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Conference a watershed moment for Free State

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Picture: Dimpho Maja/African News Agency (ANA) – Former MEC Mxolisi Dukwana, centre, has been elected chairperson of the ANC in Free State at its provincial conference (January 22, 2023).

By Sethulego Matebesi

The chain of events over the past two decades that preceded the ninth ANC Free State provincial elective conference read like a horror screenplay.

Experienced screenplay writers argue that crafting a horror screenplay is a unique process that goes beyond telling a story. A common denominator of good horror films is that they are either cleverly planned, some are shocking, but all use terror in the best ways possible.

This best describes the history of the ANC in the Free State. The tone for the political malaise in the Free State – the birth province of the ANC – was set with the election of Ace Magashule as chairperson of the party in the province. He became the ANC’s longest-serving provincial chairperson and later premier.

A cursory perusal of some social media platforms yields interesting insights about the alleged reign of terror against political adversaries. In what can be described as attempts at “scaring the living daylights out of those with opposing views”, many social media users recall how the former premier used the phrase, O tla tsamaya ka thoko ho dieta (You will walk next to your shoes).

This did not deter the brazen few in the province who successfully challenged, in court, the rigging of votes at the provincial elective conferences of 2012 and 2017.

Picture: Nalane Walker – ANC delegates acted swiftly and decisively in abruptly ending the dominance of former premier and suspended former secretary-general Ace Magashule’s allies after the province elected its top five, led by Mxolisi Dukwana.

Ironically, it would be Magashule – now as suspended former secretary-general of the ANC – who would declare, on the first day of the provincial elective conference, that his supporters would lose due to the rigging of votes. And so, they eventually did lose.

It is a watershed moment in the history of the Free State that the ANC delegates acted swiftly and decisively in bringing an abrupt end to the dominance of Magashule’s allies after the province elected its top five, led by Mxolisi Dukwana.

Another twist of the political horror movie is that Magashule unceremoniously dismissed Dukwana as Free State MEC in 2012. It is also worth pointing out that Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela and allies of Magashule were not elected to the new Free State ANC provincial executive committee (PEC). Many did not see this coming.

What are the consequences of this clean sweep of the PEC that seems to have created so much euphoria in the country?

Challenges and opportunities for Free State lie ahead Undoubtedly, there are renewed expectations and hopes for better governance and service in the Free State. For too long, factionalism and infighting have seen deep internal schisms that bedevilled the province’s administration.

Many elected leaders who should have known better allowed their personal aspirations to obscure the realities they should have seen. One such reality is how the ANC in the Free State allowed Mangaung metropolitan municipality to regress to such a palpable state and deteriorating accountability. In the context of local government, the failings of the Mangaung metro point to the precariousness of many municipalities throughout the province to find durable solutions to poor service delivery.

Politically, the new PEC has strengthened the renewal agenda of the ANC. However, it would be suicidal for its architects to eliminate those who did not support their slate. The inevitable is that changes will have to be made to various governance structures in the province.

These changes need to be underscored by a disciplined political pathway that dismisses party fault lines and the rise of populism. In fact, the general maxim that things that are not broken need not be fixed will not apply to many Free State executive committee members, because it seems they regard their duties as ceremonial.

I reckon there is a strong determination by Dukwana not to repeat past mistakes. But history has taught us that the political vultures and careerists are already jockeying for key government positions in the province.

Even though one has become accustomed to the derision of some leaders with no concern for what happens to residents because of their decisions and actions, ensuring adherence to constitutional and legal requirements, regardless of the implications for the party, should be the hallmark of the new Free State leadership.

If we are to have any hope that service delivery and governance will improve in the Free State, the most adequate and thorough avenue in resolving the political malaise is a well-articulated vision for governance instead of merely seizing political power and the associated patronage that comes with holding public office.

In this way, the PEC will put to bed the political horror that served as a barrier to good governance and return the ANC to its bedrock values of safety, respect, honesty, loyalty, and care.

Prof Sethulego Matebesi is Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology at the University of the Free State