Cyril Ramaphosa’s first visit to Mpumalanga as the president of the Republic of South Africa and the governing ANC can almost be described as the day in which Mpumalanga province lost its virginity.
Let me hasten to say that this has nothing to do with having sex for the first time, but the experience was possibly, almost similar. Just like someone who has never had sex, the ANC leaders in the province have never heard anyone from within their ranks unequivocally speak about corruption in the manner that Ramaphosa, their president, did on Sunday afternoon at Kanyamazane stadium.
The mere mention of the word corruption in Mpumalanga, is not only a taboo, but people get killed for speaking against it. Ramaphosa, however, did not only mention corruption in passing, like leaders in the province do, but he also was unambiguous about the consequences of corruption.
“During the launch of our election manifesto on January 12 (2019), we said we needed to end corruption. Those stealing public money must stop. We want to end corruption. Those who want to steal – you’ll be arrested. You’ll end in prison, wearing orange overalls,” said Ramaphosa.
For the past ten years, national ANC leaders would openly speak about corruption in public platforms, but as soon as they come to Mpumalanga province they speak in hush tones. Reports of any investigation that is instituted against the leaders in the province also disappear into thin air, fuelling speculations that this is a province of untouchables.
It is widely believed that the killing of several SACP and ANC leaders and government officials was because they had exposed corruption.
On 4 January 2009, Mbombela local municipality Speaker, Jimmy Mohlala was gunned down at his house by unknown assassins after he blew the whistle on the corruption behind the construction of the Mbombela stadium.
The following year, on 8 January 2010, the former head of communication in the department of culture, sports and recreation, Sammy Mpatlanyane was gunned down after he exposed the corruption on the issuing of the multi-million contract on the Gert Sibande play, Lion of the East.
Their killers are still on the loose, despite the commitment that minister of police, Bheki Cele, made that it’s a priority case.
These killings created a chilling atmosphere in the province such that people would not speak about corruption openly or blow the whistle on corruption.
The only people who spoke out against corruption was the South African Communist Party, but that too came at a price.
It was not long before thugs wearing ANC-t-shirts staged a violent attack on the SACP when it commemorated Joe Slovo and Jimmy Mohlala at Kanyamazane community hall on 25 January 2015.
After the attack, former Mpumalanga premier and current deputy president of the country, David Mabuza, said that whenever the SACP makes allegations of corruption and political killings in Mpumalanga, they implied that he was responsible.
“They say there is corruption in Mpumalanga province, implying that I am corrupt. They say there are political killings, meaning that I’m responsible for the political killings,” said Mabuza after the attack.
None of the perpetrators, who include an MEC, members of the provincial legislature and councillors, were ever brought to book, and the organisation’s former Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe instituted an investigation into the attack, but refused to make the findings known.
This further fueled the belief that ANC leaders in the province are immune from taking responsibility for their actions.
Thus, it came as no surprise that some of the ANC regional and provincial leaders who attended the Kanyamazane rally on Sunday did not cheer when Ramaphosa unequivocally spoke out against corruption.
While the ordinary folk at the stadium were cheering Ramaphosa, the leaders looked extremely worried. It was like a new experience to them, it was like losing their virginity, because of the uncertainty that the immunity that they enjoyed in the past ten years would still be there post May 8.