The timing of the release of Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi’s comments on school tenders points to an intensifying battle for control of the provincial ANC. Lesufi and his boss David Makhura are doing themselves few favours.
Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has described the release of a recording in which he discusses school tenders as being part of an attempt to “assassinate my character for political expediency”, aimed at creating the perception that he’s biased towards certain service providers.
He has a point.
Factionalism in the Gauteng ANC has intensified ahead of an elective conference expected to take place in 2022 and Premier David Makhura, his deputy Lesufi and their allies are fighting to maintain their positions. The latest battleground is the province’s handling of contracts awarded during the coronavirus pandemic.
Makhura reportedly told the party’s Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) in February 2021: “The lekgotla raised deep concerns on how debilitating factionalism is resurging as one of the major risks facing the entire movement in our province.
“This destructive tendency is creating an environment where public spats and attacks on one another are becoming the manner of conducting politics in our province.”
Cooperative Governance MEC Lebogang Maile,
with allies reportedly including Ekurhuleni Mayor Mzwandile Masina and ANC provincial secretary Jacob Khawe, have been linked to a group allegedly aiming to oust Makhura. In recent months, the provincial ANC Youth League and parts of the SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) have also spoken out against Lesufi and Makhura.
The faction reportedly pushed for former health MEC Bandile Masuku’s axing after he was linked to allegations around irregular personal protective equipment contracts.
They won that battle despite Makhura’s hesitancy to act. Investigations continue into Lesufi’s department’s spending of R431-million on unnecessary “deep cleaning” and “decontamination” of schools during the pandemic and he appears to be the next leader in the rival faction’s sights.
It’s unclear who leaked the recording of Lesufi’s May 2020 comments, but it comes at an opportune time for his rivals.
According to the City Press report, Lesufi held a secret meeting with his team to discuss school tenders. He has disputed the claim that the meeting was secret and said he met stakeholders in Soshanguve after the Tshwane Sanco leader, Abram Mashishi, alerted him to the business community’s grievances in the area.
Businesses had apparently blocked a service provider from restoring electricity at Soshanguve’s Funekile Junior Secondary School and would not allow Bidvest to decontaminate schools in the area.
In the selection of the recording that was leaked, Lesufi, who said he was addressing business forums, school governing bodies (SGBs), learner groups and principals, was clearly addressing business leaders who wanted a cut of government contracts.
He encouraged them to stay updated on contracts awarded by SGBs .
whom he suggested are sometimes corrupt — and register as service providers on the provincial database. He stated that he could not get involved in such tenders, lest he is accused of wrongdoing.
Then he appeared to cast doubt on his supposed distance from the tender process.
“You need to talk to me, but I’ve realised that if I want to help someone here, I’ll be
assisting a traitor who’ll go to the police and tell the cops that Lesufi gave them a tender,
although they didn’t bid,” he was quoted as saying.
“I should know whether I can trust you, as you know how tenders come out.
trust comrade Mashishi. I won’t risk my future without knowing who to trust. Let’s trust each other so that we can all get empowered.”
Asked what Lesufi’s comments on trust meant
, his spokesperson Steve Mabona said, “We are disputing the validity because we believe
that they selectively used contents of the recording to advance a particular agenda and as
such challenge the recorder to release the full recording of the meeting from the
beginning of the community meeting.”
In his statement, Lesufi said he had played no role in introducing service providers in the
contract, except for telling them to speak to Mashishi. After the meeting, the education
department’s infrastructure team did an assessment on the school, and a company on the
department’s supplier list was appointed to fix the electrical issues.
Mabona said the same service provider, Popz-Lwazi Trading,
that was appointed before the meeting was able to finish the job at Funekile Junior
Secondary School after the meeting. Bidvest, which had offered to perform the
decontamination free, was allowed to continue its work in the area.
The recording was released almost a year after the meeting took place and Lesufi’s
statement charged that, “The sole intention of the recording that is being circulated is to
tarnish his reputation and create a perception at the very least, of bias towards specific people and/or companies.”
The EFF has called on Makhura to sack Lesufi. In a statement, spokesperson Vuyani
Pambo said, “Panyaza Lesufi thrives on pretending to work for public relations purposes while
lining his pockets and allowing private institutions in the sector to be a law unto themselves.
“Most recently, he feigned ignorance on the inexplicable use of R431-million over a period
of three months, to fumigate and disinfect schools that were long closed, to combat Covid-19.”
DA MPL Khume Ramulifho said the May 2020 meeting “clearly indicates that the ANC’s
system of patronage is still alive and well, and that Panyaza Lesufi himself seemingly has no
objection in facilitating such patronage to certain individuals”.
Ramulifho said it was important to uncover more details
“so it doesn’t simply disappear and be thrown out as nothing is coming out”.
The Gauteng ANC has disputed the claim that Lesufi’s Soshanguve meeting was secret,
while Makhura’s spokesperson has reportedly called the allegations “malicious” and said
the premier does not plan to remove his education MEC.
While Lesufi maintains his innocence, his detractors in the ANC are likely to use the report
and any subsequent investigations to call for his removal and for him to follow Masuku out the door.
The claims against Lesufi put Makhura on the back foot. Under the premier’s watch,
former MECs Masuku and Qedani Mahlangu have fallen on their swords when accused of impropriety.
Makhura’s critics will ask: When will he accept responsibility for what happens in his
administration, including Life Esidimeni and spending during the coronavirus pandemic,
and follow his colleagues in stepping aside?