There is an established idiomatic expression that goes, “if you cannot stand the heat then get out of the kitchen”.
These words came to mind when I watched premier Phumulo Masualle deliver his underwhelming state of the province address (Sopa) on Friday morning. Addressing parliamentarians and guests in the 36°C scorcher – inside a giant marquee with poor air-conditioning – Masualle’s speech lasted for more than an hour. Like most guests, Masualle was clearly struggling with the heat but he soldiered on.
While the idiom is used to suggest that one should vacate one’s position if they cannot withstand a difficult situation, Masualle proved the opposite. As he stood there, with sweat dripping from his brow, he withstood the heat and had no intention of getting out of the proverbial kitchen.
The events on Friday actually mimicked the current impasse between the premier and the provincial executive committee (PEC) of the ANC led by Oscar Mabuyane.
Masualle’s Sopa came after much confusion and uncertainty about his future as the premier.
Four days earlier, his political rival and ANC provincial chairman Mabuyane was sworn in as a member of the provincial legislature.
Also taking the oath as a parliamentarian, alongside Mabuyane, was his deputy Mlungisi Mvoko.
This could only mean one thing – it is just a matter of time before the provincial executive is reshuffled and the two newest parliamentarians are elevated to higher offices. Otherwise it would not make sense for the two to join the provincial legislature just to become ordinary backbenchers.
By now we know the Mabuyane-led PEC wants Masualle recalled and replaced by the new chairman.
As with any major political shake-up, it is inevitable that some MECs also face the axe as the PEC wants to “reconfigure” the provincial cabinet.
But it does not look like Masualle is willing to go without a fight. He threw the rule book at his detractors, telling the City Press at the weekend he would go only if given the marching orders by the ANC national executive committee (NEC).
“The appointment of premiers … or the firing of premiers, is exclusively the domain of the NEC. Provinces make recommendations,” Masualle told the newspaper.
In an unprecedented development, the ANC joined opposition parties in criticising Masualle’s Sopa.
And it was none other than chairman Mabuyane leading the charge. He expressed his disappointment at Masualle’s omission of major infrastructure projects, singling out the Mzimvubu Dam and uMthombo projects.
“Whether these are national projects, they need us as the province to speak about them emphatically,” said Mabuyane.
Judging by his comments, it is clear that relations between the two are at an all-time low.
Further compounding the issue is the outstanding Ndebele report, which is based on a complaint about the chaotic eighth provincial congress that elected Mabuyane into office in November 2017.
It is understood that the Ndebele report – while it acknowledged that there were premeditated intentions to collapse the conference – recommended the current PEC be disbanded and an interim structure put in place.
The ANC top six officials are expected to table their recommendation on the Eastern Cape and the Ndebele report at the next NEC meeting. However, those who support Mabuyane within the NEC are likely to argue that the Ndebele report has no standing as the Grahamstown High Court had thrown out an application by the disgruntled grouping to have the disputed conference nullified.
But now an appeal against the initial court decision was launched last week. And so the political circus continues. What is clear, though, is that the two cannot work together.
They avoided each other at Friday’s Sopa. The sooner the ANC resolves the impasse, the better. The current situation means that much-needed service delivery is at risk.
While the country may be basking in the euphoria of the hope brought about by the Cyril Ramaphosa presidency, things may move at a slower pace in the Eastern Cape amid a standoff between Calata House and the premier’s office.
Already the MECs are split in their loyalties between the two politicians, and this has a cascading effect on the programmes pursued by those departments.
There is also a lot of uncertainty among staff and this can only hamstring government performance.
The people of the Eastern Cape deserve better than to be caught up in the clash between political egos.
Whichever way it goes – whether Masualle is recalled as premier or if Mabuyane’s PEC is disbanded – the ANC must make a decision and thereby create certainty so we can move on as a province.
The current stalemate cannot be allowed to continue any longer.
The political kitchen is too small to accommodate the two of them.