KZN POLITICS

ANC is ‘moving away from political killing and revenge narrative’ in eThekwini

By Des Erasmus 1 July 2020

ANC members sing and chant after the party cancelled its KwaZulu-Natal provincial consultative conference on 9 June 2018 in Durban. (Photo: Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Jabulani Langa)

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal is pinning its hopes on two ‘respected’ veterans to inculcate the core beliefs of the movement into aspirant and incumbent leaders. Provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli said the party has to break the yoke of factionalism, greed and political killings, or it would find itself out of power.

Should two of the most recent “political killings” in KwaZulu-Natal have played out to the usual narrative, this would have been the scenario:

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The murder last week in Umlazi of the ANC eThekwini ward 84 councillor and branch chairperson, Bhekithemba Phungula, would have been seen as a revenge killing for the murder of eThekwini ANC Youth League ward 91 branch secretary Thamsanqa Gcabashe, who was shot along with another youth league member in the Hammarsdale area, Mpumalanga township, late last month.

The Hammarsdale ward is a stronghold of Thabani Nyawose, who will be challenging former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede when the eThekwini region’s long-awaited conference finally takes place, Covid-willing, later this year. The young Gcabashe was a Nyawose man, the older Phungula a Gumede one.

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But the “political killing and revenge narrative”, Nyawose told Daily Maverick, was no longer part of eThekwini’s narrative, in large part due to a series of consultations between Gumede and her preferred candidate for secretary – Musa Nciki – and Nyawose and his preferred candidate for secretary, the incumbent, Bheki Ntuli.

The consultations – the last one took place two weeks ago – were agreed upon by the provincial executive committee last year, and are being led by former premier Willies Mchunu and former ANC MPL Sipho Gcabashe, who are both officially retired and considered respected stalwarts.

(Although they share the same surname, Sipho Gcabashe is not related to the murdered ANCYL member Thamsanqa.)

“We report to the PEC on the progress made during the consultations, they are recorded, and if we find a matter that needs political guidance and intervention, we refer those matters to the upper structures,” Nyawose told Daily Maverick.

Nyawose said one of the benefits of the consultations was “the management of information”. He used the aforementioned murders as an example of how the “perception of politically aligned killings” had been averted within the “lobby groups” – Nyawose is averse to the word faction, saying it points to something sinister.

“It has never been tried before and it is working,” he said, echoing the sentiments of ANC KZN secretary, Mdumiseni Ntuli.

Ntuli called the consultations “unique”, adding that veterans were being used in troubled regions as part of a provincial “formula” to unite the movement and inculcate “self introspection” among leaders and members.

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“In eThekwini for instance, given the magnitude of the work that needed to be done, and the level of tension among comrades, we decided to appoint a team of our veterans made up of Willies Mchunu, comrade Sipho Gcabashe and others to coordinate their work. The task of that team is to ensure that there is an ongoing dialogue between comrades in the region, particularly those comrades whose names are already touted for leadership of the region,” he told Daily Maverick.

Nyawose said one of the benefits of the consultations was “the management of information”. He used the aforementioned murders as an example of how the “perception of politically aligned killings” had been averted within the “lobby groups” – Nyawose is averse to the word faction, saying it points to something sinister.

Thamsanqa Gcabashe and the other youth league member were coordinating his campaign in the area, said Nyawose.

Nyawose is ANC branch secretary in the Bluff, ward 88, and works at eThekwini municipality as the manager for hostels in the south of the city.

“But, because of the [consultations], even those who tried to link those [killings] with the preparations for the eThekwini conference, could not, because now, information can be managed. Facts! Facts can now be discovered easily and communicated with structures and branches, so that labelling and naming, and accusing comrades unfairly [can be a thing of the past].

“In the past, if someone was shot and that person was actively involved in a campaign, it would be very easy to blame another group.”

A process of deduction, investigating among branches and communicating directly with Gumede had led Nyawose to the conclusion that her “lobby group” had nothing to do with the killing, he said.

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“Phungula, who was killed afterwards in Umlazi, was an ANC councillor but he supported Gumede. I also have supporters in that ward. But now, [the consultations] allow us to manage the information on the ground, so that there will be no further killings based on perceptions and accusations.

“Myself and Zandile, we meet and talk frequently about whatever issues are happening in the region.”

Of course, there was also the possibility that both were lying to each other, and was that taken into account, Daily Maverick asked.

Nyawose said he took into account Gumede’s reputation – the former mayor is currently facing charges along with several contractors and eThekwini officials for her alleged part in a multimillion-rand Durban Solid Waste tender scam.

“I do take that into account because of her background and the conduct of the people who have been supporting her, [we all know about] her supporters burning things in the city and their incitement.

“Those were her supporters, and many of them were thugs. It would be very easy for me to use that [against her], but those people do not represent her character entirely,” he said.

“Even in my group, people who support me – there are those who are ill-disciplined, who will, for example, speak recklessly on social media. That doesn’t represent my character. It is now my work to educate and engage them, to teach them how a cadre from the ANC behaves. Even in the lead-up to the conference, we must maintain ANC discipline at all times.”

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To the more sceptical among us, a political motive for the killings mentioned in this article – there have been eight or nine murders so far this year in KZN that are being investigated for having possible political links – seems most likely. Opposing “factions” within the ANC gunning each other down is not a new phenomenon.

“In the case of Hammarsdale, those killings are not political,” said Nyawose. “They are just local issues that do not involve politics. It involved individuals, and police are working on that.”

The killing of councillor Phungula in Umlazi was also not political “from what I am hearing,” said Nyawose.

“I have not heard of any political instability in that ward – the PEC of the ANC was functioning well, but we are aware that during the lockdown, there were incidents where a group of people went to Phungula’s house for food [parcels] and it is alleged that the way he responded to the group, chasing them away, created some conflict and tension in the ward.”

He said that there was also a “project” that Phungula had been introducing in a particular community in ward 84 on the day that he was killed that was blocked by a “business forum”.

Daily Maverick readers will be well-versed in the Gumede-aligned business forums around Durban, threatening those at construction sites and trying to extort money from the companies involved.

Nyawose, of course, would also be highly aware of the connection between Gumede and business forums.

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Nevertheless, he said he didn’t want to delve into the issue. “I am not an investigator. Personally I doubt it was a political murder, or if it was, it was not linked to the conference [the date of which is yet to be determined]”.

The last time Daily Maverick spoke to Nyawose face-to-face, in 2018, he was mobilising supporters on Durban’s South Beach, calling for the provincial ANC to clean up its act, and end “manipulation of party processes”.

Nyawose and his cohorts said they had deliberately been obstructed from renewing their party membership because of their support for President Cyril Ramaphosa. That obstruction, according to Nyawose at the time, came from Gumede and ANC KZN chairman and Premier Sihle Zikalala, among others, who were circumnavigating the processes of the ANC for their own political gain.

But Nyawose has pivoted since that beachfront meeting, in public anyway. He told Daily Maverick that this was due to his current position, “because I am contesting”.

Mdumiseni Ntuli said the same thing when asked if Gumede being allowed to again run for chairman would be beneficial to the “new” image the ANC was trying to cultivate.

Nyawose’s new and improved political schooling is evident.

“At that time, I had very strong views against comrade Zandile, I was against all of them: Jacob Zuma, Mdumiseni Ntuli, Sihle Zikalala, all of them. I didn’t hide it. At that time I didn’t support any of them, because they were all corrupt by that time because of the way they [manoeuvred me and my followers] from the conference.

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“My view now is that Gumede’s term of office as chair of the region expired in December 2018. She is now just an ordinary member of the ANC and a deputy convenor of the [team put in place to ready the eThekwini region for its regional conference].

“She remains a member of the ANC. She has a right to contest and avail herself [for the position of ANC eThekwini chairman] even with the charges against her.”

Touching on the fraud and corruption charges being faced by Gumede, Nyawose said that there was no rule within the ANC for guidance on how to deal with members who were alleged to have been involved in crimes.

Mdumiseni Ntuli said the same thing when asked if Gumede being allowed to again run for chairman would be beneficial to the “new” image the ANC was trying to cultivate.

“The ANC has not set out clear protocols about whether or not a comrade who is facing court charges should be allowed to stand for a leadership position. Those are some of the matters that the ANC integrity committee will be dealing with,” he told Daily Maverick.

“We were in a virtual NEC meeting [on Sunday] and part of what was occupying that discussion was the role and terms of the integrity committee. What is it that it can do? What can’t it do? How should it assist us, to ensure that we have the best amongst us presiding over the ANC that is deployed in government? So we have that gap in our processes, which those in the NEC will be paying very close attention to.”

The role-players may be optimistic about the consultations, and Ntuli and Nyawose particularly optimistic about “getting cadres to introspect” and embrace a cleaner, more efficient ANC leadership that puts service delivery first, but outside observers are not convinced.

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Nyawose said that the integrity commission was “confusing” to members, as it didn’t pick up on issues as they arose. “And then these issues keep on coming up again and again, and they have the further potential to divide the ANC.

“If members of the integrity commission had made a decision, that decision would be respected by members, instead of having some of the [bickering that we have in branches]. Without a statement from them on Zandile and other comrades, the comrades [that have been charged] have a right to avail themselves [for ANC positions].”

Gumede did not respond to Daily Maverick’s requests to talk, but according to Ntuli, the PEC was “highly optimistic” about the consultation process, as was Gumede.

“I have had an opportunity to have a one-on-one discussion with Nyawose and Zandile about getting the feedback directly from them on the extent to which they are interacting with the veterans and their perception about the process,” said Ntuli.

“I can tell you that both of them are very optimistic about it, and I think unless things change, there is a gradual internalisation amongst all of us, even probably the worst amongst us, that there is something that needs to be done differently, or we will have to accept that the ANC will be a thing of the past and we must accept defeat.”

He said much of the discussion at the consultations had centred on whether Nyawose and Gumede would want to lead an ANC that was not governing in eThekwini, an ANC that had been conquered. “Both of them said no”. 

“The second question for them is what are we doing to protect the ANC, irrespective of whether it is Nyawose or Gumede who leads. And that is what the discussion is centred around.”

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The role-players may be optimistic about the consultations, and Ntuli and Nyawose particularly optimistic about “getting cadres to introspect” and embrace a cleaner, more efficient ANC leadership that puts service delivery first, but outside observers are not convinced.

KZN-based political analyst Xolani Dube told Daily Maverick that the ANC had run its course.

“The ANC is seen by its supporters as a vehicle that can transport them to another life, but the party has failed to do that. No matter who wins the ANC regional conferences, they will just be viewed as another faction of the same old ANC. Even an independent candidate will have the ANC monkey on its back. Julius Malema is still being judged for his actions when he was an ANC member.”

Meanwhile, accurate numbers on this year’s “political killings” in the province remain uncertain, although Ntuli and Police Minister Bheki Cele have placed the numbers at eight and nine, but this was without the most recent killing of IFP ward 29 chairperson in the King Cetshwayo district, Bheki Malembe, who was gunned down in front of his wife and two small children on Sunday.

Ntuli said that those who chose to run as independent candidates in the local elections would always find fertile ground for dissent if the party remained divided.

“The end result is that once people stand as independents, we may then end up with an untenable situation in our own South African context, where we end up not having a clearly chosen governing party for our municipalities, which will not only be accountable to the citizens of that municipality, but also have an absolute responsibility to ensure there is accountability on governance and effective works of that council.”

Meanwhile, accurate numbers on this year’s “political killings” in the province remain uncertain, although Ntuli and Police Minister Bheki Cele have placed the numbers at eight and nine, but this was without the most recent killing of IFP ward 29 chairperson in the King Cetshwayo district, Bheki Malembe, who was gunned down in front of his wife and two small children on Sunday.

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Cele did not respond to detailed questions sent by Daily Maverick, with his spokesperson, Lirandzu Themba, saying: 

“Minister Cele would prefer to brief the inter-ministerial committee [on political killings] before engaging with you on the political killings in KZN.” A meeting of the committee was expected “soon”, she said.

The operational details of the police task team investigating the killings also “cannot be shared”, she said.

But Cele is known to share during media briefings. 

In August 2018, he told a media briefing in KZN how many task team members there were (126), what provinces they were from (KZN, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape and Western Cape), and how many dockets they were investigating at the time (126). Last week, Cele told media that the number of political killing cases being investigated now stood at 200.

At a media briefing on Sunday, Zikalala said that following the murder of councillor Phungula, and the killing of a taxi driver who was ferrying teachers to work in KwaSwayimane, the PEC had directed the MEC for transport and community safety “to present clear plans in the next few weeks of dealing with the rampant killings in the taxi industry and the plan to augment the teams dealing with political killings, including the resuscitation of the multi-party political intervention committee”. 

Given KZN’s very clear history of political violence, and the surge in political killings prior to elections, it remains unclear why the committee was ever allowed to atrophy.

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Asked about practical steps the ANC in the province was taking to stem the killings, Ntuli said there was a “range of interventions” based on the recommendations of the Moerane commission.

“It’s just that some of them are not happening at a public level, particularly those that are taking place inside the ANC, internally, such as getting comrades who are deployed to do their work and to account where they are not performing.” DM

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