If all goes well for the disgruntled ANC members in the KwaZulu-Natal case currently before the Pietermaritzburg High Court, the party could ultimately see its national elective conference postponed by three or six months. Even if they lose, this case has exposed the split in a province that needs unity to remain formidable. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.
Metres from each other outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court two gatherings took place on Thursday. There was a larger one with a big stage, screen, bells and whistles in fact, that looked out over a large crowd with a marquee for shelter from the rain, addressed by ANC KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Sihle Zikalala.
Not far away there was a smaller one, attended by ANC and South African Communist Party members carrying handmade cardboard signs with rough caricatures of Zikalala’s face urging him to “rest in peace”, and listening to a speech coming from a loudspeaker. These were supporters of former ANC provincial leader and premier, Senzo Mchunu, who was unseated at a party conference in 2015.
The day before, the crowds outside the court were a little more animated, singing songs with lyrics such as “we are not complete, we are short of Senzo”.
Judgment was reserved on Thursday in the case in which disgruntled ANC members have asked for the outcome of this conference to be set aside. They have even gone as far as suggesting that the decisions of the leadership from of this conference could not stand.
One of the arguments advanced was that the 2015 conference took place early without any good reason and without the go-ahead by two-thirds of the branches, as the party rules apparently require. The fact that Senzo Mchunu might have agreed to an early conference, according to the disgruntled lobby, shouldn’t make a difference, because still the correct procedure wasn’t followed.
Ultimately, the disgruntled/Ramaphosa faction was unhappy about the fact that the conference turned out to be “shambolic” and that the election result of a new provincial leadership was apparently correctly predicted on a tweet while the voting was still in progress. This, in their view, points to clear rigging.
The new provincial leadership has since shown themselves to be the biggest supporters of President Jacob Zuma, and the loudest lobbyists for his preferred successor, former African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Mchunu himself has recently come out publicly as a Ramaphosa supporter.
“They [Zikalala and the Zuma faction] were having conferences in a hurry,” a disgruntled ANC member said. “It shows they have already done their work [to make their delegate win].”
ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe in October wrote a letter to the province in which he warned that the conference could not proceed, but it eventually did. “These people had intentions as to why they were so rushing to have this conference to be done,” he said, obliquely referring to intentions to cheat, or at least load the conference with delegates in their favour. “They knew it would be impractical and difficult to reverse the mess they created.”
There was an effort to have their grievances addressed inside the ANC, but with the powerful national executive committee filled with Zuma supporters, the unhappy members didn’t have much luck.
Inside the province, too, the disgruntled ANC members were threatened with expulsion and being dealt with. It was so bad that those in the other faction automatically believed them to be in the wrong, without trying to reach out to them to talk, the disgruntled member said.
Even ANC national executive committee member and deputy minister, Bheki Cele, reportedly said he had wanted a meeting with Zikalala “for a very long time”. Whether the unity Zikalala has been calling for could be achieved without such a meeting is debatable.
Should this case drag on without resolution until December, it would be a problem, because the provincial executive committee presiding over the holding of branch general meetings, where choices about leadership and delegates are to be made, would lack legitimacy. Their judgement in signing off on branch numbers and delegates, and helping run branch general meetings, would be questioned.
Then, if the court set aside the 2015 leadership, the province would have to set up a provincial task team to conduct the branch meetings. However, the national executive committee would play a major role, and the committee is believed to be more strongly aligned to Zuma. This could take the disgruntled members back to square one.
So, perhaps the province would need a full-on conference, so that the proper leadership could be elected. This will, however, take time:
“I would say let’s postpone the national conference to March or June  so that we give provinces like KwaZulu-Natal a chance to sit down and have a proper conference,” a disgruntled ANC member said.
The case could also serve as a precedent for other unhappy branches – the ANC in the Free State tried, over the weekend, to have a conference in a hurry, much like the one in 2012, but failed. They could look to the KwaZulu-Natal case for guidance before they ended up in court.
Should the disgruntled faction, however, lose the court case, the effects on the party’s national December conference could be less impactful. It would still be important because the divisions in the province had been exposed, and the faction that supports Ramaphosa has been shown to have some numbers brave enough to openly come out and differ with the faction in power.
This could surely not be ignored in a few months’ time as Mantashe signs off the figures for the conference. DM