First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
Two unrelated but intertwined gatherings took place some 200km apart on Thursday afternoon, 15 April – one in Nkandla and the other at Mpumalanga township in eThekwini.
While ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule was meeting former president Jacob Zuma in Nkandla, President Cyril Ramaphosa was addressing a campaign rally, for the upcoming by-elections, at Ward 6 in eThekwini.
Seeing Ramaphosa receive such a rousing welcome in a province ordinarily seen as a Zuma stronghold demonstrated that the perceived Zuma influence might be waning.
Literally and figuratively, Zuma and Magashule are standing alone. The perceived groundswell of support they had anticipated may be more of a wish than a reality. As they stood outside Zuma’s compound in Nkandla, the two men put on bold faces and seemed jovial. But in effect they looked more like a spent force.
Beside them was convicted fraudster Tony Yengeni, who has publicly aligned himself with the Zuma/Magashule grouping within the ANC. The band of Zuma supporters in military fatigues –who have become a common feature in Nkandla – were on hand to receive Magashule.
On the same day, ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte distanced herself from Magashule and what she referred to as attempts to “bring down the ANC”.
“I am calling out the secretary -general of the ANC and asking him to respect the ANC and to call on his supporters to stop this,” she told EWN, referring to leaking of the audio of a Top Six meeting, for which she blames Magashule supporters.
Duarte said Magashule’s supporters’ attempts to divide the ANC “are not going to happen. There are hundreds of thousands of ANC members who will stand up to defend the values of our organisation and the decisions of our NEC.”
Duarte’s stance cements the view that Magashule is completely isolated. He also stands alone in the Top Six – five of the party’s top officials and the majority of the ANC NEC are opposed to him.
For a long time, KwaZulu-Natal has been considered a Zuma stronghold and a natural launchpad for his fightback campaign and that of the so-called Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction. But the provincial leadership, led by Sihle Zikalala and provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli, has steered the province away from factional battles in the party.
An NEC member, who chose to remain anonymous because he is not an authorised spokesperson of the party, says Magashule is becoming more desperate as he realises his days are numbered.
“Magashule’s hunt for a political base has moved away from KZN. There is some support for him in Mpumalanga and Limpopo. The leadership of KZN has closed down the space for anything that is anti-ANC. The battleground for RET has shifted away from KZN,” said the NEC member.
Ramaphosa’s reception at the KZN rally is significant given the expectation that the RET fightback would be in full swing and that he would be met with hostility. But the president, flanked by Zikalala (and corruption-accused former eThekwini mayor, now MPL, Zandile Gumede) seemed comfortable as he addressed the crowd.
So comfortable that Ramaphosa also let slip that the local government elections will be held in October this year.
“We will also win the by-elections next month. We will also win in October when we go to the Local Government Elections,” said Ramaphosa as he called on ANC supporters to turn out in their numbers to support the ANC candidate for Ward 6.
At the height of the hostility between Zuma and then-president Thabo Mbeki, the province became a no-go zone for the latter and his ministers.
Zuma’s supporters humiliated Mbeki during the official state visit of the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Durban in 2006. They booed Mbeki again at the reburial of anti-apartheid stalwart Moses Mabhida in December of the same year. Former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka had faced a similarly hostile reception in her own home province.
But the scenes on Thursday afternoon pointed to Zuma’s waning influence and the misconception that there is an army of Zuma supporters in KwaZulu-Natal willing to defend him with their lives.
The relationship between Zuma and Ramaphosa is at an all-time low, with Zuma refusing to meet Ramaphosa one-on-one and rejecting advances by emissaries, acting on behalf of Ramaphosa, to broker a meeting between the two men.
Zuma versus the courts
On Wednesday, Zuma’s strategy to plunge the country into a political crisis moved a notch higher when he effectively rejected an invitation by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to submit an affidavit as to what sentence he considers appropriate for himself, should he be found guilty of contempt.
The Zondo Commission wants Zuma jailed for defying a Constitutional Court ruling to appear before the commission to respond to allegations by more than 35 witnesses who implicated him in wrongdoing.
In a 21-page letter in which he moaned about his treatment by the courts, Zuma told Mogoeng he was ready for imprisonment. The standoff between Zuma and the courts is considered a part of the strategy by his grouping to rouse an internal revolt within the ANC.
Magashule’s “confusing” memo, sent out to ANC provincial secretaries last week, is seen in a similar light. Magashule has until the end of this month to “step aside”, after the decision by the last ANC NEC meeting to implement the party’s guidelines that party members facing corruption or other serious charges should vacate their positions for the duration of the legal processes. He is out on R200,000 bail on fraud and corruption charges.
The NEC decision was clearly aimed at those facing criminal charges, but Magashule told provincial secretaries to include those “who are alleged, reported to be or implicated in corrupt
activities”. He reiterated this position outside Nkandla when quizzed by reporters, despite a statement by the ANC National Working Committee clarifying that only those facing charges should step aside.
Another NEC member, sympathetic to Ramaphosa, said the confusing memo was a deliberate attempt by Magashule to “create anarchy”.
“He was the one who asked the NEC to give him time to consult past leaders over 30 days. That was part of the strategy to buy himself time so he could sponsor an internal implosion within the ANC. That’s not happening … Ace and the old man [Zuma] exaggerated their ground forces. ANC members are tired of the fighting and have bigger things to worry about,” said the NEC member.
Party structures in most provinces had not submitted their lists by the Thursday afternoon deadline and had requested clarity from Luthuli House.
It looks like Magashule is out of aces. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.