new boys ready to kick off the premier league

All three players might not be among President Kgalema Motlanthe's anointed but they belong to the group that matters - the faction within the ruling ANC aligned to party president Jacob Zuma.

All three players might not be among President Kgalema Motlanthe's anointed but they belong to the group that matters - the faction within the ruling ANC aligned to party president Jacob Zuma.

In a few days' time people in the Free State, Gauteng and Limpopo will wake up to a new political order - with their provinces under the stewardship of Ace Magashule, Paul Mashatile and Cassel Mathale, respectively.

The political life of Magashule, the Free State's provincial party chairman, inspires cliches, like - "good things come to those who wait".

The waiting game for Magashule began in the vexatious premiership of Mosiuoa Terror Lekota, the immediate past minister of defence. Such was the acrimony in their relationship that if the men are on speaking terms today - it would be thanks to the work of a higher force.

In Polokwane, when Lekota got his comeuppance, Magashule would not have shed a tear. When Lekota fell on his sword, together with the Mbeki camp this past week, the MEC must have felt justified in invoking the wisdom of another hackneyed phrase: "What goes around comes around".

Thanks to the viciousness of the Mbeki administration, whose brunt Magashule bore in the form of the rotund Lekota, the man called Ace had to sit out a few terms as, one by one, the Mbekites held sway - Lekota, Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, Winkie Direko and the present incumbent Beatrice Marshoff, whose days are numbered.

In the words of those who keep records, like the DA leader in the province, Roy Jankielsohn: "The expected reshuffle is likely to end 14 years of struggle for Ace Magashule to become premier."

So that's what it's been? A struggle!

To employ a soccer metaphor - Magashule has been on the bench for too long. As the coach is now about to bring him on, the ball is in his court to prove he could be the super sub(stitute) to turn the national team's fortunes around.

In Gauteng all that Paul Mashatile, the MEC for finance, has had to do was play his cards close to his chest.

He became a member of the Gauteng government in 1996, serving under all the premiers the province has had. Thirteen years later he holds the distinction of being the longest-serving member of the Gauteng legislature.

Mashatile has worked with outgoing premier Mbhazima Shilowa from the late 1990s, establishing and strengthening ANC and SACP branches in the province.

While Shilowa was taking the moral high ground about how he'd "not be able to publicly explain or defend the NEC decision on comrade Thabo Mbeki", Mashatile has known better - following Zuma around and even sharpening his vocal chords for periodic renditions of Umshini Wam'.

Before the factions within the organisation became too obvious, Mashatile was MEC for transport and public works in 1996, headed safety and security in 1998 and housing for five years - before he went to finance.

It was in this position that the lanky lad from Alexandra took his buddies across the freeway to leafy Sandton to splash out on a restaurant outing that set the taxpayer back no less than R100000.

Still, the party is convinced that "the leadership of the province under the chairmanship of Paul Mashatile will be characterised by unity in action, discipline and a commitment to build a better Gauteng for all our people".

According to ANC records, Mashatile's father was a lay priest with no substantial income while his mother was a domestic worker who raised her children with a meagre salary.

He is steeped in protest politics from the days of the youth congresses to the United Democratic Front - finally graduating to leadership positions in both the ANC and the SACP.

He too, like Magashule, has waited his turn in the queue. What sets him apart though is that he's known how to work with both sides - from Mbeki's fiercest critics, like businessman Tokyo Sexwale, to sympathisers like Shilowa.

Unlike Magashule, who has had to call on the likes on Pat Matosa to fight his battles, Mashatile worked it smartly.

Meanwhile, Sowetan's Frank Maponya reports that Limpopo ANC chairman Cassel Charlie Mathale is poised to become the next premier come next year's general elections.

That is only if the ANC in the province sticks to its resolutions taken during the provincial conference - to allow current premier Sello Moloto to complete his term.

ANCYL president Julius Malema must be a happy man!

Until lately Mathale was relatively unknown in the public domain but his political star has risen fast.

The immense role he played as a young and restless activist in the unforgiving 1980s is what the country remembers him for.

Born on January 23 1961 in the dusty Dan village near Tzaneen, he married Mokgadi Dolly Kgohloane in 1998.

Like most rural kids his parents wanted him to become either a doctor or lawyer.

But buoyed by the 1980s' youth slogan of "liberation first, education later", Mathale defied their wish and opted for politics.

He belonged to the disciplined crop of youths that formed the militant Muhlaba Youth Organisation (Muyo), which was affiliated to the United Democratic Front in 1984.

He then became a protagonist in local and provincial politics in Limpopo, which at the time had three homelands!

The authorities of these homelands harassed anyone they saw as an "enemy" of the apartheid system.

Mathale was in the thick of things and the authorities of the then Gazankulu homeland watched him like hawks, sparing no moment to "deal" with the young leader.

He became the first president and later chairman of the Azanian Students Organisation while studying teaching at Tivumbeni College of Education in Nkowankowa.

He was later arrested for being instrumental in organising the student body at the college, from which he was later expelled by by the apartheid regime.

He was released the following year and he rejoined the struggle alongside comrades such as Jabu Mahlangu, Peter Mokaba and Ngwako Ramalepe.

Political analyst from the University of Limpopo Lesiba Teffo said though he knew little about Mathale's capabilities, he would "fit in" with the support of other colleagues.

Ace, Paul, Cassel ... the premiership league awaits you!