How Mabuza rose through ranks

29 May 2019 - 08:54
By Neo Goba
David Mabuza shares a light-hearted moment with President Cyril Ramaphosa after he was sworn in as a member of parliament by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng at the Presidential Guest house in Pretoria on Tuesday, 28 May 2019.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times David Mabuza shares a light-hearted moment with President Cyril Ramaphosa after he was sworn in as a member of parliament by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng at the Presidential Guest house in Pretoria on Tuesday, 28 May 2019.

Who is Dabede David Mabuza? It is no secret that "The Cat", as he is affectionately called, has not had an easy career in politics.

He has been mired in allegations of wrongdoing since his days as Mpumalanga premier, which he claimed were conspiracies from his political opponents.

Many had not anticipated that he would one day rise to higher echelons of power.

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Mabuza's political activism can be traced back to when he was a teacher, living in a one-room cottage where he would apparently always have comrades coming to visit him to deliberate on political issues.

After leaving the profession as an active member of the then National Education Union of SA, he focused on the ANC's politics.

He was able to work with grassroots members on the ground, and was later elected as ANC Ehlanzeni regional chairperson.

During his tenure, he served in the provincial government as MEC for education in 1994.

Mabuza was then appointed as MEC for housing from 1999 to 2001. He was credited with appointing his comrades from the rural backgrounds to empower them for supporting his ascendence to regional chair position.

His ally, who spoke to Sowetan on condition of anonymity, said Mabuza's alleged cronyism was the starting point of his powerful political career.

"The two positions made him a powerful force, because the comrades that he hired were from all over the province. By virtue of being the regional chairperson and an MEC, he then rose to being an additional member in the PEC (provincial executive committee).

"Mabuza always knew what he wanted and because of the comrades he had hired, he was able to rule even when he was not in the province at some point, because those comrades drummed support for him," one of Mabuza's close friends recollected.

But his ticket to being a key figure in the political landscape was his close proximity to former president Jacob Zuma, who he has since had a fallout with.

Mabuza formed part of the powerful bloc of premiers from three provinces known as the "Premier League".

The group ceased to exist after the Nasrec conference - which saw Mabuza emerging as the deputy president of the ANC.

The "Premier League" was formed to be the cornerstone of Zuma's grip on power.

The league included the Mabuza, then Free State provincial chairperson and premier Ace Magashule, and then ANC North West chairperson and premier Supra Mahumapelo.

As a collective, they ensured that they were untouchable and their then master, Zuma, was also untouchable.

But it was at a 2007 ANC provincial fund-raising gala dinner for Zuma after his legal woes started to come to the fore, that saw The Cat gain more political power.

At the time, Mabuza was the deputy chairperson of the province, while ANC NEC member Thabang Makwetla was at the helm of the province.

During that period, Makwetla and Zuma did not get along, hence giving the platform to Mabuza who addressed the gala dinner.

That, according to Mabuza's close ally, was the beginning of their relationship with Zuma as power was consolidating around The Cat than Makwetla, who was the chairperson.

The close friend of Mabuza attributes his power to playing his cards close to his chest.

"What he was good at was strategising even when he faced allegations after allegations. Since then, he has been more powerful because of how grounded he was and his mass mobilisation attitude ... he was able to have control of every ward and municipality," said Mabuza's confidant.

He said it was not an easy task to beat that system and that is why Mabuza was able to emerge from Mpumalanga provincial conferences because he had empowered a lot of comrades who are defending his ground.