Mavuso Msimang: I wept for the ANC as the ‘Taliban’ overpowered KZN
The KwaZulu-Natal ANC’s provincial conference last weekend did not offer much in the way of an organisation ‘renewing’ itself or determined to fix the many problems in the province.
Last weekend, the much-anticipated KwaZulu-Natal ANC provincial conference took place in Durban North. The delegates chose as their conference “signature tune” a chant that was repeated throughout the conference period. Wenzeni uZuma?, it went, roughly translatable as: “What wrong has Zuma committed?”
For the benefit of those who may not have been on Planet Earth during the past 15 years or so, the delegates’ object of solidarity and adulation was Jacob Zuma, a former president of South Africa, and of the ANC; who did all he could, spending millions of rands of taxpayers’ money in the process, to avoid going to court to answer a substantial number of corruption allegations levelled against him.
The objective of the conference was to elect new leadership and mandate it to direct and oversee the ANC’s political work in KZN over the next five years. With the next instalment of provincial elections scheduled to take place in 2024, the newly elected provincial leadership has its work cut out for it.
Inside the ANC policy conference: Read these key articles to understand what it’s all about
For the ANC to continue in government in KZN, it must reverse a stubborn, southbound trajectory. To wit, during the 2019 provincial elections, the ANC suffered a 10% electoral decline in popularity, which brought down its absolute majority to a precarious 54.21% of the popular vote. In the 2021 local government elections, the ANC vote plunged to 47.21%. For the first time since the establishment of the eThekwini metro, circa 2000, the party lost its majority on the city council.
The conference also took place against the backdrop of the July 2021 riots, whose major theatre of disturbances was KZN. A brief recap of the worst civil unrest in the democratic era would list more than 350 deaths and 130,000 jobs, mostly from the ranks of low-skilled workers, wiped out. The riots cost the KZN economy more than R20-billion. There was extensive looting of malls and other facilities.
The Port of Durban was temporarily closed, with the attendant impact on imports and exports. Traffic on the N2 and N3 freeways was disrupted and freight trucks were destroyed. Communication systems were sabotaged. Delegates to the 2022 ANC provincial conference will be aware that this mayhem was the handiwork of ANC members who were aggrieved by the imprisonment of Zuma by the highest court in the land. Like the ANC provincial conference delegates, they, too, wanted to know: Wenzeni uZuma?
In April, torrents of rain fell across KZN and parts of the Eastern Cape, causing deadly floods that destroyed residences, public buildings, roads, bridges and other infrastructure, with the greatest impact being felt in and around eThekwini. There were more than 435 deaths, spread across the province. The number of missing persons is still unknown. The incredibly efficient and effective charity Gift of the Givers reports in excess of 150 as-yet unclaimed corpses piled up in the Phoenix mortuary alone.
The inhumane handling of this tragedy has been partly blamed on the sloppiness of the province’s Department of Health. Elevated by conference delegates last weekend to the second-seniormost position of deputy chairperson in the KZN ANC hierarchy, Nomagugu Simelane, the MEC for health, has the unenviable task of cleaning up the stinking mess.
But first, congratulations are due to Simelane on her election to the top five in the provincial leadership, a first for a woman. What makes her election even more exceptional is that it catapulted her to a rarefied echelon now occupied by admirers of the Afghanistan fundamentalist Islamic militia, the Taliban. This sect is notorious for its hardline discrimination against women, whom it bans from working outside their homes. It also sees no value in educating a girl child beyond Grade Six, and it bans women from participating in political activities. Pictures taken at the KZN conference show the local Taliban resplendent in trademark keffiyeh scarves.
The KZN Taliban, it is claimed with no contestation, thought it appropriate to nickname the luckless premier of KZN, Sihle Zikalala, and his supporters, the Ankole. This pricey, sought-after bovine breed, characterised by very large horns, is a native of east and central Africa. The Ankole are now found on breeding farms throughout the world. The Zikalala group owes its newfound appellation to its putative affinity to the largest Ankole farmer in the republic. At the conference, the Taliban faction administered a severe drubbing to the Ankole faction, with Zikalala failing to muster sufficient votes to make it on to the new Provincial Executive Committee.
The Ankole have themselves to blame for their dismal performance. Politics 101 is clear on ambivalence. The Ankole would have done well to support the National Executive Committee’s rational and principled position of not making common cause with Zuma when he decided to cock a snook at the Constitutional Court. They should have explained their stand to their followers. Not that that would have changed the outcome of the elections. Wisdom dictates that you should not join an opponent you can’t beat. The maxim says good soldiers die with their boots on.
Unfortunately, Zikalala further decided to inveigh against South Africa’s constitutional democracy, which he said allowed the judiciary to usurp authority Zikalala thinks rightly belongs to Parliament, whose members are elected by the people. But the last straw has to have been his decision to hijack a water tanker that was taking water to a beleaguered community and ordering it, instead, to take the water to his house. There is not likely to be any outpouring of grief when Zikalala finally leaves.
The agenda of a gathering intent on governing KZN would be incomplete if did not shine the spotlight on the runaway violence engulfing the province. A helpful guide, among many that are available, would be a 2013 report that said more than 450 political assassinations had taken place in KZN since the end of apartheid in 1994. More recently, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime reported an increase in the number of assassinations.
Daily Maverick of 27 June reported that “of the 418 political hits recorded nationwide between 2000 and 2021, 213 took place in the last seven years, and of that number, 118 were in KZN.” The last word on this vexing subject is from violence monitor Mary de Haas, who reports on:
“Layer upon layer of violence that involves thugs, drug dealers, corrupt politicians and taxi hitmen”, who are involved in the violence and intimidation. In KZN, she says, “might is right. The bullies hold sway, and it is getting worse”.
The task facing the newly elected ANC provincial leadership is daunting. This leadership cannot expect to retain power if it does not seize itself with the task of resolving these seemingly intractable problems. Additionally, a party that claims the mantle of “leader of society” cannot abdicate the leadership role in actively promoting racial harmony in KZN. Last year’s eruption of deadly violence in Phoenix is but one indicator of the potential volatility of the situation in the province.
Siboniso Duma, the incoming provincial chairperson, laudably informed the public that the defeated leaders would not be purged. However, what else he has so far communicated doesn’t give an indication that he understands the clear and present danger facing the ANC in KZN and South Africa. On the ANC’s step-aside policy regarding party members implicated in wrongdoing or other serious offences, it’s unthinkable that any leader would pronounce himself unconcerned by the imperative to uphold what is morally good and right.
Conversely, how would anyone be unconcerned by the violation of what is morally good and right? Every organisation that works in the social, political, legal, cultural, business, sport, religious and other spheres operates a step-aside and step-down rule code of conduct, whatever its name. In enforcing their codes of conduct, such organisations are primarily guided by ethical and moral considerations, not legal ones. The ANC has an obligation, for instance, to remove from its ranks, temporarily or permanently, a member who molests a child, commits gender violence or steals, with the sanction being commensurate with the offence.
If a sanction is unjustly or unfairly implemented, that has to be remedied. And there are many remedies. One way would be to vest the authority to carry out a sanction on a competent and qualified individual or a plurality thereof. Surely, the Integrity Commission of the ANC, properly resourced, financially, technologically, and people-wise, and empowered to make final decisions, would be equal to the task.
Duma is entitled to ask that Zuma be supported and protected. He is also right to call for the consistent application of judiciary processes, which I believe is already the case. But when Duma says that “for 16 years President Zuma has been going back and forth to court”, he omits to state that all along, it happened in the face of strong resistance on the part of Zuma, who consistently pleaded unfairness by the judicial system.
Duma is also incorrect when he says: “If there was a case, if there was [‘onus’/honours] on the process of the law, it [the case] would have been done at this point in time and you would know that justice delayed is justice denied.” Duma also said: “If there was something that is tangible, if there was admissible evidence that he [Zuma] has done something wrong, he would have been charged.”
Small wonder Duma encourages his followers to ask: Wenzeni uZuma? DM
Mavuso Msimang is an Umkhonto weSizwe and ANC veteran.