There are two conflicting narratives about the presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa.
Since the tumultuous removal from office of his predecessor, speculation about his ability to implement his political agenda has been rife.
One narrative suggests he is playing the long game, that he is moving decisively when he can – placing SARS commissioner, Tom Moyane, on suspension pending disciplinary action – otherwise he waits for events to unfold to his benefit – Bathabile Dlamini’s increasingly embattled status in relation to the SA Social Security Agency (SASSA) debacle.
The other suggests that the balance of power in the ANC national executive committee (NEC) and the national working committee (NWC) is marginal enough to stay his hand in circumstances where he really needs to act decisively – the steadily worsening situation in North West Province, where Supra Mahumapelo seems to be calling the shots.
Although the so-called shadowy Premier League is no longer a significant feature of our current political discourse, it is worth recalling who and what was allegedly involved.
David Mabuza, now deputy president, then premier of Limpopo Province; Ace Magashule, now ANC secretary general, then premier of Free State Province; and Supra Mahumapelo, now and then premier of North West Province were alleged to constitute the powerful Premier League, a cabal of power brokers that emerged after the 2012 ANC elective conference in Mangaung after defeating the forces of change that sought to replace Jacob Zuma with his then deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe.
The Premier League was said to be untouchable, and by extension, was able to ensure that Mr Zuma was untouchable.
In the run-up to the ANC’s December elective conference, the Premier League apparently played a pivotal role in securing support for Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s bid for the ANC presidency, widely seen as an extension of her ex-husband’s two terms in office.
Mr Mabuza’s decision to throw in his lot with Dr Dlamini Zuma’s opponent, Mr Ramaphosa, tipped the scales in his favour, and the perceived bid to perpetuate Mr Zuma’s wrecking ball political agenda, was narrowly defeated.
Mr Mabuza says he jumped ship in the interests of unity in the ANC, but if the continuing factionalism in the party is any indication, he didn’t achieve his goal.
That his thirty pieces of silver was the deputy presidency of the country which sets Mr Mabuza up for the top job in 10 years time, may well have been his primary motivation.
Mr Magashule was elected ANC secretary general, and with two of the three protagonists out of the picture, Mr Mahumapelo ended up out on a limb.
As the flames of discontent in North West Province have raged, Mr Mahumapelo has assiduously sawn away at the limb on which he precariously sits, yet Mr Ramaphosa seems inexplicably unable to act decisively.
Although the Premier League is no more, its members are still very much a feature in the power structure of the ANC, and it is now evident that Mr Ramaphosa is not in a position to act as decisively as he might like to, in all circumstances.
The recalcitrance of the ANC’s North West provincial executive committee in engineering the reversal of Mr Mahumapelo’s initial decision to resign, is a manifestation of the war being waged in the ANC between the forces for change – Mr Ramaphosa and his allies – and the forces for the status quo – the Pro-Zuma faction that lost the fight for the top job in December.
That Mr Mahumapelo is on “special leave” while the ministerial task team investigates the glaring governance failures in the province is irrelevant: he is still in the driving seat, and able to prepare for the street fight he is planning with Mr Ramaphosa.
Perhaps Mr Moyane’s futile fightback in the face of overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing at SARS has inspired Mr Mahumapelo’s equally futile resistance against the inevitable.
Anyobdy who openly defies an edict from the ANC top six is in for a hiding to nothing.
That seems not to deter Mr Mahumapelo, who plans to be in Durban to support his erstwhile benefactor, Mr Zuma, when he appears in court on Friday June 8.
Mr Ramaphosa’s latest move, placing the North West Province under administration, shines a light on his strategy, because it was Minister in the Presidency, Dr Dlamini Zuma, who had the unenviable task of dropping the axe on the neck of Mr Mahumapelo’s administration. Talk about poetic justice.
The honeymoon is over between Mr Ramaphosa and an adoring populace that saw him as a knight in shining armour, and the longer he takes to act against Mr Mahumapelo, the weaker he will appear.
This is the pivotal battle in the war for the heart of the ANC. Let’s hope that Mr Ramaphosa triumphs.