The relationship between ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula and spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri has bombed out acrimoniously after he accused her of “dropping the ball”.
So serious is the fallout that Mbalula demoted Bhengu-Motsiri’s second in command JP Louw from the Luthuli House’s communication team, known as the department of information and publicity (DIP). Louw was removed from his position as DIP’s acting communications manager and is now an ordinary official.
This was seen as Mbalula’s stick to beat Bhengu-Motsiri as he has no powers to fire her.
Only the governing party’s national executive committee (NEC) can dismiss her from the position, which she assumed after she was elected into the highest decision making body structure at the organisation’s elective conference in December last year.
Louw was given his marching orders after a heated meeting on Monday, which was also attended by ANC first deputy-secretary general Nomvula Mokonyane and the party’s communications, information and publicity NEC subcommittee chairperson Nkenke Kekana.
It was at this meeting that Bhengu-Motsiri was chastised for dropping the ball.
A Luthuli House NEC member confirmed Mbalula’s unhappiness with the performance of the communications unit led by Bhengu-Motsiri. “It is nothing new, people have been unhappy before. Not everyone was happy with Pule Mabe so what is the issue now? “Comrade Mahlengi is new and does not have enough experience to run this thing, so maybe it is too harsh to blame her.”
Our informants at Pixley Ka Seme Street told Sunday World the trigger was when Mbalula was in the West Rand last week and the media was nowhere to be seen.
Mbalula is said to have been piqued about the chaos in the communications team, which apparently got worse when Louw joined as acting manager.
The informant said Mbalula’s “badly covered” work in the West Rand last week was the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
“The SG was in the West Rand last week and he had two rallies there, but there was no media and no DIP.
“And you know our SG, he loves cameras and if he does not see any, then its war.
“Unfortunately he is stuck with Mahlengi, who can only be removed by the NEC.”
Another ANC deep throat added that Mbalula felt that Bhengu-Motsiri was absent at a time when she was supposed to have defended the ANC from attacks in the public domain.
The insiders all shared how there were “serious concerns” the ANC would be exposed going into the elections with its communications team in disarray. This while Mokonyane is said to have long resisted attempts to regularise positions in the unit that are not part of the party’s revised organogram.
The insider also said Bhengu-Motsiri was taken to task for offloading unit staffers she found when she took over the reins from Mabe nine months ago.
Sunday World understands she recruited Louw to hold the fort, hoping he would be absorbed over the long-term.
Louw is said to have been the henchman who drove away communications staffers and volunteers.
Among casualties were presidency digital communications manager Athi Geleba and Gauteng Office of the Premier communications official Sixolise Ngele, who were crucial in the ANC’s social media communication department.
Louw removed them from ANC WhatsApp groups along with many others, sending the whole department into chaos.
Photographer Musa Masilela was also pushed out and joined Mokonyane’s office while ANC media liaison officer Amos Phago jumped ship this week.
The state of disorder in the department, insiders claim, saw individual national officials having to build their own teams, focusing only on them.
“Mbaks is gatvol and JP (Louw) has been offloaded. Check the press statements now, it is only Mahlengi and JP’s name is nowhere to be found,” said an insider who is not authorised to speak to the media.
“The SG is not happy that Mahlengi is not there to defend the ANC, and journalists have complained to him directly. Further to that, there is no coherence in how the department of information and publicity works and what its strategy is.
“As we speak, we are a few months away from elections, but I challenge you to ask them what the communications election strategy is, there is none, although there was a workshop, but no one knows its outcomes in terms of a final document.”
Another source confirmed this, saying the unit was found napping despite the likes of DA and EFF having communications teams that are highly organised and coordinated.
“All that must be done is to align structures because we are on election mode now. The DIP is usually not about elections but we are only a few months from the elections now and they need to get moving before the train leaves them at the station.”
Bhengu-Motsiri denied there was friction between her and Mbalula and said Louw had left because he had been a volunteer.
Kekana refused to comment. Mbalula said the heated meeting was no indication of a fallout between him and Bhengu-Motsiri and refused to delve into the details of the meeting.
Those claiming that he was unhappy with Bhengu-Motsiri’s performance were creating a storm out of a teacup.
“We cannot entertain people talking about ANC internal meetings. Our meetings are not a media issue and no other political party can allow that,” he said.
“We cannot be dragged by gossipers who are hellbent on creating chaos in the ANC. Meetings happen daily in every workplace about various departments and there is nothing to write home about, why must the ANC be an exception? Please chief, do not drag us just for the sake of it.” he said.
Louw said it was untrue that he was removed as acting Communications Manager but confirmed that there were frictions within Luthuli House.
According to him, his name was removed from press statements at his behest.
“People must stop making things up. There is no fire. There is no fire between Mbalula and Mahlengi. There is no fire between me and Mahlengi and there is no fire between me and Mbalula. None of that is there,” he said.
“There is no discussion in the ANC about whether I must go or stay, it is not there. I think your sources are wishing that I go and hoping if I go then Mahlengi will be weakened, that is what I think.”