POLITICS
23/04/2018 14:36 SAST | Updated 23/04/2018 14:40 SAST

Who Is Supra Mahumapelo, And Why Is He So Powerful?

The ANC is is taking its time to decide Mahumapelo's fate – because of the power the commands in the province.

Jacob Zuma chats with North West premier Supra Mahumapelo.
Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Jacob Zuma chats with North West premier Supra Mahumapelo.

Calls for North West premier Supra Mahumapelo to step down have intensified, with the ANC's top structures now plotting a way forward.

But why must president Cyril Ramaphosa and his top six tip-toe around the issue of Mahumapelo, especially amid violent protests in North West's capital Mahikeng calling for the premier to be axed, and the ANC's own alliance partners in the province echoing the calls?

The answer, according to analysts, lies in Mahumapelo's political influence and strength in the ANC.

His strength in the province began growing from as far back as 2005, when he was elected ANC provincial secretary. With the power to determine government deployments in North West, Mahumapelo began building a strong foundation of support in the ANC.

READ: No Date In Sight For Supra No-Confidence Vote

But he backed the wrong horse when the ANC elected its new leadership at their Polokwane national conference in 2007. Mahumapelo threw his weight behind former president Thabo Mbeki, who was overthrown by Jacob Zuma.

In 2009, when Zuma became state president, the provincial executive committee of the ANC in North West was disbanded – the party said the decision was made to root out factionalism. But many believed it served as punishment for backing Mbeki.

But 17 months later, Mahumapelo made a dramatic political comeback and was elected as the province's ANC leader. He beat his rival, Mmoloki Pheelwane, by 409 votes to 313. His slate also cleaned up, snatching the remaining five positions to sit alongside Mahumapelo at the helm of the ANC in the province.

READ: ANC NEC 'Must Intervene' To Restore North West Division

With a vice grip on the ANC in North West, Mahumapelo easily ascended to premiership in 2014. His support was by then firmly behind Zuma.

Independent political analyst Ralph Mathekga said Mahumapelo's influence owes much to the evolution of the ANC as a political party.

"If you look back over the past 15 years, the ANC's national leadership under Mbeki was strong. But under Zuma, the balance of power shifted away from Luthuli House and into the provinces. As the national leadership grew weaker, the provincial power brokers, like Mahumapelo, became stronger," Mathekga said.

"Mahumapelo was effective in strengthening his provincial power base. This phenomenon is not unusual. In the U.S., governors of various states become so powerful that they can dictate legislation. As time goes on, regional powers will be the foundation of power in the ANC. This, along with the patronage network in the province, allowed Mahumapelo to ascend."