damage that has been done over the past ten years in only two months?

Another question is why the league leadership was so quick, even before the nomination processes had started, to pronounce their preferred candidates? Can their proposed leaders pass “through the eye of the needle?”

Other people may argue that what the league in Mpumalanga has done was not different from what its national component did in the build-up to Polokwane, but the current NEC admitted that some of the processes leading to Polokwane were unacceptable and that they should not reoccur.

Unconfirmed reports from sources within the PEC of the ANC are that the PEC was very critical of the conduct of the ANCYL about releasing its list. COSATU was equally lambasted however, in the eyes of the branches the lists that are circulating are still legitimate.

Regional organizers and deployees, however, blatantly promote these lists to all the branches that they are relaunching and the Provincial Executive Committee is aware and against these tendencies, but it seems that it is either unwilling or incapable of stamping these out.

The silent protest of the PEC has instead increased political horse-trading (hugging the hyena), as supporters of both potential candidates are weighing which candidate to back and asking “what is in it for me”, or which hyena to hug?

This leads to a tendency which the ANC bible warns against, “The tendency is also developing for discussion around leadership nominations to be reduced to mechanical deal-making among branches, regions and provinces. Thus, instead of having thorough and honest discussion about the qualities of nominees, delegates negotiate merely on the basis of, ‘if you take ours, we’ll take yours’. This may assist in ensuring provincial and regional balances. But, taken to extremes, it can result in federalism by stealth within the movement.”

If we were to place the Through The Eye of The Needle document on one hand and the lists that are circulating on the other and a red pen, how many of these contestants can make it. Can, for example, COSATU, SANCO and the ANCYL lobby on one side and the Chiwayo lobby on the other be willing to reconsider their positions if it is found that some of their preferred candidates cannot pass through the eye of the needle?

A cursory scrutiny of either of the proposed lists shows that both lists have the names of people who have and are still in the forefront of factionalising the ANC in the province. In fact, it has become a norm that if one does not belong to any faction, he or she has no political future. As a result, very few cadres have passed this test. It has, however, been a very costly test, as stipulated in the ANCYL ITRS document, “the ANCYL will stand alone and exposed even if it calls for agony, suffering and denied access to resources like employment.”

Branches, the basic unit of the organisation, also do not have the capacity to deal with the challenges posed by the current phase of our revolution. It is common knowledge that regional organisers and other deployees sell the ANC membership cards to elderly men and women who are then bussed to the BGMs as voting fodder for selfish individuals. These elderly men and women do not participate in the day-to-day activities of the branches, such as the door-to-door campaigns during the elections. Since the constitutional amendments that were adopted at Polokwane, it means that these elderly women will be seen again in two years.

It is also common knowledge that previous interventions from Shell House and later Luthuli House did not yield positive results, mainly because they were designed in a manner that was perpetuating factionalism by preventing certain comrades from being elected into certain positions.

Which leads us to another question, which was asked in the ITRS document, “Can the PEC cleanse itself?” We want to argue that the PEC does not have the capacity to cleanse itself, because if it did, it would have done so over the past ten years, but instead, they have allowed the ANC to limp with this self-inflicted wound.

The province under the current conditions is not and cannot objectively elect a leadership that is genuinely committed to confront the challenges that are facing the organisation. The July conference, therefore, should not be an elective conference, but should be converted into a policy conference which will take resolutions that can contribute to building the organisation.

This position is motivated by the fact that, while the problem of lack of political education was identified 10 years ago, the current leadership and most of those contesting are also lamenting about the same problem and they have been in the organisation throughout this period and did nothing about it.

It can be concluded that this deficiency was deliberately created to ensure that we are perpetually led by the same people who are bent on serving successive terms instead of developing new leadership.

This, therefore, means that the leadership of the organisation will be placed under political curatorship, until we have developed the required cadreship that will replace the current leadership which has been leading the organisation for over two decades through formulating and perpetuating factions.

The election of such leadership should be subjected to the strictest screening processes, under the supervision of the National Executive Committee, as informed by, among others, the Through The Eye of the Needle. In this way we shall permanently deal with the tendency of embracing hyenas that will, in turn, devour the movement.



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