Two Molefes have come to define how history will remember Supra Mahumapelo. In the 2000s it was Popo Molefe, the former premier of North West, who once told Mahumapelo that he would make his life miserable until he saw him walking the streets in torn shoes with no soles. Molefe lost.
This time, it is Brian Molefe who has suddenly become the poster boy
for chaotic ANC politics in North West, despite his disgraceful exit as
chief executive officer of Eskom after corruption allegations involving
President Jacob Zuma’s benefactors, the Gupta family.
has personally taken over the quest to ensure that Brian Molefe becomes
an MP, paving the way for Zuma to appoint him as either minister or
deputy minister of finance.
For Mahumapelo, 52, the drive to
elevate Molefe is personal after he managed to push North West ANC
politician, and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister
Des van Rooyen to the same post in December 2015 – only to have big
business force Zuma into retreat after just four days, and appoint
Pravin Gordhan to the post instead.
But what are Mahumapelo’s bigger ambitions?
2011 and I’m sitting down with Mahumapelo for a late-morning interview
at his Afrikanos restaurant on the outskirts of Mahikeng’s central
business district. It was such a rare opportunity that even my former editor was astonished that I’d managed to make it happen.
political persona was then something of an enigma as he was almost
reluctant to speak publicly about his ideas and vision for the
As he walked through the doors of Afrikanos, the
“comrades” sitting at another table stood up. He flashed them a brief
smile and proceeded to an empty table close to the window.
February that year, Mahumapelo was elected as chairperson of the ANC in
North West after a highly contested conference on Valentine’s Day in
He had cut a last-minute deal with his nemesis Kabelo Mataboge to emerge victorious.
enjoying a dish of dumplings and a variety of meat, Mahumapelo
introduced the topic of “rebranding and repositioning” North West’s
image as one of his chief tasks in the years to follow.
His face beamed as he started unpacking concepts, using words like “saamwerk” and “saamtrek”.
It was “necessary”, he said, to change North West, which was viewed as “peripheral in terms of national discourse”.
He lamented that senior provincial posts were held by people from “outside” the province.
was “unforgivable”, he said, adding that it was impossible to accept
the idea that a province with more than 3 million people could not
produce 10 heads of department.
Then his phone rang and former police minister Nathi Mthethwa’s name flashed on the screen. We paused.
he answered, referring to Mthethwa’s clan name. He spoke confidently,
affirming that he had arrived on the national stage.
whether “changing the face” of the province had anything to do with the
lobby for Mahumapelo to boot out then premier Thandi Modise and take
But he said he was not interested in a position in
government because it was “consuming” and “inflexible”. The bureaucracy,
he said, allowed no space for creativity.
His last words revealed
why he had been avoiding reporters for a long time, and his fear of
being misunderstood: “I wish that the media will report fairly,
objectively and accurately.”
My first encounter with Mahumapelo was, however, the previous year, during a political class in Stadt village, outside Mahikeng.
An official from Luthuli House was schooling ANC volunteers in preparation for the upcoming provincial conference.
Heads turned as Mahumapelo walked into the half-filled community hall, and an uneasy silence washed across the room. Realising his audience’s attention had shifted to the back of the room, the Luthuli House deployee stumbled over his words.
A companion next to me leant across and whispered: “That’s him, Black Jesus.”
The name was familiar. I had been told many times during ANC gatherings that he was the most feared politician in the province.
was a former political education officer at Luthuli House, a role he
started after he “quit a technical job at Eskom after six months because
of racial discrimination”, says his friend, Israel Thoka.
was the former provincial secretary of the ANC executive in North West,
which Luthuli House disbanded in 2009 on the grounds of
“institutionalised factionalism”, although some called it punishment for
supporting former president Thabo Mbeki instead of Zuma at the 2007 ANC
national conference in Polokwane.
In 2011, Mahumapelo resurrected
his political career and become the provincial chairperson and, three
years after that, the premier of the province.
the state of the nation debate in Parliament in June 2014, Mahumapelo
gave an impressive oration in the National Assembly, speaking largely in
Setswana, which had the likes of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa
eating out of his hand. But many would have missed the symbolism of the
Moses Kotane, Silas Modiri Molema and Solomon Thekisho
Plaatje were among the prominent Tswana-speaking leaders of the ANC, and
yet these giants of the liberation are seldom associated with North
West, which is generally accepted as the home of the Tswana people.
one of the political programmes Mahumapelo championed after he became
premier was the reburial of Moses Kotane and JB Marks in North West in
an event presided over by Zuma.
This raises the question: With
such a rich history in the liberation struggle, why has North West not
enjoyed similar status to the Eastern Cape?
close to Mahumapelo say he is not in a hurry for an office in Luthuli
House, and that this explains why his name has not come up for one,
while those of Mabuza and Magashule are being punted for top-six
Mahumapelo’s sights are set on the ANC’s 2021 conference. If
he succeeds, he stands a chance of being given the opportunity to rise
in the party like his heroes Kotane, Molema and Plaatje.
his future to a fallible Zuma – and slavishly helping to promote a
disgraced Brian Molefe to the detriment of the country and its citizens –
may earn him history’s harshest judgement.