South Africa

South Africa

ANC KwaZulu-Natal files appeal alone, highlighting party divisions

ANC KwaZulu-Natal files appeal alone, highlighting party divisions

The ANC’s strongest province, KwaZulu-Natal, is in disarray. The decision by provincial leaders on Thursday to appeal a high court judgment that effectively disbanded the provincial executive committee highlighted the divisions within the province ahead of the ANC’s December elections. It also showed how the national ANC cannot control the situation. By GREG NICOLSON.

ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe didn’t make much sense when he confronted the media last Friday night. His briefing followed a special meeting of the party’s national executive committee (NEC), which only gathered to discuss the preparations for the party’s December conference and the court judgment that rendered the provincial conference of the ANC KZN, where leaders were elected, null and void. The most important issue was what will happen to the KZN leadership, which controls more ANC members than any other province. Mantashe said the NEC was seeking legal opinion. It couldn’t make a decision and deferred the matter to this week.

Before the ANC’s national working committee (NWC) or its NEC could chart a path forward, the KZN provincial executive committee (PEC) on Thursday lodged court papers to appeal the judgment. The move was a serious symbol of factionalism within the movement and a sign that the ANC’s national leaders are unable to overcome their own factional battles to control the party. It could have serious implications come December.

Provincial party spokesperson Mdumiseni Ntuli said, “This decision does not detract from our commitment to work for the unity of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal and, where necessary as the NEC may deem it appropriate, reconvene provincial conference. This approach flows from the decision to consult with the senior counsel on the prospects of success and the wider implications of this judgment if it remains unchallenged.”

The appeal will be challenged. The high court ruled the ANC’s 2015 provincial congress unlawful after a faction loyal to Senzo Mchunu challenged the results, which saw Sihle Zikalala replace Mchunu as ANC KZN leader. Within the ANC, the province is highly contested and divisions have risen sharply since that conference. While branches are meant to elect ANC leaders, provincial bosses are often able to influence who branches vote for. Zikalala supports Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the next ANC leader. Mchunu backs Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The ANC NEC was meant to take charge of the disarray in KZN, but clearly it was too divided to take a stern decision. It didn’t after the special NEC meeting last week. It hasn’t since. The KZN PEC took matters into its own hands. “Notwithstanding our filing of papers, the continuation of the appeal process will depend on final word of the NEC. However, time was and is of essence,” said Ntuli. The court gave the PEC a limited time to lodge an appeal, but the PEC had another reason to take matters into its own hands. If it appeals, the judgment disbanding the leadership will not be enforced until the appeal process is complete, giving those elected in KZN in 2015 more opportunity to influence the December conference.

The ANC’s national leaders were quiet on the matter on Thursday; the NEC will meet on Friday and KZN is on the agenda. But Mchunu’s supporters were unsurprisingly angry that the PEC decided to appeal before the national leadership had taken a decision.

Sthembiso Mshengu, on behalf of the applicants who took the case to court in support of Mchunu, on Thursday said the PEC had jumped the gun without authority to appeal from the NEC. He said although the PEC said they were limited by time constraints, given 15 days from the judgment to appeal, after September 12, those 15 days were working days and the PEC still had time to wait on a decision from national leadership. He said the PEC should not only be disbanded but they should face “consequences”.

In the absence of leadership, anyone will take authority,” said Mshengu. The absence of leadership comes from the national ANC. The court judgment was delivered almost three weeks ago and the party has failed to articulate how it will handle the future of its most important province. The absence of decision-making leads to one conclusion: the party is so divided it cannot make important decisions.

Political analyst Professor Somadoda Fikeni said the KZN PEC’s decision reflects how leaders are trying to protect the status quo and how divided the NEC is. It matters whether Zikalala’s faction leads the province or it’s led by a task team while the issues are resolved, he suggested. “The province’s position is important because [leaders] criss-cross the province,” he said. It’s likely Zikalala and his team will continue to lead KZN ahead of the ANC’s elective conference, meaning they have ample chance to promote Dlamini-Zuma, but Mchunu could use it to his advantage, said Fikeni. The province is divided and Mchunu can point to the PEC’s actions and claim to have been ostracised for supporting Ramaphosa. Such a strategy has worked in the past – look at President Jacob Zuma. DM

Photo: Reuters

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