South Africa


KZN a mess while provincial ANC leadership focused on internal power struggles

KZN a mess while provincial ANC leadership focused on internal power struggles
From left: Former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart) | Businessman Sandile Zungu. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images) | KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart) | Mangosuthu Buthelezi. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

The ANC leadership contest in KwaZulu-Natal is once again about internal ANC politics rather than about which would be the best collective to lead the party out of its morass and regain the confidence of the voters.

There is consensus that unless the ANC mends its ways significantly in the eyes of the electorate in the next months, it will be almost impossible to emerge with an outright victory in the 2024 provincial government elections. The desperate scramble for survival sees KwaZulu-Natal branches proposing an assortment of leadership permutations (or slates, in the popular parlance) that seems to expose a lack of appreciation of why people are fed up with the organisation.

Divisions within the movement have resulted in the ANC expending considerable energy to manage internal conflicts instead of focusing on delivering basic services to its constituencies. The uncollected refuse, gaping potholes, taps with no water, untrimmed grass verges and unenforced bylaws that result in taverns selling alcohol to minors, are immediate pointers to a leadership vacuum.

kzn anc top 5

KwaZulu-Natal ANC 9th provincial conference Top 5, slate 1.

That is what irritates ordinary voters who support the ANC because it affects them directly on a daily basis — more than whether the CR17 bank statements should be unsealed, or if the radical socioeconomic transformation resolution is being implemented correctly. That is even before attention is turned to the Eskom woes and the soaring fuel prices that are national crises.

The voters in 2024 will not make their decision on the basis of the correctness or otherwise of the step-aside resolution as adopted by the ANC conference in 2017.

What will be uppermost in their mind will be to endorse a party that does not take that vote for granted. It will be a vote to demonstrate that “our people” have woken up to the reality that leadership contestations in the ANC in KZN are not about identifying the best candidate to bring about a better life for all, but are about managing factional interests.

kzn anc chairperson

KwaZulu-Natal ANC 9th provincial conference Top 5, slate 2.

How did it come to this?

Hence, supporters of each slate that is challenging the incumbent leadership under Sihle Zikalala as chairman insist that only new blood emerging from the provincial elective conference later this month can rescue the ANC from a 2024 election abyss.

But can they? 

Or, asked differently, how did it come to this? 

Is the current leadership to blame for the resurgence of the Inkatha Freedom Party that saw the ANC lose control of important centres of power such as King Cetshwayo District Municipality, which is in charge of the economic hub of Richards Bay? 

The only metropolitan municipality in the province, eThekwini, manages a R55-billion budget. It is hanging by a leadership thread as the coalition partners that kept the ANC in power flex their muscles at will — much to the discomfort of the ANC, as was evident when the coalition partners rejected the party’s choice for municipal manager. The process has had to be started afresh. 

kzn anc

KwaZulu-Natal ANC 9th provincial conference Top 5, slate 3.

Essentially, what would have been different had any of those who want to replace Zikalala been provincial leaders when the voters abandoned the ANC?

Zuma arrest and royal succession

A recurring theme is that the current leadership has not kept in touch with the masses and failed to gauge the angry mood of ANC supporters about the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma in July last year. 

Zikalala’s team, both as leader of the ANC in the province and as premier of KwaZulu-Natal, has also been accused of being caught napping in the chain of events that followed the death of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini in March last year

The upper hand was surrendered to veteran IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi in his capacity as traditional prime minister to the monarch and Zulu nation. While the ANC and government under Zikalala’s leadership dithered, Buthelezi took centre stage on royal matters and delicately but decisively set one of the princes, Misuzulu, on the path to the throne despite protestations and legal challenges from other members of the royal family.

kzn anc slate four

KwaZulu-Natal ANC 9th provincial conference Top 5, slate 4.

By the time Zikalala sought to regain lost ground, Buthelezi was firmly in control and being hailed for his authoritative hand of leadership in a sensitive matter that could potentially have resulted in bloodshed. 

All roads lead to Nkandla

Now, ahead of the provincial conference, all roads lead to Zuma’s Nkandla homestead as newly elected regional leaders of the ANC seek guidance from him. 

Only last week, aspirant KZN chairman and business mogul Sandile Zungu landed there in a helicopter for consultations.

What is clear from these developments is that the leadership contest is once again about internal ANC politics rather than about which would be the best collective to lead the ANC out of this morass and regain the confidence of the voters.

It is about protecting the interests of the ANC Youth League, the ANC Women’s League, the South African Communist Party, the South African National National Civic Organisation (Sanco), the different ANC regions, the minority racial groups and the many hidden forces that manipulate processes through proxies that disburse hard cash to influence election outcomes.

Zandile Gumede

We now know, from the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, that state machinery, in the form of the State Security Agency, once had “Operation eThekwini” to “address mushrooming instability with the ANC in eThekwini, particularly in relation to the factional contest between Ms Zandile Gumede and Mr James Nxumalo; it gave support to Ms Gumede in the form of, inter alia, security services and resources for political mobilisation”.

It was a bitter contest for the regional leadership in 2016 after Nxumalo, the provincial chairman of the SACP who was eThekwini mayor, won initially. The outcome was later nullified and Gumede triumphed after several postponements. She became mayor after the local government elections, but was recalled in 2019 amid corruption allegations. 

She currently faces charges in connection with fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering allegations arising from a R300-million Durban solid waste tender.

The trial is set to start on 18 July.

Despite facing charges, Gumede was elected to lead the eThekwini region in April and retains her position as a member of the provincial legislature. 

Her name features among nominees for the top leadership of the province while there is a strong push from those who support her and others in trouble with the law to be allowed by the next national general council of the ANC to stand for election.

The leagues

Acknowledging that 2024 will be critical for the survival of the ANC as the government in the province, the women insist, as always, that one of their own should lead. Of course, the ANC Women’s League is on a historic and revolutionary mission to elevate their lot to lead society. It is an important matter among ANC members, but will that be enough to appease a disillusioned electorate determined to punish the organisation at the polls?

Similarly, when the current provincial executive committee was elected, there was a strong push for at least 40% representation of young people. The cut-off age for ANC Youth League membership is 35. It is this younger generation that has had economic opportunities set aside for them by the provincial government, but the general complaint is that it is the politically connected who have benefited. 

Civic groups

Civic organisations that in the past would have operated under the Sanco umbrella, can no longer be banked on to support the ANC during elections. Instead, formations such as Abahlali baseMjondolo pursue their own agendas outside ANC parameters, while in Newcastle a new political organisation, Team Sugar South Africa, has been formed and became kingmakers in the local municipality in the November elections. Created as a labour and social movement, it secured a deputy mayor position. This again is a vacuum that has been left by the once-mighty ANC and its alliance partners. 

All factions promise the renewal of the organisation, but it does seem like it is a longing for access to the levers of state power that is paramount, and not addressing the dismal state of the organisation and delivering the promised better life for all.

At this rate, a harsh verdict awaits them at the 2024 polls regardless of the slate that triumphs. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • virginia crawford says:

    An article interviewing ” ordinary voters that support the ANC” might be very instructive: as an ex- ANC voter of 1994, I find it impossible to understand people supporting the ANC. After the HIV/AIDS denialism and then the arms deal, the rot was clear to me. I am really curious to hear about people who go and vote for the ANC. The majority of people I know just don’t vote: but active supporters, why?

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