Despite a ban on discussions around ANC succession until October, the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal was unable to contain its “unshaken” support for Jacob Zuma’s re-election at the party’s national conference in Mangaung. The province so loves its homegrown president that it took four days and 2,000 delegates to say so, and it is coming up with innovative ways keep things the same. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
KwaZulu-Natal’s politics has always had a huge impact on the national landscape. In fact, the Thabo Mbeki-Jacob Zuma juggernaut originated as a result of a deal falling through in 1999 which would have seen IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi become deputy president of the country in exchange for the ANC taking control of KwaZulu-Natal.
But Buthelezi rejected the deal, opting to retain control of the province. Zuma, as deputy president of the party, had become too senior to remain in KwaZulu-Natal as an MEC. Mbeki’s ally, S’bu Ndebele, was also eager to get rid of Zuma, as his career was limited by Zuma’s presence in the province.
So Mbeki got stuck with Zuma as his deputy. It took just a few months before their long-running friendship fell to pieces and the ANC’s biggest post-liberation power battle was born.
Fast forward to 2012: the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal conference in Newcastle ended on Sunday with the entire senior leadership core re-elected unopposed and a predictable ringing endorsement of Zuma’s campaign for re-election at the party’s Mangaung conference in December.
According to the provincial secretary, Sihle Zikalala, KwaZulu-Natal wanted all the national leaders of the ANC to retain their positions. “It's not only about Jacob Zuma, it's about the whole leadership,” he said. One of the resolutions taken at Polokwane was to unite the ANC and the current leadership had done that, Zikalala said, apparently with a straight face.
But this didn’t mean KwaZulu-Natal had jumped the gun and was discussing succession in defiance of the ANC national executive committee (NEC) ban on leadership talk, Zikalala was quick to add. The ANC Youth League, among others, is reportedly not amused by Luthuli’s House’s failure to call KwaZulu-Natal to order for declaring its leadership loyalties ahead of time.
The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal would have us believe that all 252,637 of its signed-up members are unanimous in their support of the provincial and national leadership structures of the ANC. Hence the province led the way, demonstrating how party unity and confidence in the leadership should be exhibited: forgo voting altogether and simply rubber-stamp the current leadership.
But the real reason voting was avoided was that the provincial leadership was not taking any chances by contesting positions, which would have lifted the lid on suppressed tensions in the party. Instead, any source of division was contained in order that the province presents a united front heading for Mangaung. It was the only way to guarantee that positions of influence and privilege in the party and government are maintained, and to keep Zuma in his job.
KwaZulu-Natal is, of course, Zuma’s biggest asset, now that he can no longer count on Cosatu and the ANC Youth League to run his campaign machinery. The province will supply over a quarter of voting delegates to the policy and national conferences, and will also hold tremendous lobbying power at both meetings.
While the province played a key role in Zuma’s election at Polokwane in 2007, it was not unanimous in supporting him. Mbeki did have some level of support in the province, evident in the number of ANC supporters who broke away from the ANC to form the Congress of the People after Mbeki’s defeat and ousting.
The party is not willing to roll the dice this time around, hence the tightly controlled manoeuvre at this weekend’s conference. The provincial chairman Zweli Mkhize’s loyalty to Zuma had previously been called into question owing to his perceived close relationship with presidential contender Tokyo Sexwale. As a result, he had to step up and rally the troops behind Zuma to prove his loyalty.
After Zuma’s opening address, Mkhize began his 9,450-word political report with an impassioned pledge that bordered on grovelling. “The instructions are clear – KwaZulu-Natal is ready to act as instructed. Comrade President, we must thank you profusely for an inspiring address, a revival talk. If you do not know the ANC after this talk, you need prayer.”
He then spent an inordinate amount of time preaching party unity.
“Unity in the ANC cannot be over-emphasised… Unity refers to working together, cooperatively for common purpose. Unity requires discipline, mutual respect, openness and trust… Unity is about being principled not to oppose for the sake of opposing; not to reject logical reasoning because of personal attitudes that have no bearing to the subject matter under discussion.”
Beneath the surface, however, is a litany of problems threatening to burst into the open. By Mkhize’s own admission, the party is under pressure to deliver services, while there is “a degree of instability in municipalities.”
“The province of KwaZulu-Natal remains one of the poorest provinces, with the second highest unemployment rates numerically, with largest number of female headed households, orphans and the highest disease burden i.e. HIV and Aids and tuberculosis. It is the province with large backlogs in terms of infrastructure for the provision of water, sanitation, electrification, housing, roads, etc.,” Mkhize said.
But Mkhize failed to acknowledge instances of corruption and abuse of public funds – which have been hugely embarrassing to the provincial leadership and caused significant tensions on the ground.
Two of the party’s senior leaders in the province, Speaker of the legislature Peggy Nkonyeni and economic development MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu, were charged with racketeering and corruption in relation to the awarding of multi-million-Rand tenders. While there are reportedly behind-the-scenes attempts to squash this case, Nkonyeni, a strong Zuma ally, retained her position as provincial treasurer this weekend.
In March, the former deputy mayor of Msunduzi (which includes the provincial capital Pietermaritzburg), Alpha Shelembe, was elected chairman of the ANC Moses Mabhida region, despite charges of arson, corruption, fraud and money laundering hanging over his head.
The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal is also unsure how to contain the fallout over corruption and abuse of finances in the eThekwini council to the tune of R500-million, documented in a forensic audit. With senior figures in the ANC implicated, the newly-elected deputy secretary, Nomusa Dube, who is also cooperative governance MEC working alongside city officials, is refusing to make the full report public.
But all of these issues were swept under the carpet at the provincial conference. In order to maintain tight control on ANC members, the province is now proposing having “units” established at tertiary institutions and at workplaces. According to Zikalala, this is one of the measures proposed to “rejuvenate branches”.
But the “units” sound suspiciously like alternative structures to those the ANC Youth League and Cosatu would already have in place. While details on these units and how they would operate are still sketchy, it seems that the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal is proposing setting up parallel structures to its league and alliance partner to make sure that new and existing members are kept in line.
Not surprisingly, the province also had a strongly worded resolution on the judiciary, one of the biggest thorns in Zuma’s side since taking office. The party said it was worried about the abuse of the judiciary by those “hell-bent on undermining the ANC”.
It was a great weekend for Zuma, who has been taking a beating in recent weeks with mounting bad publicity for his administration around the e-tolling and the Richard Mdluli saga. His campaign for a second term has been consolidated and he now has a formidable and demonstrable support base.
The ANC KwaZulu-Natal conference has upped the stakes for those challenging Zuma. One of these contenders, Sexwale, was present at the conference and had a bird’s eye view of the great rubber-stamping exercise as a NEC deployee to the province. He will know where the fault lines lie.
The other contender, Kgalema Motlanthe, is doing what he does best – pretending not to care. DM