The leader of South Africa’s North West province resigned in the face of pressure from President Cyril Ramaphosa and weeks of violent protest against his rule over the platinum-rich region.
The pressure on Supra Mahumapelo is evidence of Ramaphosa’s drive to root out graft since replacing Jacob Zuma in February. Ramaphosa met Mahumapelo, a Zuma ally, to persuade him to step down.
Protesters took to the streets of provincial capital Mahikeng demanding Mahumapelo’s resignation and accusing him of mishandling state tenders and overseeing the collapse of the local health system.
Mahumapelo initially refused to step down, saying he was being unfairly targeted for supporting Zuma’s ex-wife in the closely fought race for leader of the African National Congress (ANC) won by Ramaphosa in December.
The length of the tussle over Mahumapelo’s tenure shows Ramaphosa’s cautious leadership style and the power Zuma loyalists retain within the ANC, Africa’s oldest liberation movement.
Mahumapelo denies wrongdoing and said he yielded to pressure to resign to dispel fears he could influence dozens of investigations into mismanagement in the province.
“I think it will be better for one to go on early retirement,” Mahumapelo told a news conference at ANC headquarters.
He led North West since 2014 and defended his record on the region’s economy, which he said was growing at over two percent. He accused “counter-revolutionaries” of stirring up public anger against his rule.
ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule, one of the party’s top six officials also seen as close to Zuma, told the same news conference the ruling party supported Mahumapelo’s resignation.
Ramaphosa placed North West under central government administration earlier this month and deployed army medics to hospitals to treat patients after cutting short a visit to a Commonwealth summit in Britain.
Police last month fired tear gas at protesters who blocked roads, set alight cars and looted shops in and around Mahikeng.
Jessie Duarte, ANC Deputy Secretary General, said national government would remain in control of North West while it got to the bottom of problems there.
She said the ANC was united behind Ramaphosa and dismissed talk of a lingering struggle for control of the party between rival factions.
“We have to move forward,” Duarte said. “For the next five years this is the leadership of the ANC led by President Cyril Ramaphosa.”