Mdumiseni Ntuli — the secretary-general candidate who believes the ANC can win back many voters
As the 55th ANC elective conference draws closer, Mdumiseni Ntuli has been travelling the length and breadth of South Africa, raising his profile and lobbying undecided branches and regions to vote for him to become the party’s next secretary-general.
Mdumiseni Ntuli’s efforts to gain votes to become the next ANC secretary-general appear to be paying off. When ANC electoral chief Kgalema Motlanthe announced the branch nomination two weeks ago, Ntuli’s name topped the list for the position.
Edging out his closest rivals, he garnered 1,225 branch nomination votes against Phumulo Masualle’s 889 and Fikile Mbalula’s 749.
Ntuli says he has accepted invitations to speak at various forums and ANC functions across South Africa to raise his national profile and sway undecided branches and regions to support him.
On the Phala Phala fiasco
The country and the ANC were deep into the Phala Phala fallout when Daily Maverick held a wide-ranging interview with Ntuli on Monday afternoon.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Damage: With Ramaphosa in fight for his political life, the ANC has only bad, worse and terrible options”
He said he did not know how the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) would handle this crisis, but he hoped the NEC would be able to find a solution to the rumpus surrounding its president “as soon as possible”.
He believes that the party has survived much greater challenges, such as the uncertainty and disunity that characterised the period before the Morogoro conference and the challenges posed by the so-called Gang of Nine in the late 1970s.
Ntuli believes the ANC can still mount a successful 2024 campaign and win — by convincing its voters to come out and vote.
“Many traditional ANC supporters don’t leave the ANC. If they are frustrated with the ANC, they decide to stay at home, to withhold their votes. If we can come up with a strong and credible campaign between now and [the] 2024 elections… address concerns and challenges of our voters, we can win back many of these voters by persuading them to give the ANC another chance.”
On the campaign trail
The 43-year-old Ntuli hails from KwaXimba and holds an honours degree in politics from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. As a student, he served in leadership positions in the SRC, including being its president.
Were he to stay on course and win, it would not be the first time that Ntuli has worked full-time in the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters. He served for a year as the ANC Youth League national coordinator and later as the ANC national organiser for eight years until 2015.
From 2016 he served as a spokesperson for the KZN ANC leadership and was elected as ANC provincial secretary in 2018.
Ntuli has emerged as the most supported secretary-general nominee in five of SA’s nine provinces, even trouncing Masualle in his home ground of the Eastern Cape. A large chunk of his support came from Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
Ntuli said he was “humbled” by the endorsement from ANC branches.
“I am not a serving member of the NEC… to be nominated by the majority of the branches of the ANC in the country is something that is unprecedented. It is a humbling experience and I am proud that they have trust in me and believe that I can contribute.
“I cannot take it for granted that so many structures of the ANC have given me their support. It places a huge responsibility on my shoulders, especially at this stage and given the challenges facing the organisation at this point and time.”
Despite the endorsement from branches throughout the country, the KwaZulu-Natal ANC Provincial Executive Committee (PEC), of which Ntuli is a member, snubbed one of its own and threw its considerable weight behind Masualle’s campaign. Ntuli said he did not know why he was snubbed, but was quick to add that after the announcement of the nomination results, KZN ANC provincial and regional leaders pledged their support, promising to urge their branches to vote for him.
Although the stakes have changed, especially after the Phala Phala Section 89 report which found President Cyril Ramaphosa may have an impeachment case to answer, the ANC conference is still on track for 16 December. Ntuli believes that he is on track to gain an even bigger margin of support come the conference voting day.
“That is why we are on the campaign trail,” said Ntuli.
The challenges facing the ANC
Ntuli believes that the upcoming conference will be a watershed for the future of the party and for South Africa. He hopes the conference expands the top six to seven by adding the position of second deputy secretary-general.
He said the occupier of this new position would ensure that the party is able to bolster its electoral capacity by re-establishing strong ties with religious, civic and traditional leaders, the intelligentsia, the working class and the youth.
“We [the ANC] have lost the ability to work within what we call the motive forces of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). The ANC has always been a campaigning organisation, not an organisation that campaigns only when there is an election. Now we have lost the influence within the working class, we have lost the influence within the student population, the intelligentsia and various sectors of society. The ANC must rebuild its capacity to win over those sections.”
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Ntuli contends that ANC fails to implement resolutions because of internal incapacity. Often, ANC delegates go to conferences and adopt resolutions and leave those resolutions to be implemented by office-bearers without capacitating them to do so, and “when those in office fail to implement resolutions, they are accused of betraying the ANC branches by not implementing its resolutions.
“The Chinese Communist Party, for example, has a dedicated unit within the party whose primary responsibility is to develop cadres for their own party, cadres fit for governance. It has the capacity to conduct its own research and has the capacity to monitor governance. We don’t have that in the ANC. The ANC does not have the internal capacity to conduct its own research and monitor governance,” he said.
Ntuli said the ANC often uses Cabinet ministers as the head of its election drive and that weakens its ability to campaign effectively.
“We need senior officials dedicated solely to leading ANC campaigns on a full-time basis. At the moment, we get Cabinet ministers who are busy on their official government duties and only lead the ANC campaigns on a ‘by-the-way basis’,” he said.
Zuma, Zuma and Zuma
Ntuli said the leadership of the ANC in KZN was in a precarious position because of Jacob Zuma and his troubles with the law. He said that unlike in the rest of the country, KZN ANC leaders had to contend with the former leader of the party who was very popular on the ground, yet was facing myriad court and legal battles. He declined to make any further comment on the issue.
“I have commented extensively on the issue of comrade Zuma in the past. Oftentimes… misquoted and or quoted out of context in the media.”
At one stage, Zuma supporters turned on him and former KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala, accusing them of betraying Zuma by favouring Ramaphosa. He said the provincial leadership was caught between trying to contain angry Zuma supporters and having to conform to the ANC’s rules and regulations.
“All I can say is that we did as best as we could under the circumstances and we don’t regret what we did.”
On taking on Sihle Zikalala
Political pundits say Ntuli may have burnt bridges in KZN ANC structures when he rejected the pro-Zuma camp’s overtures when they called on him to stand against Zikalala in the provincial elective conference in Durban in July.
“There were comrades who approached me, asking me to stand for the position of the provincial chairperson. I refused because the basis upon which these comrades wanted me to stand was that they were appropriating the failures of the PEC to comrade Sihle Zikalala.
“I can’t serve as the provincial secretary and have everyone else serving in the PEC and then later on we decide that all the failures and blame should go to an individual, and all that is good belongs to all of us. The motivation was not politically principled, it was self-serving and I think it would have placed me as one of the comrades who cannot be trusted by some of the comrades that one has worked closely with,” he said.
At the July KZN ANC conference, Ntuli contested to retain the position of provincial secretary and lost to Bheki Ntuli. Zikalala also contested the position of provincial chairperson and lost to Siboniso Duma.
Ntuli said he sat in the KZN ANC PEC meeting which decided to nominate Masualle ahead of him. He said the PEC had hoped that, by doing so, Masualle would bring support to the Zweli Mkhize camp, which is heavily supported by the KZN ANC. DM