North West premier Supra Mahumapelo and his provincial executive have effectively "declared war" on the ANC's national leadership — remaining adamant that Mahumapelo "is not going anywhere" despite instructions for him to resign.
Mahumapelo announced his intention to leave office in the media following pressure from President Cyril Ramaphosa and the party's top structures, but made a swift U-turn on Wednesday morning when an urgent meeting of his provincial executive committee [PEC] was called.
After the meeting, the PEC banded behind Mahumapelo, shoving the ANC's national leadership and Ramaphosa into a corner.
The question now is: will the ANC retaliate, and to what lengths will it go to give a senior member of the party the boot, while bearing in mind the tricky terrain of factionalism and the balance of powers?
After widespread violent protests calling for Mahumapelo's removal broke out across the province last month, Ramaphosa considered political intervention, establishing an interministerial task team to investigate issues of governance in North West. That process was followed by ongoing consultation with the ANC's national working committee [NWC] on Mahumapelo's fate, as well as negotiations with Mahumapelo himself.
It seems then, that the political intervention has failed. More decisive steps will now have to be taken, if the ANC is resolved on Mahumapelo's removal as premier.
And it will have to act fast. Mahumapelo, addressing supporters after the PEC meeting, vowed to spend 18 weeks going to ANC branches in the province to "tell them the truth". He is, in other words, embarking on a province-wide support rally to consolidate his influence over the branches and regions. In doing so, he is preparing for battle, should the ANC go on the offensive and disband his PEC.
The PEC has placed Mahumapelo on administrative leave, also giving him the mandate to appoint an acting premier in his place. It did not say how long he will be out of office.
Politics expert at North-West University Theo Venter said it is "impossible" for the PEC to decide Mahumapelo's future, because it does not have the mandate to do so.
"The PEC has power over mayors and MECs. The ANC's national executive committee decides on the appointment and removal of premiers. Only [the NEC] can decide his fate. Mahumapelo is fighting for his life," he said.
"The ANC can do one of two things. It can act in terms of the executive and place the entire province under national administration, or a full sitting of the NEC can vote on a motion of no confidence. If he still doesn't heed [those] calls, he can face disciplinary hearings and if found guilty, be stripped of his membership."
While Ramaphosa and his national leaders have been trying to deal with the matter without stirring up too much of a fuss within the party, Mahumapelo may have just forced their hand.
The PEC has placed premier #SupraMahumapelo on administrative leave. An acting premier will be appointed. No time frame has been given on how long will Supra be on administrative leave.— Macdonald Thobang (@Macd_Thobang) May 9, 2018
Political analyst Molifi Tshabalala described Mahumapelo's and his PEC's actions as a "declaration of war".
"Authority in the ANC is top-down. There are still various power dynamics in the ANC that allow for such shows of defiance to continue. Mahumapelo is confident of his support in the province and is openly defying the party on that basis. If the ANC removes him as premier, he will still have influence as ANC chairperson in the province. And to oust him there, the ANC will have to disband the PEC — and that will be tricky," he said.
Attempts to contact ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe for comment were unsuccessful.