Hatchet man is turning out to be a paper tiger

Limpopo Premier Stan Mathabatha descended from Europe like a messianic leader.

South Africa’s former ambassador to Ukraine appeared all geared up to free this northernmost province from the manacles of corruption.

People here celebrated his appointment as premier. The exhilaration was palpable, and the majority heaved a sigh of relief that Cassel Mathale had been fired as premier. Mathale had promised many times to fight corruption, but alas, malfeasance spread like wildfire.

Mathale never accepted wrongdoing. Yet he never explained why his government collapsed either.

In Mathabatha, the people of Limpopo saw a man who had come to take away the shame inflicted upon them during the Mathale era.

They had hoped the indignity of being the laughing stock of their compatriots in other provinces would be shrugged off.

When Mathabatha pledged to make the fight against corruption his ‘primary mission’ they believed him. In his acceptance speech before a jam packed provincial legislature, the new premier promised to whip those that lined their pockets at the taxpayer’s expense. He sounded convincing.

Weeks later, he summoned all mayors and municipal managers in the province to a meeting in Polokwane. Again, he swore to haul corrupt council officials over the coals.

He kept his word to hold accountable those he suspected of wrongdoing. The Director General, Rachel Molepo-Modipa, the province’s top public servant, has been suspended. Several heads of departments and senior officials are also undergoing disciplinary hearings on various charges.

The ANC provincial executive that he leads sacked seven mayors last month. However that resolution seemed to have targeted mayors considered political foes and remnants of the Mathale regime.

Mathabatha, it appears he just can’t get rid of what has become a monkey on his back. The conundrum at the trouble-torn Mogalakwena Municipality in Mokopane has been a major headache for him. His dilemma there is multi-pronged.

Firstly, his government seems powerless to remove the controversial municipal manager William Kekane, whose employment contract was declared unlawful by the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

Secondly, the province’s repetitive court bids to place Mogalakwena under administration keep falling apart.

Thirdly, the 22 ANC councilors fired by his provincial party leadership for voting with the opposition to remove a former mayor they accused of corruption continue to defy him. The rebellious group, among them Mayor Malesela Mabuela and Speaker Meelba Mabusela, remain in their positions despite their expulsion.

And Mathabatha remains surprisingly obstinate, despite a KPMG forensic audit report that implicates the former ANC mayor and chief whip in an R 1, 5 million corruption scandal.

The 22 axed councilors claim he fired them to protect former mayor Tlhalefi Manshamaite and chief whip David Langa, who were incriminated by the forensic report. Mathabatha denied this and has promised to heed the recommendations of the forensic report.

But is has been more than six months since that damning report came to light, and the premier has shown no enthusiasm to take action against Mashamaite and Langa. While two men were removed from their top posts, they remain on the payroll as ordinary councilors.