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ANC suspensions: Death of the ‘Premier League’?


With Cyril Ramaphosa at the helm of the ANC, the once formidable ‘Premier League’ has found itself under siege.

David Mabuza, Ace Magashule and Supra Mahumapelo. Collage: Elvin Nethononda/African News Agency (ANA)

AS SUSPENSION season in the ANC reaches fever pitch, a peculiar picture seems to emerge: the once formidable ‘Premier League’ is on its knees.

Out of the three former provincial premiers, Supra Mahumapelo (North West), Ace Magashule (Free State) and David Mabuza (Mpumalanga), only Mabuza remains within the ranks of the party.

On Saturday morning Magashule was reportedly locked out of a virtual NEC meeting following his suspension earlier in the week after the party started using the ‘step aside’ rule.

But a defiant Magashule told the media after he was locked out of the meeting, that he is still the secretary-general (SG) of the ANC, will hold meetings and will still campaign for the ANC.

Mahumapelo’s membership was suspended in April.

And Mabuza could soon find himself on the suspended list following revelations that a foundation registered in his name allegedly received a R30 million donation from Eskom. He has said the money was never paid.

But Mabuza’s denial hasn’t stopped opposition parties who are already calling on the ANC to implement the same step aside rule on him.

The trio was once regarded as a formidable force that marshalled branches to back former President Jacob Zuma. They went all out when it came to campaigning and lobbying for Zuma. During the 2017 Nasrec conference, the trio threw its weight behind Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, challenging Cyril Ramaphosa for the position of president.

However, the wheels came off when Mabuza ditched Dlamini Zuma’s camp at the eleventh hour in the name of “unity” and secured his position as deputy president.

But with Ramaphosa at the helm, the ‘Premier League’ has found itself under siege.

Political analyst Ongama Mtimka said the ‘Premier League’ dissipated in Nasrec when Ramaphosa defeated Dlamini Zuma after Mabuza made a turn.

“KZN swiftly chose a unity path which has been politically sustainable for some time. Mahumapelo was neutralised with a leadership shift, and the moves to national have dislodged Mabuza from a crucial power base. Ace was effectively the last one standing given his new power base at Luthuli House,” said Mtimka.

However, Mtimka believes the supporters might attempt to claim their power back.

“The pro-Magashule group didn’t quite demobilise after Nasrec. So what we will see is an attempt to consolidate their power. This will be difficult without a firm control of the SG’s office and dwindling resources to aid their campaign, but one can’t rule them completely out,” Mtimka added.

Independent political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said Mabuza’s decision to dump Dlamini Zuma killed the ‘Premier League’ before the elective conference in 2017.

“Ramaphosa emerged victorious over Dlamini Zuma because Mabuza had broken ranks with the ‘Premier League’. By the time of the Nasrec elective conference, Mabuza was no longer part of the ‘Premier League’. And effectively by that time, the ‘Premier League’ was no more.”

Professor Sipho Seepe said: “The ‘Premier League’ has not existed as a formal structure of the ANC. But, to the extent that three former premiers sang from the same political hymn book, they were a force to reckon with. The ‘Premier League’ collapsed when Mabuza crossed to the other side. That is if one buys into the Radical Economic Transformation and anti-RET discourse.”

He added: “But in truth, radical socio-economic transformation is a resolution of the ANC. It is one of the resolutions of the 2017 elective conference of the ANC. The current triumphalist groups, compromised largely by elements that had been co-opted by their former capitalist oppressed, have since abandoned this policy. They simply do not have the courage to say so.”

Another political analyst, Dr Ralph Mathekga, said the suspension of Magashule and Mahumapelo indicate Ramaphosa’s push.

“My sense is that there are those who are pushing for a different direction in the ANC under Ramaphosa, and this is setting him on a collision course with Zuma allies who feel displaced within the party. These tensions are about the shuffle for power and the direction of the ANC. There are multiple interests at play, and it is difficult to figure exactly where the likes of Mabuza stood in this complex unfolding scenario,” he said.

Mathekga added that touching Mabuza might result in questions being asked about the remaining top six members.

“If Mabuza is suspended, people are going to ask why Mantashe is not suspended or Jessie. If it’s done at a heavy push simultaneously, you might risk a huge backlash. A party cannot function without a deputy president and an SG. By doing that, you are calling for a special congress, and you will get it,” he said.

Magashule, who served as the premier of Free State from 2009 until he was elected ANC SG in 2017, has been a subject of many allegations of involvement in corrupt activities. As a result, he was arrested in November 2020 and awaits trial. Because of that case, he was temporarily suspended from the party on Wednesday, pending the outcome of the matter.

He had been given 30 days to step aside from his role or face suspensions and disciplinary action by NEC in March. His suspension came after the National Working Committee on Monday gave the green light to Ramaphosa to suspend Magashule and other party leaders who are facing criminal charges who did not step aside within 30 days when the grace period expired last week.

Last month, the ANC North West Provincial Disciplinary Committee suspended Mahumapelo for five years after being found guilty of misconduct charges. Mahumapelo and his ally, acting provincial ANC Women’s League secretary, Bitsa Lekonpane, were accused of convening parallel rallies to disunite the party in the province.

The rally took place metres from the ANC Siyanqoba rally, organised by the North West’s Interim Provincial Committee in Mareetsane in December 2020.

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