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Mpumalanga’s political chess game, where careers are built and destroyed

Exactly a year ago, former Nkomazi executive mayor, ANC chief-whip in the Mpumalanga provincial legislature, Johan Mkhatshwa replaced Thulisile Khoza as the executive mayor of Nkomazi municipality.

When Ziwaphi asked ANC spokesperson, Sasekani Manzini, why they removed Khoza, she said the latter’s move to the provincial legislature was a promotion than a demotion, even though everyone knew that she was “promoted” to earn less than when she was executive mayor.

Now in Mpumalanga, when a “rival” is promoted, it’s always “promotion out of the system”.

There may be many reasons why Khoza’s name may have been promoted out of government.

Her municipality was not stable. The lack of basic services, such as water and proper roads always sparked violent protests in Nkomazi municipality. It was during her term that corruption gained momentum, almost bringing the municipality to its knees.

These alone may be enough to remove someone from political office.

But in this province, the ANC has a well-established reputation that they don’t remove a politician merely because the community is unhappy with him or her or because of corruption.

If that were so, Thandi Shongwe who spends more than R70 000 on her cellphone bill in one month or spending R50 000 tax payer’s money during Christmas holidays, and an R8 million for a statue believed to be less than R3 million, would have long been fired by now, but she is safe at Number 11 on the ANC’s provincial legislature list.

Others argued that, like many before her, Khoza made the mistake of not toeing the line by openly supporting Cyril Ramaphosa instead of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma towards the ANC’s 54th National Conference in 2017, but it is well-known that would have been a political suicide, and she knows that.

While the real reason for her departure is yet to surface, what was clear is that when Manzini said Khoza’s removal from Nkomazi local municipality was a “promotion”, many observers knew that it was her time to go.

She had just served less than two years of her term as the executive mayor following the 2016 local government elections.

Her political lifespan still had more than three years until the 2021 local government elections, while she only had just over one year in her “promotion” position.

Some may ask, who is Thulisile Khoza anyway? Where did she come from? What are her struggle credentials? Where are the comrades who used to cross the border into Mozambique to get arms of war and carry out military operations inside South Africa?

The village of Mbuzini, the site where Mozambique president, Samora Machel’s plane crashed in 1986, used to be a hype of political and military activity.

Apart from the military skirmishes, many leaders, men and women, also emerged from there and surrounding villages.

But an unknown person named Thulisile Khoza, emerged to lead one of the biggest municipalities in the province?

Who would have thought that Mpumalanga province would one day be led by a person whose only claim to the ANC was providing catering at government and ANC functions?

The Mpumalanga list of both provincial and national leaders shows that someone is playing a game of chess. New and unknown names are emerging, and soon they’ll be honourable premiers, MECs, members of national and provincial legislatures.

At least 14 of those in the Mpumalanga legislature list are not only unknown, but are new in the legislative sector.

For example, a new name, that the people of Mpumalanga have to become familiar with is Mohita Latchminarain. The name is very safe, at Number 17 in the provincial list.

Meaning that this person who has never been heard of in Mpumalanga politics, received more votes than SACP district secretary, Bhobert Nkosi, or SACP provincial chairperson, other ANC leaders, such as Peter Nyoni, Charles Makola, David Dube, Victor Windvoël, Andries Gamede, Skhumbuzo Kholwane, SPD Skhosana or even Thulisile Khoza herself.

ANC Manzini defended Latchminarain, but even the ANC’s provincial spokesperson could not say who she is, and which of the ANC’s four regions she hails from.

“Mohita Latchminarain is an active member of the ANC who is eligible to be on the list like any other member of the ANC. She appears on the list because the ANC is of the view that she will add value in the 6 (sic) Provincial Legislature of Mpumalanga.

“She appears in the position she is in as a result of a transparent process of the ANC guided by the List Process guidelines, which allows the Provincial List Committee to rationalise the list of ANC representative to the legislature, to ensure it reflects the demographics of the province in terms of race, gender, youth representation and geographical spread,” said Manzini.

But that is how the political chess game has been played in Mpumalanga. Political careers are built from nowhere, and destroyed at a wink of an eye.

No one is willing to publicly say who the chess player is. All that everyone sees are the pieces falling one-by-one. Pawns and even the queen sacrificed, just to protect the king.

Mpumalanga ANC activists continue to speak in hushed tones when they talk about “The Mpumalanga List”.

Even journalists who enquire about a simple thing such as premier Refilwe Mtshweni’s new surname (Tsipane), are chastised as if it’s a holy paper that came directly from heaven, ordained by God and dared be questioned.

But, even the best chess player who moves pieces around, sacrifice a few pawns to win the game, does make a wrong move, leaving the king vulnerable.

Just like Khoza’s political tenure was not going to be permanent, so is a chess master’s reign.

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