The Mpumalanga MEC accused of double murder has been fired.
Mandla Msibi, an ANC strongman who commands political support and has solid links to a grouping that controls the levers of power in the province, was relieved of his duties last night.
Msibi, who has been charged for fatally shooting Dingaan Ngwenya and Sindela Lubisi and injuring Sifiso Mpilo outside Coyotes Chisa Nyama in Mbombela on August 22, will also be asked by the ANC to step aside from his party role. But his allies fear a faction seeking to take control of the province could be left weakened by his departure.
Premier Refiloe Mtshweni-Tsipane wielded the axe on Msibi two days after he was charged with the serious crimes.
Msibi was the MEC for agriculture, rural development, land and environmental affairs. He is a member of the powerful provincial executive committee (PEC) and elections manager with support of lower structures of the party in Mbombela, where he previously served as a councillor and speaker, according to his allies.
Msibi is credited with propping up a faction known as “focus”, led by long-standing acting chairperson Mandla Ndlovu, and he is vying for the position of provincial treasurer of the ANC on the slate led by Ndlovu.
His arrest, although not new, “came as a devastating shock to the leadership and membership of the ANC ward 2 branch where Msibi comes from, according to ward secretary Walker Sikonela, who joined throngs of his supporters outside the Mbombela magistrate’s court yesterday.
One PEC member told Sowetan yesterday that should Msibi be asked to step aside, his faction will be left disorganised ahead of the provincial conference as Msibi is trusted with mobilisation and organising for the party and his faction.
“This man is a pulling factor, he speaks with all the factions and through him we hoped that the three factions vying for power were going to unite towards the elective conference. He is also an elections manager who is active in all parts of the province,” said the ANC member.
At the height of the riots that swept across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July, Msibi appeared in a video circulated on social media speaking after organising comrades to sleep over at Emoyeni mall in his township to protect it from being looted. He could be heard at the time telling supporters that they would not hesitate to shoot anyone in the forehead who tried to disrupt the government.
Acting ANC provincial secretary Lindiwe Ntshalintshali said the PEC had taken a decision to apply the party’s step-aside-policy on Msibi with immediate effect.
Ntshalintshali said Msibi’s removal was purely based on an ANC policy.
“The PEC of Mpumalanga was the first province to take decisions on step-aside after the NEC resolution and we are reaffirming the step-aside policy that once you are formally charged by the National Prosecution Authority and appeared before the court of law, it’s automatic that you must step aside. In the case of Msibi, the stepping aside will be on ANC position as PEC member and elections manager as well as being MEC so that he can focus on the allegations levelled against him,” said Ntshalintshali.
However, according to ANC-insiders in Mpumalanga, Msibi’s removal from his post would likely cripple the ambitions of the current leadership of the party.
“Msibi worked his way from the branches and his organisational skills are known in Pienaar where he comes from. He is aligned to current acting ANC provincial chairperson Mandla Ndlovu and had ambitions of using his networks to push his way to become ANC’s treasurer. His removal could easily influence the political landscape in this province,” said the ANC member.
Former ward 45 councillor Mandla Mamba said should Msibi step aside the ANC in Mpumalanga will lose a “unifier”.
“The ANC should be worried about Msibi being suspended and as a manager of the elections. It is going to be a hit to the party. When Msibi was appointed there was no contest or factional battle but it was his capacity that made him qualify. He is being targeted because he wants to take the ANC out of the pockets of people and there are those who want him down,” said Mamba.
Msibi is applying for bail in the Nelspruit magistrate’s court with other two co-accused, Njabulo Mkhonto, 28, and Anele Mnisi, 26.
Mtshweni-Tsipane spokesperson Sibongile Mkani-Mpolweni said the premier had not acted on Msibi earlier because she wanted to meet with him when he is granted bail to discuss his position.
Political analyist Dr Mcebisi Ndletyana said the premier could have not acted because she did not want to upset the ANC provincial leadership.