It was a chaotic day on Friday for the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal which saw an urgent application for the provincial conference to be indicted granted at the eleventh hour and the party’s top leadership then deciding the conference should be turned into a consultative conference. If there was any hope that the ANC in KZN can come together and achieve the increasingly elusive ideal of unity, the developments on Friday made that seem like a pipe dream. Later, a decision was taken for the consultative conference to be abandoned following disruptions at the opening of the consultative conference.
It started when a group from the troubled Moses Mabhida region said they were going to approach the courts to stop the provincial conference from taking place. There was little detail at mid-morning on Friday and all the attention was on former President Jacob Zuma’s court appearance and his performance of threats and fire that he spewed outside of court.
By midday, it was clear that this group had secured a judge to hear the urgent interdict: Judge Jacqueline Henriques would hear the matter at 3pm. ANC KZN provincial coordinator Sihle Zikalala rushed to court, flanked by eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede. Their lawyers claimed they did not have enough time to consider the matter before it was heard but the hearing went on regardless.
The applicants were six disgruntled ANC members who claim to represent almost half the ANC branches in the beleaguered Moses Mabhida region. Their argument was premised on the fact that there were irregularities at branch level that were not sorted out and this could affect the outcome of the provincial conference.
The ANC’s only defence was that it did not have enough time to fully consider the matter. While the case was being heard in Pietermaritzburg, registration for the conference was on going in Ngwelezana, near Empangeni. In the end, after standing down the matter, Judge Hendriques sided with the applicants and granted the relief sought: that the conference should not go ahead. She said she opted to err on the side of caution so that the provincial conference is not tarnished.
By the time the court had ruled on Friday evening, delegates were already accredited and at the University of Zululand for the conference to begin. The provincial interim leadership had to quickly meet to decide on a way forward in consultation with the national leaders who were present. They decided to still hold the gathering considering all the logistics were in place and people had already travelled from far – without the elective component to it.
When the gathering eventually began late on Friday, Zikalala explained to the crowd how they got to this point. It’s tempting to say that those who went to court were supporters of President Cyril Ramaphosa while Zikalala’s faction were aligned with Zuma, but the provincial dynamic is even more complicated and confusing.
Those regions who supported the court action- Moses Mabhida, Lower South Coast, Harry Gwala and Ukhahlamba – are known to have supported Ramaphosa in the run up to the Nasrec conference. Now they are contesting a purge by Zikalala’s faction and an exclusion from the ANC processes. They were triumphant following the court judgment, saying they have been vindicated by the courts.
Meanwhile, the other side was angered by the interdict and it showed when the conference tried to get underway. When Zikalala addressee, the crowd that was there listened attentively. But there were signs that it may go pear-shaped when he introduced former ANC KZN strongman, now police minister Bheki Cele and the crowd booed. They also heckled and booed when ANC Chairperson Gwede Mantashe was introduced.
When Mantashe took to the podium to address the crowd for the keynote address, delegates from the Ethekwini region and the ANC Youth League started singing in a clear effort to stop Mantashe from addressing them. There seemed to be a link between the court judgment and this defiance.
The crowd kept singing “wenzeni uZuma”, “what has Zuma done wrong?”. No amount of ‘Amandlas!’ could stop them. Mantashe tried to begin his address but failed. It was only when Zikalala intervened the crowd would be quiet. Again, Mantashe tried and failed. At first he thought he could disarm them by singing along to the pro-Zuma songs but it seemed to agitate the crowd further.
“I am going to speak here tonight. Unless it is not an ANC meeting. If it’s a factional meeting I am not going to speak. If it’s an ANC meeting I will speak here tonight,” Mantashe firmly told delegates. They did not budge and continued disrupting him. He agitated the situation when he said the group disrupting was a small group and because they kept quiet every time Zikalala spoke, it seemed to be Zikalala’s faction. Delegates were angered by this and chaos ensued.
At this point they decided to throw out the media without any warning. In the interim they were trying to sort out the way forward. When the media were allowed back in, the conference was adjourned and delegates were streaming out.
The defiance against Cele and Mantashe only made sense when it emerged that known troublemakers in the province were accusing them of being behind the court action on Friday. Zikalala said he hoped this development will not undermine efforts at uniting the party in the province.
But of course it will. Both sides in this conflict are baying for blood. Those who went to court are angered that they were excluded from the conference while those who wanted it to go ahead are angered that they were once again dictated to by the courts. The mood was aptly described in a song the latter group sang which translates to “we are sick and tired of the courts”.
It was interesting that there was not an anti-Cyril Ramaphosa sentiment but the defiance against Mantashe and Cele seemed to be a very personal attack.
The other national leader that has drawn the wrath of this faction in the province was SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande. Earlier in the day, Nzimande drew widespread condemnation from Zuma’s supporters who gathered outside of the court following his second court appearance. Zuma’s post of political has-beens set the tone for the attack against his detractors.
When Zuma got to the climax of his address he was not pulling any punches. He threatened to expose those who attack him.
“They keep on saying I am corrupt but cannot say what I did. They should not provoke me. I might talk about what I know about them. I need to repeat this cause I’m tired of behaving,” he said. The case against him has been postponed to 27 July.
He alluded to the SACP discussing him at their central committee meeting last weekend where they accused him of being at the center of a counter-revolution. Zuma said if they attack him publicly he too will do the same.
“I know stick fighting, I know how to speak out for myself. Don’t provoke me,” he said.
This theme and mood that Zuma espoused in his address outside of court continued at the conference later on Friday evening. The repeated questioning of “what has Zuma done” in song as they disrupted Mantashe should not be overlooked. The chaos at the conference showed that the ground is ripe for a Zuma-led fightback and its being cultivated from within the ANC.
While Zikalala insisted that they will use the now consultative conference to discuss issues related to policy implementation and their election strategy, his faction disagreed. The consultative conference was abandoned with Mantashe saying on Saturday morning it was clear delegates would not want the other faction to talk. He said they had to go back to the drawing board and do political education at a regional level.
The mood has been set and the political weapons have been drawn. These political tensions will not simmer forever – the flare up is inevitable. DM