Where to now for the Alex Mafia?

03 May 2009 - 02:00 By WISANI wa ka NGOBENI and MOIPONE MALEFANE
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DURING an ANC election rally ahead of the April 22 poll, Nomvula Mokonyane, the former MEC of housing in Gauteng, was asked to introduce ANC provincial chair Paul Mashatile to the crowd.

Present at the rally in Soweto was ANC president Jacob Zuma and other high-profile ANC leaders.

Dressed in tight jeans, Mokonyanetold the jubilant crowd that because the ANC was assured of victory in Gauteng, the man who was about to address them was "the next premier of Gauteng".

As it turned out, the ANC did win the election in Gauteng. But Mashatile will not continue as premier of the country's economic powerhouse.

Instead, Mokonyane herself will take up the top post. She was chosen by the party's national executive committee (NEC) at a meeting on Thursday. The decision sent shock waves through ANC structures in Gauteng as Mashatile, who won a heavily contested election to become the provincial chairman in 2007, was expected to be confirmed as premier.

ANC leaders this week said the NEC had decided not to nominate Mashatile because Gauteng - having had three male premiers - was now ready for a woman.

But the Sunday Times has established that powerful ANC leaders decided against Mashatile in a bid to reduce the influence of the so-called "Alex Mafia".

This is a group of former anti-apartheid activists from Alexandra township - where Mashatile grew up - who have risen to positions of influence in the Gauteng government. Mashatile - who was Gauteng finance MEC before taking over as premier after Mbhazima Shilowa quit to help form the Congress of the People - is said to be the "don" of the group.

Other figures linked to the Alex Mafia include Mike Maile, the chief executive of the Gauteng Shared Service Centre (GSSC), Nkenke Kekana, spokesman of the Gauteng ANC and major shareholder in Business Connexion, and Bridgman Sithole, also a shareholder in Business Connexion, and Keith Khoza, who was appointed chief executive of the Gauteng Economic Development Agency.

During the 1980s Mashatile, Maile, Kekana and Sithole fought in the trenches together against apartheid. Mashatile served in structures such as the SA Congress of Students, the Youth Congress and the United Democratic Front. After the unbanning of the ANC, his star began to rise. In 1992, he was elected to the interim ANC PWV region (now Gauteng) under Kgalema Motlanthe.

After 1992, Mashatile rose to provincial secretary and in 1994, after the dawn of democracy, he became a member of the Gauteng legislature.

In 1996 he was appointed MEC for transport and public works by the then Gauteng premier Tokyo Sexwale.

Later Mashatile was moved to housing. It was during this time that he appears to have strengthened contacts with his Alex comrades. While at housing, Mashatile appointed Maile to head the Alexandra Renewal Project. Sithole was appointed administrative secretary in the housing department. Kekana, who chaired the national assembly's communications portfolio committee until he resigned as MP in 2003, was later appointed chairman of the Gauteng Film Commission.

When Mashatile took over as finance MEC, Maile was appointed head of the GSSC, which answers to Mashatile. Maile - who is due to step down in July this year - presided over several lucrative tenders which were awarded to companies linked to Mashatile, Kekana and Sithole.

In his declaration of interests to the legislature in 2006, Mashatile declared shares in Gadlex Holdings, which owns 25% of Business Connexion, and Mowana Investments. Confronted about the alleged conflict of interest, Mashatile disowned both the Gadlex and Mowana shares, claiming that what he had meant to declare was an earlier offer not taken up.

Both Kekana and Sithole are shareholders in Business Connexion, which won substantial tenders from Maile's GSSC.

Mashatile's detractors claim the Alex Mafia was central to his being elected ahead of education MEC Angie Motshekga in 2007. The victory over Motshekga - who had defeated Mashatile for the position of Gauteng deputy chairman in 2001 - was controversial as she had been nominated by a majority of branches ahead of the provincial conference.

But Mashatile's supporters say the 48-year-old deserved the post because of his experience in the provincial administration and his struggle record.

ANC spokesman Lindiwe Zulu said the NEC discussions about premiers had been robust. The NEC had looked at the political environment of each province and decisions had been based on what was best for the ANC, not individuals.

"In a situation where the chairperson is not the premier like in Gauteng, there was a clear emphasis that the premier cannot do things without informing the ANC. The premier belongs to the provincial executive committee and (the committee) has to drive the ANC agenda.

"In Gauteng, Paul has to ensure the ANC manifesto is implemented as the chairperson of the province. The NEC also stated that the MECs cannot be decided by the premier alone but (the provincial committee) should be involved."

Sexwale said the NEC decision sat well with Mashatile. "Paul has accepted the decision. There was a reason to bring in a woman in line with Polokwane resolutions."

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