The ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) has decided who will be premier in seven of eight provinces and they include new kids on the block, Oscar Mabuyane in the Eastern Cape, Zamani Saul in the Northern Cape and Sihle Zikalala in KwaZulu-Natal.
The three incoming premiers are political heavyweights in their respective provinces, each holding the position of chairperson.
Mabuyane, a close ally of President Cyril Ramaphosa, rose up through the ranks and became secretary of the Eastern Cape in 2009.
During his two terms, he cemented his place as one of the most powerful figures in provincial ANC politics.
He was chosen as the new ANC chairperson against outgoing premier Phumulo Masualle at the 2017 provincial conference, dubbed “the festival of chairs”. The conference became a battleground for Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma factions in the province.
Through his influence, Mabuyane lobbied support for Ramaphosa, which proved successful and led to the full endorsement of the president.
Under his leadership, the ANC in the province was one of the party’s success stories in this year’s elections. The party retained the traditional heartland with an overwhelming majority of 68.74%.
Speaking to News24 shortly after ANC secretary general Ace Magashule announced that he would succeed Masualle on Monday night, Mabuyane said the party should simply prove its effectiveness and efficiency in governance.
He said the party in the province would improve by inculcating a culture of responsibility and integrity in the government.
“Times of divisions are over, especially in government. Government is meant to serve people. It is not meant to serve individuals’ petty differences or selfish interests. Whoever is in government, it’s either you ship in or you ship out.”
Mabuyane said he would not tolerate people hiding behind factions when they don’t perform.
“These elections taught us a lesson. This was a narrow escape of the ANC. It’s either we do things different as we move forward. We have got to be a developmental government and change people’s lives.”
On a provincial government website, incoming KZN premier Zikalala was lauded for his role in the peace processes leading to the end of the civil political violence in the early nineties.
Owing to this reputation, Zikalala was also responsible for restoring some unity in the province following the ANC’s 2017 elective conference in Nasrec.
Going into Nasrec, Zikalala was arguably the most powerful chairperson with the largest voting delegation in the party.
His support for Dlamini-Zuma and by extension, former president Jacob Zuma, was curtailed by the election of Ramaphosa as the party’s president.
He was one of the first provincial heavyweights to jump ship, humming unity following the Nasrec conference, as some in the province accused him of dumping the former president.
Zikalala came into his position as chairperson unopposed in a unity slate in 2015, unseating his fierce rival and predecessor, Senzo Mchunu.
He led the province as factional battles and the fight for Zuma to retain dominance in national politics became more intense.
Speaking to News24 on Monday night, Zikalala said the province had moved away from factions, despite reports of political killings and claims of pro-Zuma factions fighting back.
“I think we have moved from these issues except perception that remains. There is not even a single area where the president did not campaign. That perception is exacerbating unnecessary behaviour within the movement.”
Going into his position, Zikalala faces a mammoth task of restoring regressed municipalities. The ANC currently controls 54 municipalities in the province.
Zikalala said his first item on the agenda was to ensure that government officials implement programmes of service delivery and adhere to community concerns.
“At a provincial level, there is quite good, coherent stability. We have ensured that all programmes that were conceptualised and put in place were quickly implemented. A state that responds to the needs of the people will be important in taking the organisation forward.
“In most cases that affect the ANC, it’s a situation where you have a state, but that state is not working. You put programmes in place, but those policies are not implemented. You get government leaders and officials who just disregard concerns of the community. I think it is one of the reasons that led to a lack of voter turnout, which we will be addressing.”
The ANC experienced its biggest loss in KZN, only managing to retain its majority by 54.22%, compared to 64% in 2014.
Earning the nickname “permanent acting premier”, Zikalala has some experience in the hot seat, having served in the position often in the past due to outgoing premier Willis Mchunu’s chronic illness.
A quick glance at Saul’s social media pages reveals a loyal and dedicated ANC member and family man, who seems to be intent on convincing his comrades to pursue education. In 2017, he was conferred with a PhD in public law and jurisprudence from the University of Cape Town.
Saul, who is now the ANC Northern Cape chairperson, worked his way to the top after serving as a municipal manager in the Pixley ka Seme district, as well as deputy and provincial secretary. He became chairperson in 2017.
Like many ANC leaders, Saul was accused of courting controversy last year and was linked to a massive unpaid bill for rates and taxes at his residence.
His municipal bill was circulated on social media and the outstanding rates and taxes, according to a May statement from the Sol Plaatje municipality, was R121 231.81. It indicated that R103 301 was more than 90 days overdue.
The ANC in the province dismissed this, and Saul’s wife lodged a dispute.
Part of Saul’s vision to grow the Northern Cape’s economy includes focusing on beneficiation.
So his role as premier could see him attempting to build secondary economic activities, thus creating more job opportunities in the Northern Cape.