South Africa

South Africa

Crunch time for ANC as KwaZulu-Natal court battle gets under way

Crunch time for ANC as KwaZulu-Natal court battle gets under way

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal is the boss, but of late it’s had the need to feel out some possible allies very publicly. Its message has been unity instead of battle ahead of the party’s elective conference in December, but this week’s court case on who should be in charge of the province could yet throw all this in disarray. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

For weeks the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal has been trying to avoid having a case challenging the outcome of its 2015 provincial conference coming before court. There’s been talk of leaders reaching out to the disgruntled for a compromise, but the case brought by supporters of ousted provincial premier Senzo Mchunu, arguing there were irregularities in the run-up to the conference as well as the conference itself, goes to court on Wednesday. Three days have been set aside for the hearing.

One of these alleged irregularities included the tweeting of the results of the election at the conference – while voting was still under way. If true, this seems to be a rather obvious case of rigging.

The result was the election of leaders who support President Jacob Zuma and have vocally led the campaign within the party for the election of his preferred successor, former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

So emboldened had Mchunu been of late that he went public last week with his campaign for Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa by saying KwaZulu-Natal should get behind Ramaphosa instead.

Another influential KwaZulu-Natal leader, Bheki Cele, the deputy minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, has over the weekend pulled behind Mchunu, saying the case was “about the ANC and its failure to lead as the ANC”.

KwaZulu-Natal is the ANC’s biggest province and any prospective presidents would want the province behind them. KwaZulu-Natal has been working hard to build membership over the past couple of years.

So far the province has called all who cared to listen to unity – the subtext being that all should pull as one behind Dlamini-Zuma.

Unity is also the theme of this year of commemorating former party leader Oliver Tambo.

Zuma also pushed for this through his proposal at the party’s policy conference a few weeks ago that there should be two deputy presidents to accommodate the losing faction. There was a lukewarm initial reception for this plan.

In June, KwaZulu-Natal declared that one of its objectives was getting the party’s branches – those all-important organs that will be electing Dlamini-Zuma – to speak in one voice.

In July the province held a bilateral meeting with Mpumalanga, and even though this province’s loyalty has been questionable, having held meetings with the pro-Ramaphosa Eastern Cape as well, there were some points the two could agree on.

They both rejected the winner-takes-all principle, and saying no to slates and yes to a more “unitary approach”.

KZN ANC chair Sihle Zikalala afterwards told News24: “Once there are names, ours is then to say: ‘How do we limit contestation that will escalate into a fierce contestation, like it’s the two opposite groupings that will compete’.”

On Monday there was another very public bilateral meeting with the Free State, where things haven’t been going quite according to plan either.

The idea was that current premier Ace Magashule – a prominent member of the Dlamini-Zuma-supporting “Premier League” – would emerge victorious from a provincial elective conference over the weekend, but instead the conference was downscaled to a cadres forum and the election postponed as his challengers cried foul.

Together the provinces took in a common stance on topical issues, such as saying those who voted against Zuma in last week’s vote of no confidence in Parliament should be disciplined – a line Zuma called for in a speech in KwaZulu-Natal over the weekend.

Disciplining all of these would be difficult to do – it was a secret vote, after all – but the substance of this call doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the provinces hold a common position on this.

Should calls for a special national executive committee (NEC) meeting on this issue succeed, it would present yet another opportunity to fight proxy battles and flex muscles within the party.

Those that aren’t behind their call are enemies of the party, they said in a statement.

The counter-revolutionary agenda whose intention it is to remove the ANC from power has upped its offensive. The [provincial working committees] have also noted that the enemy of the ANC has infiltrated both the ANC and the alliance, causing the ANC to fight from within,” the joint statement said.

It’s the kind of unity that is achieved once you purge the party of everyone you disagree with.

The provinces also said they’d continue working together towards December, and lobby other provinces to find a middle ground on nominations to avoid contestations that could “lead to divisions that weaken the ANC and erode its hegemony”, they said.

Meetings between provinces ahead of an ANC conference are nothing new, but the fact that the leaders are speaking so loudly in the media about it seems to indicate that right now they need all the help they can get.

The outcome of this week’s court case could radically alter the course of the road towards December, and the best that Zuma’s supporters in KwaZulu-Natal can do now is fasten their seatbelts. DM

Photo: Sihle Zikalala (Photo: Khaya Magenu/News24)

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