On Sunday, 10 June some of the six deponents who successfully interdicted the ANC provincial conference in KwaZulu-Natal were receiving threats and feared for their lives. All while former president Jacob Zuma looms as the “third force” in the province’s politics.
You could hear the fear in the voice of one of the six people who took the ANC to court and won on Friday. The condition for speaking to this reporter – “don’t name me and don’t even identify my gender”.
“There’s already been threats against us,” the person said, adding that they now fear an attack on their lives.
They have now individually employed the services of 24-hour armed bodyguards as a precautionary safety measure. This has not stopped the threats against them – in fact, it has since intensified. The sentiment of one threatening message in isiZulu was that “an attack against us has to be avenged”, referring to the court interdict.
Some of the messages against the six ANC members from four ANC regions who were deponents in the case seemed inconsequential. But given the political atmosphere and the recent spate of political killings, they are hard to ignore.
“I am terrified. When I leave my house I have to be accompanied by a man with a gun. I am scared to go to work,” was how one person described their state of being in the 48 hours that succeeded the interdict.
Just over a month back, one of their comrades was shot dead for standing up against manipulation and rigging of processes. This time, they are doing the same – only they were empowered enough to approach the court for an interdict and were successful in their bid.
What drove these ANC members from four regions – Lower South Coast, Moses Mabhida, Harry Gwala and Ukhalamba – were political tensions that started after the 2015 overturned conference and peaked in the run up to the Nasrec conference.
The parochial analysis of the latest developments in the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal is that the province has been divided between those who supported President Cyril Ramaphosa pre-Nasrec and those loyal to the 2015, irregularly elected leadership led by Sihle Zikalala who supported Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma for the ANC presidency. These members and who they represent supported Ramaphosa.
They have been fighting and complaining to Luthuli House after Zikalala and his cronies took away their powers and tried to run processes in the run-up to Nasrec and since then. That’s the easiest way to manipulate outcomes of branch meetings; when you put your own people in charge they force certain outcomes – in this case it was to not allow pro-Ramaphosa people to have their way.
Since the conference and the court outcome that invalidated the 2015 provincial conference, the ANC has put together a provincial interim committee led by both sides of the political divide. Zikalala led it alongside his once political rival Mike Mabuyakhulu.
It seemed that in the talks of unity and rebuilding the ANC in the province, the two sides came together to form a “unity list” that would see leaders from both sides of the factional divide elected to positions. There were some persisting grievances on a technical level in regions and the ANC’s national office intervened to sort it out. The Mabuyakhulu/Ramaphosa side of the provincial interim structure was satisfied with being accommodated in the slate for new leaders. But on a branch level, their constituents were excluded and purged.
The rebellion was lit last week when it emerged that while the Mabuyakhulu faction were told to put their weight behind the unity slate, the other side was planning to pull out of the agreement at the eleventh hour and vote for the “status quo to remain” – that the leaders elected in 2015 irregularly stay in office.
This is where Zuma steps in. Many in the province claim it was his demand that the status quo remain. He is said to have held a caucus with provincial and regional leaders loyal to him last week expressing this view. For Zuma, having a united slate from both factions leading the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal would be a stumbling block for his plans to use the province as his bedrock for his fight back. He wanted his nephew and staunchest ally, Super Zuma to still be the secretary of the province while the new unity deal excluded him and placed Mdumiseni Ntuli as the contender for secretary.
Zuma’s hand in the political divide in the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal is hard to ignore. It was manifest in the anger that stewed on Friday evening when it was announced to delegates gathered at the University of Zululand for the ANC provincial conference that it was interdicted by the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
This anger was palpable and the resentment towards the decision was manifest when the faction loyal to Zikalala sang “we are sick and tired of the court”. There were also songs in favour of the status quo remaining- proving the other factions argument that unity talks were a farce.
Later, when speaking to the media after the meeting on Saturday morning Zikalala said: “All members that were here tasked us to take disciplinary action against those people who took the ANC to court. It is clear on that, we are all clear on that.” He essentially confirmed that a witch-hunt would begin.
Zikalala’s faction was adamant that the court action was sponsored or pushed for by Zuma’s detractors on a national level – notably Bheki Cele. Cele is reported to have said that members must take the ANC to court until the party started doing things right. Zikalala hinted at that press briefing that members (ie his faction) were angered by “national leaders interfering in provincial matters”. He implied that Cele was one of those leaders.
As a former strongman in this province it’s probably true that Cele has had an influence in the province. But it seems that the Zikalala faction is trying hard to deflect away from Zuma’s hand in the shenanigans that are ongoing. It’s difficult to quantify the extent of Zuma’s role or the amount of people he commands. However, judging from what has happened since the interdict – it is clear that they want their noise heard and their fightback felt.
ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe, who was heckled and disrupted from addressing the crowd on Friday evening, said the disruptions came from a small group of people who are part of Zikalala’s faction. Regardless of the size of this rebellious faction, it is clear that they are resolute in their fightback.
A pyramid scheme of corruption through patronage is threatening to collapse if the status quo is not maintained. Zuma felt the brunt of it when he was unceremoniously pushed out of office after his faction lost the ANC presidency. He doesn’t want that to happen in KwaZulu Natal.
Zuma has fertilised the dormant seeds of political anarchy in the province and it is clear that his fightback will be multi-pronged. The deponents in the case that interdicted the conference who spoke to Daily Maverick said they are not afraid of disciplinary action but they are afraid of attempts on their lives.
Last month one of their close comrades, Sifiso Cele, an ANC Oshabeni branch treasurer at Ray Nkonyeni Municipality on the Lower South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, was murdered in a politically motivated killing.
With a flurry of threatening messages against the six people who took the ANC the court and won, it is understood why they fear for their lives. Politics in KwaZulu-Natal come with a real threat of death and the last few months have proved that any resistance to the status quo leads to body bags.
Zuma’s hand in provincial dynamics is sinister and dangerous. For now, these deponents are going to work today afraid of whether there will be attempt on their lives. DM
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*Proteas, you know we love you. We’d just love you more if you won occasionally...
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