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Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi. Picture: SANDILE NDLOVU/File
Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi. Picture: SANDILE NDLOVU/File

Gauteng premier candidates have insisted that ANC provincial chair Panyaza Lesufi be part of a live, public debate ahead of the 2024 national and provincial elections.

Gauteng, SA’s richest province that contributes nearly 40% to national GDP, is expected to be a battleground province for the May 29 election as opposition leaders including DA Gauteng leader Solly Msimanga, ActionSA Gauteng chair Funzi Ngobeni, EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and Rise Mzansi national chair Vuyiswa Ramokgopa are positioning themselves to replace Lesufi as premier.

Ramokgopa wrote to Msimanga, Ndlozi, and Ngobeni on Sunday, inviting them to a live, public debate. She deliberately did not extend the invite to Lesufi who took over as premier from long serving ANC politician David Makhura in October 2022.

“While we come from different political homes, with different manifestos; different ideas about how best to keep families and communities safe; how to build an economy that creates jobs; and how to ensure the delivery of services, among other issues facing residents, what we can all agree on is that the ANC will not lead Gauteng after May 29, having garnered just over 50% of the vote in the elections five years ago,” Ramokgopa said.

She said the past five years were a disaster for Gauteng residents who had to contend with increasing violent crime, high joblessness, unstable local government sector, crime in schools, under resourced hospitals and corruption.

“This is not the Gauteng the residents deserve, and it is on this basis and many others that the people of Gauteng will vote out the ANC. But it is upon us as premier candidates to give the residents and voters of Gauteng something to vote for. Realistically, one of us will be the premier of Gauteng after voters reject the ANC,” said Ramokgopa.

“Therefore, with 80 days until the elections, I am calling for a 90-minute live, public debate that will enable us to put our electoral commitments on the table for the people of Gauteng to interrogate.”

When contacted for comment, Ngobeni said: “In this vibrant democracy that we are in, such debates are necessary, we welcome the initiative. However, such an initiative should be criticised as a gimmick if the incumbent premier Panyaza Lesufi is not part of it. In the eyes of others, it would look like we are playing a political gimmick. We can’t debate Gauteng without Panyaza being there.”

Ndlozi could not immediately be reached for comment. Msimanga echoed Ngobeni, saying: “We have seen the letter ... the ANC is still a part of Gauteng provincial government, they must be invited to speak of their record in power. They must be called to account what they have done.

“When you want to have this debate, everybody must come and give their input. It’s also a platform to engage the electorate on our manifestos.”

Msimanga said the DA was not opposed to the live debate idea but, “I want to engage head on with Panyaza. Having worked with him in legislature, it would be worthwhile for people to know what his track record is. For the ANC to be left out of this debate would be shortchanging the people of Gauteng. The invited should have been extended to Panyaza too,” he said.

Ramokgopa retorted: “If there is a strong feeling that he [Lesufi] should be part of it, I have no problem about it. But the intention of the debate is not to focus on what the ANC has done wrong. It is to empower and enable the public to understand better the agenda of other political parties. People are not clear yet what our manifestos and plans are for the province.”

The ANC has acknowledged it is in danger of losing control of the province as it struggles to deal with unemployment and deteriorating basic services such as access to housing, clinics, schools, water and electricity.

The ANC lost control of the Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane metros in Gauteng to DA-led coalitions in the 2021 municipal elections, where its national electoral support fell below the 50% mark for the first time since 1994.

The ANC’s support in Gauteng had been on the decline before that too; in the 2019 provincial election it received 2.1-million votes, or 50.1%, down from the 53.5% it mustered in 2014.

According to a latest survey by the Brenthurst Foundation, a Johannesburg based think-tank, the ANC’s support in Gauteng could fall to 34% during the election, while the DA could increase to 32%, EFF 11%, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party 6%, ActionSA 5%, Build One SA 5%, and the DA-led coalition pact called the multiparty charter for SA 38%.

Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi. File photo.
Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi. File photo.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu
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