Post-apartheid Polokwane

The TRC in Polokwane

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission began its Pietersburg hearings from 17 to 19 July 1996   and were held in the Jack Botes Hall in Pietersburg. Commissioners Wynand Malan, Russel Ally and Tom Manthata conducted the hearings.

With about 500 people in attendance, the first day saw relatives of provincial UDF leader Peter Nchabaleng testify.

Testifying on the second day, PAC activist Eddie Baloyi alleged that Security police chief General Johan van den Berg had committed human rights abuses, and recounted the history of the PAC in the area. Baloyi said he was arrested in March 1965 and taken to Newlock Prison in Pretoria, where he was interrogated by Van den Berg, who ordered police to withhold food and keep him in solitary confinement.

The hearings revealed tensions between ordinary people in rural areas and the tribal authorities in Lebowa and surrounding areas. Freda Cholo was killed in 1980 by suspected supporters of an unpopular chief; a six-month-old baby in Kgomo village was killed, and Maphuthu Thlathla said she was assaulted because she was a member of the ANC. Other stories emerged of conflicts between chiefs and ANC supporters.

A year later, the TRC held further hearings at which security force personnel testified in the hope of being granted amnesty for human rights violations. In a case that took up most of the commission’s time, the story of the killing of six MK cadres on 10 July 1986 was told by various policemen involved in the incident, including PF Fuchs, JH Kruger and Andre Erwee. A Black policeman, Mathews Sehlwana, had alleged that one of the cadres, who had been wounded, was shot dead by Fuchs even though he posed no danger to the security forces.

Post-Apartheid Politics

With the victory of the ANC in the first democratic elections in the country, the party inherited the task of reconfiguring and reconstituting the country. The decision to divide the country into nine provinces, where previously only four existed, meant that the Transvaal was divided up, and parts of it fell into various provinces: the Northern Province (now Limpopo), Mpumalanga, Northwest Province, and Gauteng.

The first premier of the newly created province, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, was born in a village near Potgietersrus, Tauatswala. He had studied at the University of the North. A founding member of the Azanian Students Congress (later renamed SA Students Congress), he was expelled and went into exile in 1980. He served as Oliver Tambo’s speechwriter, doing the same for Nelson Mandela after Tambo was incapacitated by a series of strokes.

Returning from exile in 1991, Ramatlhodi became deputy registrar at the University of the North until he became the premier of  the new Northern Province.

Ramatlhodi was an accomplished politician, who presided over a difficult period with seemingly insurmountable challenges. He had to amalgamate the various municipalities, deracialise apartheid entities and maintained law and order in a region that had a strong potential for right-wing reaction.

He appointed a cabinet that had to balance the three major ethnic groupings in the province as well as the Afrikaner rightwing. He invited Johan Kriek, the Freedom Front member of the Northern Transvaal Assembly, to serve in his cabinet with the Public Transport portfolio.

He also appointed Aaron Motsoaledi (a Pedi) in the eduction portfolio, Thabo Mafumadi (a Venda) in economics affairs, Dikeledi Magadzi (Venda) for public works, and John Dombo (a Tsonga speaker), among others.

Ramatlhodi was, unusually, a premier who was not at the same time  not the leader of the party’s provincial branch. He was challenged by two contenders for the chair of the ANC provincial branch: Aaron Motsoaledi, and Collins Chabane, a former Robben Island inmate who became MEC for Public Works after Ramatlhodi prevailed.

Motsoaledi, the nephew of ANC stalwart Elias Motsoaledi, was one of the major players in the establishment of the SA Democratic Teachers Union in Pietersburg and led the UDF in the Sekhukhuneland region. He was also the Deputy Chairman of the first ANC Provincial Executive Committee, elected at the University of the North in October 1991.

Described as the rolling stone of the provincial cabinet, Motsoaledi was reshuffled on various occasions after being appointed Education MEC, becoming Transport MEC, then Agriculture MEC.

After Motsoaledi was removed from the Education portfolio, he was replaced by Joe Phaahla, followed by Edgar Mushwana, and later still by Joyce Mashamba. The latter two are Tsonga speakers, and their inclusion was considered part of the attempt to balance the ethnicities of the cabinet.

Ramatlhodi himself became the ANC provincial chairperson, but was unseated by George Mashamba at the Tivumbeni conference – by one of a total of some 600 votes.

Moloto Takes Over

Ramatlhodi’s two terms saw the city grow as people from the surrounding villages began to move closer to the city and developments created new employment opportunities. The Savanah Mall brought the city in line with other major cities by bringing national retail franchise outlets to Polokwane.

But there have been problems. The witchcraft issue, never far from the surface, reached such a magnitude in the late 1990s that the government appointed a special commission, headed by anthropologist Victor Ralushai, to look into the matter in 1999.

The Northern Province was one of the poorest provinces, and its financial problems in 1998 had a negative impact on municipal effectiveness. A Special Briefing Paper reported in December 1997 that as many as 40% of the population was living below the poverty line, the most impoverished located in the former homelands. The same report also stated that the province was one of the least urbanised in the country, giving rise to migration, which has been practised since the early 20th century and had become a feature of the region.

Ramatlhodi’s reign came to an end in 2004, when he was succeeded by Sello Moloto, who had held the position as chair of the provincial branch of the SACP. Moloto, who served under Ramathlodi as MEC for Health and Social Development from 1999, was dubbed Mr Clean by the media, because of his perceived determination to fight corruption in the province.

But Moloto was perceived to have a problematic relation with Demetrios “Jimmy” Kourtoumbellides, a property baron. The Limpopo provincial government came under fire for building houses for its MECs on land which it bought from Kourtoumbellides. Reports suggest the land was bought for R14-million, although it had been valued at only R6-million. Moloto’s house, which was also bought from Kourtoumbellides for R1,3-million, was valued at R800 000.

Kourtoumbellides built the parliamentary village at a cost of R27,5-million (at first it was announced it would cost R31-million but the figure was trimmed after a public outcry), as well as the offices of the safety and security department, the price of which the Semenya Commission found had been inflated from R8,1-million to R18,6-million.

Kourtoumbellides had also been involved in the construction of the legislature offices after it was moved from Lebowakgomo to Polokwane, offices for the economic affairs and tourism department (at a cost of R45-mllion), and offices for the sports, arts and culture department.

The Polokwane Moment: national politics decided in the north

Perhaps the most dramatic spotlight fell on Polokwane when the ANC held its conference in 2007. Delegates converged on the University of the North to take side in the battle for the soul of the ANC. The delegates were divided into two camps: pro-Mbeki and pro-Zuma.

As the conference unfolded, Mbeki, who was standing for a third term as president of the ruling party, was trumped by Zuma, who had travelled a long and arduous road to his new position. The election had drastic effects on the entire structure of the ANC. Mbeki was eventually “recalled”, stripped of the presidency before the end of his second term, and replaced by Kgalema Motlanthe, the caretaker president.

The ruling party was divided into two factions that, until now, have never reconciled, with serious consequences for the country. The Zuma faction embarked on a purge, ridding the administration of officials perceived to be pro-Mbeki.

Polokwane Today

The “Polokwane Moment” was followed by a political purge of those aligned to Mbeki, and in Polokwane, Premier Sello Moloto was replaced by Cassel Mathala. Moloto joined the breakaway party, Cope, generally thought to be the creation of pro-Mbeki forces.

Mathale’s reign has been clouded by his alleged involvement in business and his close ties to the ANC Youth League’s leader, Julius Malema, who has been accused by the media of benefiting from tenders to build roads and bridges. City Press published an article late in 2010 with pictures showing the roads and bridges in a state of disrepair soon after they were constructed.

Last updated : 04-Jul-2011

This article was produced for South African History Online on 04-Jul-2011