South Africa, Politics

Change at the top in KwaZulu-Natal: Senzo Mchunu’s slow-mo axing

By Cyril Madlala 23 May 2016

“What took you so long?” Senzo Mchunu would have wondered by the time members of the provincial executive committee of the ANC summoned him to the party headquarters in Durban last week to inform him that his days as the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal were over. By CYRIL MADLALA.

Senzo Mchunu would probably only have been puzzled that he was being asked to tender a letter of resignation by today (Monday) when in fact, effectively, his fate had been sealed in November when he lost the chairmanship of the province to Sihle Zikalala.

The bruising battle between their followers has left deep scars which, instead of healing, have now not only become septic, but threaten to poison the whole body of the ANC KwaZulu-Natal ahead of the local government elections in August.

Branches remain divided along these pre-elective conference battle lines as the ANC finalises its candidate lists. There had been hope that time would have by now assuaged dented egos and soothed hearts broken by a genuine sense of betrayal by trusted comrades.

There had been hope that comrades on both sides would by now have let bygones be bygones, and reached out to each other in the interests of the greater good – the unity of the ANC and service to the people.

It was not to be.

With hindsight, we should not have expected it to be, for a very simple reason: political contestation is about power and political power sitting in idle hands dissipates, much to the annoyance of those who would have struggled for the accumulation of that power.

When Zikalala became chairman, he was not a Member of the Provincial Legislature, which posed an immediate and obvious problem because that is where power lies. He was sworn in as a member but was assigned the seat in the chamber traditionally allocated to the head of government, in this instance Mchunu.

That was just the beginning of the complications.

Mchunu and his faction of the MECs were voted out of the Provincial Executive Committee of the ANC, which meant that they were effectively removed from the coalface of internal ANC decision-making processes.

This was a true manifestation of the problem of “two centres of power”, often spoken about in the ANC.

Mchunu got on with his government work, and had more time to do justice to it now that he was largely disengaged from party tasks, which drain every ounce of energy from the most hard-working of any party deployees.

The Premier was, however, now presiding over his political seniors, Willies Mchunu, who was elected provincial deputy chairman, and Nomusa Dube-Ncube, the new treasurer. They were part of a provincial executive committee made up overwhelmingly of members who had voted to see the back of Mchunu and the majority of his lieutenants in government.

However, in terms of the Constitution of the Republic, the Premier appoints and dismisses Members of the Executive Council – powers that Mchunu could have exercised, not only if they were not performing to his satisfaction but also to settle political scores if he so wished.

The new provincial leadership, infused with a lot of blood from the Youth League, increasingly exerted pressure on Zikalala’s executive to effect changes in government which would reflect that new people were in charge. Their views on how government should be run would not always have corresponded with how Mchunu was steering the ship.

In that scenario, the premier would either have allowed himself to be micro-managed from the party headquarters and sought blessings from the ANC first before taking executive decisions, or carried on as mandated by the Constitution to run the government.

It is easy then to understand why it is rumoured that when Mchunu was told to resign last week, he was accused of running government programmes parallel to those of the ANC. Simply put, he was not taking orders from his political bosses.

Another subject likely to have been a bone of contention would be the composition of his executive council.

It is no coincidence that at the same time the news of Mchunu being instructed to resign hit the headlines; a list of names of those to be appointed in the new team also emerged. Young people who were in the trenches with Zikalala in the Youth League dominate it: Mxolisi Kaunda (Transport, Community Safety and Liaison); Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu (Education) and Mthandeni Dlungwane (Agriculture and Rural Development). Zikalala’s name is slotted in Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, with Bongi Sithole-Moloi taking charge in Arts, Culture, Sport and Recreation.

Interestingly, it is Willies Mchunu, not Zikalala, who is being tipped to become Premier.

Neither the ANC nor the premier’s office would shed light on how Mchunu’s recall would be processed from the moment he was instructed to resign last week.

He was supposed to address the Workers’ Parliament on the South Coast and sent Willies Mchunu instead.

Yesterday President Jacob Zuma led a national prayer in Durban. Again, the premier was not there because, according to his office, he had other engagements. That is just not done in government.

Protocols dictate that when the president of the country attends a government event in a province, the premier not only attends, but receives him.

When the president came to ask for divine intervention on Sunday, it was Willies Mchunu and Zikalala who joined Social Welfare Minister Bathabile Dlamini and eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo to greet the president as he stepped out of his vehicle.

But nobody should begrudge Mchunu the time off he would have taken over the weekend to plot his next move as today’s deadline loomed.

He would not have been too pleased that the ANC had opted to prolong the suspense over his fate.

Once he had been defeated last year, he would have prepared himself to surrender power to his conquerors. That is, after all, what the power game is all about.

He might now wish to contest the allegations that as an ANC deployee he has conducted himself in a manner unbecoming of a disciplined comrade in that he would not take instructions from his political superiors.

Or, he could just hand in his resignation as instructed and walk away with the hope that the ANC will find some other use for him if he does not cause any trouble.

In any case, those who have been calling for him to fall since last year did take their own time to chop his political head off.

That would have given him time to consider his options properly. DM

Photo: Widow of the late Thulani Mashaba, Nobuhle Mashaba with President Jacob Zuma, Mrs Thobeka Madiba Zuma and KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu during the memorial service at Empangeni in KwaZulu-Natal, 15 July 2015. (Photo: GCIS)

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