South Africa, Politics

Who’s In & Who’s Out in KZN government? Still not an open-and-shut matter

By Cyril Madlala 2 June 2016

The cloud of uncertainty hanging over the government of KwaZulu-Natal in the aftermath of Senzo Mchunu’s resignation as premier's presence was still palpable this week as the MECs who were expected to follow him into the political wilderness remained in office, despite being informed by the ANC last week that their services were no longer required. By CYRIL MADLALA.

The confusion and conflicting messages are consistent with the shambolic manner in which the whole saga has been handled.

The ANC Youth League could hardly hide its glee when Mchunu stepped down. Welcoming his resignation, it said it was in the best interests of unity in the ANC. It went on to call on the ANC to “beef up” the provincial government leadership team. So emboldened the young people were that they took the unprecedented initiative to inform the world in a statement detailing who would be suitable for appointment.

We have a number of bright minds in the legislature, including the likes of Sihle Zikalala, Mthandeni Dlungwane, Mxolisi Kaunda, Nomagugu Simelane, Nontembeko Boyce, and Bongi Sithole, Mdumiseni Ntuli among others, who are all our former leaders,” they said.

The swearing-in of Willies Mchunu as the new premier last week was widely expected in the province to be followed by a cabinet reshuffle to accommodate these leaders in specific portfolios.

Civil servants in the departments of education; economic development, tourism and environmental affairs; arts, culture sport and recreation as well as agriculture and rural development braced themselves to welcome new bosses.

Staff in the offices of members of the executive council in particular had good reason to be edgy. After all, a new political head usually brings along trusted lieutenants for his inner circle. The old make way for the new.

Still, Willies Mchunu has not made any move yet to constitute his team.

In fact, he told journalists after his swearing-in that it would be “abnormal” to embark on changes before he had had an opportunity to settle down in his new job.

On Wednesday night, after chairing his first executive council meeting, he confirmed in an interview with Ukhozi FM that he was still receiving briefings regarding his new assignment and evaluating the task at hand.

That would suggest that he intends to exercise full powers as premier and allay growing misgivings that it is in fact the youth league that calls the shots. Both the South African Communist Party and Cosatu have complained publicly that the ANC has not consulted them about this profound restructuring of the government.

Significantly, Mchunu would not deny that we could see new faces in his executive council, only insisting that the public would be informed properly of any developments at the appropriate time.

Circumstances will, however, force him to play his cards earlier than he would have preferred.

He cannot delay filling his former post as MEC for transport, community safety and liaison.

According to the Youth League’s leaked preferred line-up, that post is earmarked for Mxolisi Kaunda.

However, more urgent is the accommodation of provincial chairman, Sihle Zikalala, in the executive council. Assigning him to Mchunu’s former portfolio, Transport and Community Safety, would mean that Zikalala does not get deployed to economic development, tourism and environmental affairs – which is where the youth league reportedly wants him.

That is a very senior and critical post which has for a number of years now been handled more than ably by Michael Mabuyakhulu, a refined, articulate and sharp mind who engages comfortably with investors both at home and abroad. His perennial shortcoming in KwaZulu-Natal ANC politics is backing losing horses, not once or twice, but at least three times. (He threw in his lot with Senzo Mchunu last November.)

Now his detractors claim that he has not done much to transfer power to Africans, and that under his watch white and Indian businesses have carved for themselves bigger slices of government work in the province in the form of tenders.

The new premier will therefore be keenly aware that his backers do not like this man, regardless of his standing among the drivers of the provincial economy.

But Mchunu is a seasoned politician who has for a number of years worked closely with each of the MECs now being shown the door, including Mabuyakhulu. He will have a better sense than most of their actual worth and contribution to the government of KwaZulu-Natal that has remained stable since the ANC dislodged the IFP from power in 2004.

Critical to the length of his stay in office will be Mchunu’s grasp of what has brought about his predecessor’s early departure and to tiptoe carefully around that.

Both the ANC and Senzo Mchunu have indicated that certain “allegations” were levelled against the former premier as reasons for the decision to ask him to step down.

The Witness and City Press newspapers have reported that these allegations were:

  • Running parallel programmes that are against the ANC;
  • Governance that was not stable;
  • Interfering with the work of the offices of Social Development MEC Weziwe Thusi and Willies Mchunu’s own former portfolio;
  • Not attending ANC mandate meetings, and
  • Bloating staff at the Office of the Premier from 300 to 500.

As reported in Daily Maverick last week, at the core of these allegations is that the two centres of power – the ANC provincial headquarters and the office of the premier – approached the day-to-day business of government differently.

The result was that while the former premier would have been comfortable with how he was executing his ANC mandate, it would not have been difficult for his detractors in the upper echelons of ANC power to find fault with his work, specifically because he had been voted out as a member of the provincial executive committee.

The difference now with Willies Mchunu is that he is deputy chairman of the ANC in the province and is thus very much a key member of the new elite.

But he derives his power from the forces that have catapulted him to these lofty heights.

Certainly, not all fellow communists in the SACP or workers in Cosatu wish him too well. He is now firmly in the youth league camp which seldom has kind words about the SACP in this part of the world.

Willies Mchunu has been granted an opportunity to leave his mark as head of government. The question is, what will his legacy be? Already, there are indications that the forces that united to topple Senzo Mchunu may not be so united now that the spoils have to be shared. How Willies constitutes the leadership of his government will show us whose man he is. The dark clouds of uncertainty hanging over government departments have to be lifted sooner than later.

Then all shall be revealed about the new man at the helm.

Will he do what is in the best interests of the people of KwaZulu-Natal or what is in the best interests of those who put him in power? DM

Photo: KwaZulu-Natal’s new Premier, Willies Mchunu. (GCIS)

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