In the past, the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal had cemented its position as the kingmaker in the ruling party’s politics, and anyone harbouring leadership ambitions had to get the nod of the province to succeed.
But this seems less likely now in the lead-up to the 55th ANC elective conference in December 2022, as the province is fragmented into several factions that are unlikely to go to that conference with one voice.
The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal has held five regional conferences, while six are still outstanding, including that of eThekwini region, which is the party’s biggest region in the country.
The party in the region has denied it is divided, saying that the challenges within the party arose from non-payment of salaries, which was a national head office function. It said that the go-slows by staff had delayed verification of branches.
Yet even the slates with leaders to be elected to lead the province show more divisions. These slates have been circulated in ANC structures in the province to garner support, especially in the six regions that are still to hold elective conferences.
But none of the campaigning slates has the current ANC provincial chair and KZN Premier, Sihle Zikalala, which means he is unlikely to be re-elected into his position, unless something drastic happens between now and the seating of the provincial ANC conference.
One such slate, believed to have been endorsed by some within the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) bloc, has Nomusa Dube-Ncube as the preferred candidate to lead the province as the chairperson.
Another slate has Zandile Gumede, the former eThekwini mayor who is facing a string of corruption charges, as preferred candidate to lead the party in KZN. Peggy Nkonyeni, the current MEC for Transport and Community Safety and Liaison and a senior SACP leader in KZN, is another name being bandied about to lead the ANC in the province.
There is also another faction that is campaigning on behalf of Zweli Mkhize, the former health minister who was forced to resign after the scandal involving the Digital Vibes contract with his department. The Mkhize lobby group has also been working very hard in the branches, zones and regions, but it is unclear at this stage what support, if any, they will garner ahead of the crucial conferences. Mkhize recently attended the ANC 110-year celebration rally, held at Mpophomeni township, outside Howick, and he sat alongside Premier Zikalala.
Xolani Dube, an independent political analyst based in Durban, said the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal is deeply divided and it is not clear which direction it will take going to the national conference.
“KZN will not be going to the upcoming conference as one voting bloc. The branches will play a larger role and the branch secretaries and chairperson will be holding trump cards and they will want something in return for their votes.
“It is my contention that KwaZulu-Natal’s influence in the election of the ANC national leadership is waning significantly and has been on [a] downward spiral for a number of years. There is a lot of realignment going [on] in provincial and regional politics within the party. There are too many internal dynamics that are outside the national factional alignment or arrangement,” he said.
“What is also clear is that these realignments are not influenced by (former president Jacob) Zuma. His influence in provincial politics is waning. People are talking about the politics of the stomach and they understand that Zuma cannot help them in any way so they are carving their own future with no regard as to what he thinks or says.
“The Zuma lobby group and the RET forces don’t have funds to persuade delegates to vote for them. The money and stomach politics play a very large role in ANC politics, especially in the KZN province,” he said.
Wayne Sussman, an independent political analyst, said it is “a stunning political development” that Zikalala is not in any of the slates. He said this could be his (Zikalala’s) punishment for recent electoral defeat in the 1 November local government election and for betraying the Zuma faction in favour of the Ramaphosa faction. He added that the dynamics often do not follow the national trends.
“We often reduce our political analysis in terms of Zuma vs Ramaphosa factions, whereas, in the provinces and regions there are up to three and more factions that are not related to the national factions. This is more nuanced in provinces like KZN where politics is more complicated. This has much more to do with common interests and jockeying for positions rather than ideology and following factions and personalities. The KZN ANC politics is more complex,” Sussman said.
Nhlakanipho Ntombela, spokesperson for the ANC in KZN, denied that there were deep divisions in the organisation. He said that so far the organisation has successfully held five regional conferences, with the other six regional conferences still outstanding.
“The other (six regional) conferences will be held in January and February. The challenges we have experienced [are] that in some of these regions the ANC staff had not been paid their salaries and they embarked on go-slow strikes. This is beyond our power because the paying of staff salaries is done by the national office.
“This go-slow has impacted on verification of branches that have been launched and the reports thereof. We don’t know how long this would take because we don’t know when the national office will pay these workers,” he said.
There was a group from the Moses Mabhida region — the ANC’s second-biggest region in KwaZulu-Natal — that threatened to take the KZN provincial leadership to court if the newly elected leadership was not dissolved. In that conference, held on 18 December 2021, Mzimkhulu Thebolla, the mayor of Msunduzi Municipality in Pietermaritzburg, beat Mzi Zuma — uMgungundlovu District Municipality Mayor — for the position of Moses Mabhida ANC regional chairperson. Samora Ndlovu, the Richmond Local Municipality Mayor, was elected as the regional secretary.
Ntombela said: “Those are the people who were part of the conference when it was held. The conference was held successfully and some won and others were defeated. When they came to us we told them they should have brought their issues before the conference sat. They threatened to take us to court three days after we received their letter of complaint. We don’t know what they are going to say in court because we believe they have no basis for taking this matter to court. The three days they gave us have come and gone and we have been waiting for the letter calling us to court and so far none has come to us,” he said.
He said the provincial conference will be held once all the regional conferences have been held, and the national office has given KwaZulu-Natal the go-ahead to hold it. DM