The last time the province had a female premier was almost ten years before Premier Ace Magashule took office. However, if Magashule has it his way, current MEC of the Department of Sports, Art, Culture, and Recreation (SACR), Mathabo Leeto, could be joining the ranks of Beatrice Marshoff, Winkie Direko and Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri.
Leeto is one of the two candidates Magashule publicly endorsed earlier this month to take on the position of provincial chair. While SACR spokesperson, Tankiso Zola, told Voice on Monday that Leeto would not be able to conduct an interview on the matter, TimesLive reported that she said she had been approached by several branches and she is ready to take on the position of provincial chair.
Despite her enthusiasm, political analyst at the University of the Free State, Dr Sethulego Matebesi, said alleged skeletons in Leeto’s closet may, however, come to haunt her as Magashule’s time in the province comes to an end. “While Mathabo Leeto has served numerous times in key roles such as being mayor and in her current role as the MEC, she was in the past accused of corruption. While she may have been cleared of those charges, as citizens we often always find ourselves wondering where those allegations stemmed from and this might be the plight of many following Premier Magashule’s endorsement of Leeto,” Matebesi said.
Leeto faced more than 200 charges relating to her tenure as the executive mayor of Matjhabeng Local Municipality between 2007 and 2009. She was accused of fraud, racketeering and abusing public funds but was cleared of all these charges in 2016 when a court in Welkom withdrew the charges.
One other challenge that Leeto will face will be having to convince the members of the ANC in the Free State and residents of the province at large that she will lead both the province and the party better than Magashule did, especially with regards to the party’s constitution and internal processes.
“Currently, if you look at the situation on the ground, the ANC is bleeding and especially here in the Free State, where they’ve trampled on every single opportunity to have proper governance at the branch level,” Matebesi said.
Speaking on Magashule’s second endorsed candidate, MEC of Police, Roads and Transport, Sam Mashinini, Matebesi said he is one of the more blameless figures in the Free State ANC and has the right credentials in terms of experience. “We also know that he’s been the provincial secretary here in the Free State and Northern Cape. He has the experience as he’s been around in the country… I have no qualms with Mashinini, who has been a member of the provincial legislature for quite some time now,” Matebesi said. He added that while it is the prerogative of the president to appoint the premier, Magashule’s endorsement of these two candidates carries clout, especially considering his tenure as the provincial premier and his new power as the ANC’s secretary-general. Matebesi said the party in the province would, however, also be better off liaising with the branches who will make their nominations for their best candidates as Magashule’s successors and that is one way the ANC will empower its members in the Free State.
In the meantime, the province remains without leadership following last year’s court ruling which rendered the provincial executive committee unlawful. The matter on when the new provincial leadership will be chosen was expected to be discussed at a national executive meeting held earlier on this month. Voice tried on several occasions to contact the ANC national’s spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa, for comment on the matter, with no success.