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Navigating political minefield a tough task for Lesufi

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Picture: Timothy Bernard/ African News Agency (ANA) – Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi.

By Panyaza Lesufi

As the 2024 general elections come closer, all political parties are putting their energies together in order to do well in those elections. Similarly, the nine provinces are doing all they can in order to get ready for the anticipated election. To what extent are these provinces ready to gain or retain power? This is not easy to answer for various reasons.

First, those in power feel that they are doing the right things to steer their provinces in the right direction. Intriguingly, their predecessors have reservations about what their successors are doing.

Second, and most importantly, the public holds different views on what their leaders are doing or the direction towards which they are leading them. Gauteng is no exception in this regard. Before the provincial elective conference, David Makhura announced that he was not going to contest the election to remain the chairperson of the ANC in the province. His argument was that he has done enough in this portfolio and that he would want to see someone else taking the baton from him. This was a welcome gesture to many – both inside and outside the ANC.

However, the position of the chairperson of the ANC is different from that of the premier of the province. It was not expected that Makhura would also leave the position of being the premier soon after the new provincial leadership was elected. However, this is what happened, Makhura left both positions.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the resignation of Premier Sihle Zikalala did not automatically elevate the new chairperson (Siboniso Duma) to be the new premier. Instead, Nomusa DubeNcube was elected into that position. In Gauteng, it was a different story altogether. Soon after Makhura resigned as the premier, Panyaza Lesufi was sworn in as the new premier.

This means that he now has the responsibility to lead Gauteng in the 2024 general election. So, does he have the gravitas and the political acumen to meet this challenge?

In addressing this question, the first step is to try and understand Lesufi as an individual politician and an office-bearer. The second step is to look at Lesufi as part of the collective – the ANC. While the former implores us to assess Lesufi’s credentials as an individual, the latter tacitly concedes that Lesufi cannot be defined and understood outside of the ANC.

It is this duality that makes it difficult to give a simple answer to the question of whether Lesufi has the gravitas to lead Gauteng towards the 2024 general election. Lesufi has been MEC for Education for some time and has done a sterling job in that portfolio.

Even when there was a Cabinet reshuffle which saw Lesufi being moved to another department, there was an outcry across political party lines.

Eventually, Makhura was forced to reinstate Lesufi as MEC for Education. Looking at Lesufi from this vantage point, one could say that he is a leader in his own right and therefore has what it takes to lead Gauteng towards the 2024 general election.

However, there is a difference between being an MEC and being the premier. With the latter comes more responsibility than is the case with the former. Secondly, as mentioned above, Lesufi cannot be understood outside of the ANC. He does not have his own programmes and policies which are not articulating the views of the ANC as an organisation.

Therefore, no matter how good and/or capable Lesufi might be as an individual, his successes and his failures are deeply entrenched in the ANC.

In other words, how the ANC performs in 2024 will, in the main, depend on how the ANC projects and sells itself to the electorate. Thirdly, South Africa is a unitary state. As such, what happens in Gauteng cannot be an exception. Of the nine provinces, eight of them are led by the ANC (Gauteng being one of them).

Therefore, Lesufi and Gauteng will be informed by what happens in the other seven provinces. Having said all this, Lesufi has to manage the politics of Gauteng. The continuing talks between the ANC and the EFF on possible collaboration is one thing that Lesufi has inherited.

On the one hand, he needs to reposition the ANC in Gauteng and ensure that it is welcomed by the electorate. On the other hand, he has to ensure that he strengthens relations with the EFF in anticipation of a possible coalition government post the 2024 general election.

In the final analysis, Lesufi is a seasoned politician who has moved up the ranks. He has the gravitas to lead Gauteng towards 2024. However, his success or failure will depend on how the ANC as a collective work with him.

* Mngomezulu is a Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of the Western Cape.