South African Protests Threaten to Unseat Ramaphosa's ANC Rival

(Bloomberg) -- South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will meet the top leadership of the ruling African National Congress on Friday to decide on the future of the premier of the North West province, Supra Mahumapelo, after clashes broke out between protesters and police in the region.

Mahumapelo opposed Ramaphosa’s bid to win control of the ANC at a party congress in December and his exit would help the president strengthen his control over the party after a narrow win in December. Disgruntlement with Mahumapelo’s leadership has been mounting over his handling of a graft scandal and his sidelining of his ANC rivals in the North West.

“Today is D-day for Supra Mahumapelo,” said Theo Venter, a political analyst at North-West University in Potchefstroom, west of Johannesburg. “He must be under tremendous pressure. He could well be sidelined and we get a caretaker premier.”

Ramaphosa will consult the ANC’s so-called top-six leaders about the premier’s fate, International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu told reporters in London Friday. The president cut short his participation in a Commonwealth leaders’ meeting in the city to return to South Africa to deal with the protests, his spokeswoman Khusela Diko said.

Corruption Probe

Demonstrators opposed to Mahumapelo and angry about a lack of government services set fire to buses and looted shops in the provincial capital, Mahikeng, police said. South Africa’s special police unit known as the Hawks said it raided Mahumapelo’s offices last month in connection with alleged maladministration, fraud and corruption amounting to about 160 million rand ($13 million).

Ramaphosa “called on all aggrieved parties to express their grievances through peaceful means and engagement rather than violence and anarchy,” Diko said in an emailed statement.

The president will also meet with provincial leaders of the ANC Friday, the party said in a separate statement. Mahumapelo was a close ally of Jacob Zuma, who Ramaphosa ousted as the nation’s president in February.

Ramaphosa met government officials and investors in London, where he unveiled a plan to attract $100 billion of investment to kick-start the economy. He’s been working to convince investors that he is committed to reversing years of economic stagnation, policy uncertainty and looting of state funds since succeeding Zuma as president.

‘New Dawn’

Police have arrested 23 people for looting, regional police said on their Twitter account. Mahikeng is about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Botswana, which shut its closest border with South Africa.

The protests offer Ramaphosa an opportunity to stamp his authority on the party and show what sort of leadership the country should expect from him, Mpumelelo Mkhabela, political analyst at the Department of Political Sciences at the University of South Africa, said by email.

“Ramaphosa promised a new dawn and residents in North West province and many provincial leaders aligned to Ramaphosa don’t believe Premier Mahumapelo is capable of delivering it,” he said.

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