Reshuffle won’t fix toxic rift

Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle
Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle
Image: Supplied/ DispatchLIVE

There is an interesting tidbit often told in ANC circles in Port Elizabeth whenever conversations about two centres of power are had.

It is from way back when Stone Sizani – now ambassador to Germany – was the regional chairman of the party in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Nceba Faku was the city’s mayor. The story goes that Sizani believed, as party leaders often say, that the ANC was the epicentre of power and that those deployed to government should do what they were told.

And so from the regional ANC headquarters (then named Standard House), it is said that Sizani would dish out instructions to the mayor.

But Faku viewed this as interference and would have none of it.

One day, the legend goes, Faku told Sizani to back off in what later became a famous line that captured the power dynamics of the time: “You keep your Standard House and I’ll keep my City Hall!”

I was reminded of this on Thursday when an interesting press release landed in my inbox.

The statement from the provincial ANC leadership and its alliance partners Cosatu, the SACP and Sanco contained a section headlined “the continued defiance of the Eastern Cape premier”.

It stated that the premier had been instructed by the ANC to reshuffle his cabinet and to replace some MECs, but that weeks had passed and he was yet to do so.

The alliance went further to emphasise that the provincial government was led by the ANC and that the party had the power to oversee the performance of its deployees in Bhisho.

It labelled Masualle defiant and threatened that such behaviour would not be tolerated.

And then this gem: “This is even worse given that the (provincial leadership) had accepted the (national leadership) decision to allow the premier to finish his term in the interest of building unity . . . but it looks like the premier is hell-bent on creating two centres of power in our province.”

By now you are probably familiar with the context here. Since last year’s chaotic provincial conference at which Oscar Mabuyane was elected chairman, relations between his grouping and that led by Masualle had broken down beyond what can be described as normal political contestation.

In the months that followed, Mabuyane’s team had pushed for Masualle to be removed, citing poor governance.

But they failed to convince the party’s national executive committee – which ultimately had to give the nod for the removal of a premier.

Luthuli House opted rather to let Masualle finish his term and to have the warring factions work together to build unity.

However, they did agree – according to Mabuyane’s team – that the premier should get rid of some MECs, who happen to fall on the Masualle side of the factional divide.

Failing the premier’s inaction, Mabuyane’s team went back to Luthuli House at the weekend to report what they say is Masualle’s defiance.

At that meeting, we are told, Masualle was again instructed to get rid of the MECs by the end of this week. Indeed, he may do so.

However, this does not solve the bigger issue, which is that ahead of us is another year of vindictive politics as a result of the rift between Masualle and the PEC.

The MECs in the firing line may go. In fact, some indeed must be shown the door.

But rest assured, this will not by itself undo the deeply institutionalised political factions that have eroded government capacity even further in recent months.

Deploying Mabuyane to the Bhisho cabinet, as is likely to happen, may give the ANC some muscle to push its mandate at certain strategic positions in government.

But this will do nothing to ease the toxic relations that will define the overall political management of the Bhisho administration.

As I write this, Masualle is expected to make the announcement about who will lead what department for the next year.

However, we must remember that he is only doing so because his hand was pushed by Luthuli House, the only leadership structure whose legitimacy he recognises. But thereafter, what then?

Not only is it impractical to consistently run to Luthuli House to help create some synergy in the political management of the state.

It is, frankly, stupid and childish. Then again, so is having a fullblown war that is ultimately about power and patronage just months before a crucial election.