EFF breakaway party Team Sugar SA enjoys the taste of sweet success in northern KwaZulu-Natal

EFF breakaway party Team Sugar SA enjoys the taste of sweet success in northern KwaZulu-Natal
Team Sugar South Africa (TSSA) leader Musa "Shukela" Thwala addressing the crowd in Newcastle a year ago. (Photo: Supplied)

A small party that first contested the municipal elections in November 2021 has reinforced its growing image as a credible political contender in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Now it wants to expand its reach.

There is a new political organisation that has taken some parts of northern KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) – places such as Newcastle, Ladysmith, Vryheid, Dannhauser and others – by storm, and has become a force to be reckoned with.

A breakaway from the Economic Freedom Fighters, Team Sugar South Africa (TSSA) contested the local government elections for the first time in November 2021, and now occupies key seats in some of the local municipalities, playing a kingmaker role in some of them.

It also has seven councillors – two ward and five proportional representation (PR) councillors in the Newcastle Local Municipality’s 64 seat council. In Amajuba (Vryheid) Local Municipality it has three council seats, and in Danhauser Local Municipality the party has one council seat.

Team Sugar SA leader Musa Thwala – popularly known as Shukela or Sugar – became deputy mayor of Newcastle after the party decided to form a coalition alliance led by the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).

The colourful, flamboyant Thwala has attracted some controversies in the past. A video of the Newcastle local municipality’s deputy mayor allegedly losing control of his BMW “gusheshe” and crashing into spectators went viral on social media.

The incident took place at the old Monte Vista Casino in Newcastle on Sunday, 27 November 2022. Police stated that they were investigating the incident at the time.

Read in Daily Maverick:Team Sugar deals bittersweet blow to ANC as small local parties offer blueprint for staying relevant”

Newcastle politics

Newcastle is the third-largest city in KZN, and is regarded as the province’s industrial centre. The majority of its citizens live in Newcastle East in the main townships of Madadeni and Osizweni, with the balance in Newcastle West (the two sides of Newcastle are separated by the N11).

The coalition agreement between Team Sugar SA and the IFP is such that the two parties don’t contest each other.

TSSA’s Newcastle Municipality Ward 31 councillor Nokusa Khumalo (31) committed suicide in November 2022 – exactly a year after winning the ward. This necessitated a by-election, held on 23 February.

Before the November 2021 local government poll, this ward was a safe ANC seat. In 2016, the ANC had won the ward by more than 60% of the vote. During the February 2023 by-elections the IFP was on the ballot paper, but then told its voters to throw their weight behind Team Sugar’s candidate.

Ward 31 in Newcastle was a hive of activity as political parties descended on the ward where the crucial by-election was about to take place. The ward encompasses Madadeni R and Muiskraal townships, east of the Newcastle town centre.

Team Sugar secured 50.42% of the votes and this saw its councillor Sindiswe Mashazi now taking up her duties in the council. Had the ward gone to the ANC, the balance of power would have shifted as the ANC would have been able to lead a coalition of parties including the Economic Freedom Fighters, the National Freedom Party and smaller parties to topple the IFP led coalition in Newcastle Local Municipality.

The Newcastle Municipality Council presently sees the IFP with 18 seats; ANC with 22, EFF with 8, the DA holds five seats, Team Sugar with six seats and Action SA coming in with three seats.

The IFP is leading a coalition, partnering with Team Sugar, the DA, Action SA and other smaller parties.

Team Sugar leader (Musa) Thwala secured the position of deputy mayor of Newcastle for helping the IFP to secure its power in the municipality.

Team Sugar South Africa leader and Newcastle Municipality deputy mayor Musa “Shukela” Thwala. (Photo: Supplied)

Fighting for workers

The TSSA had its origins in the Newcastle textile industry when its founding leader Musa “Shukela” Thwala – who was then a prominent EFF councillor in the Newcastle Local Municipality – decided to take the cudgel for underpaid and exploited textile workers in the Chinese-owned factories.

“Workers here were exploited. They were made to work overtime and got paid R600 a fortnight. They are made to sleep for a few hours inside the factory and when they wake up they go back to work to reach their targets. We fought hard against exploitation and some people said it would be better if we also took on other social causes because Team Sugar SA was doing so well in fighting the workers’ struggle,” said its spokesperson Andile Nkosi spokesman, also AmaJuba District Municipality’s chief whip.

He said his party also fought against the hiring of undocumented foreign nationals in these textile factories. This put Thwala and his supporters on a collision course with the EFF leadership, which has advocated for the opening of borders and allowing Africans to move freely and work and trade in any country in the continent. He was ordered to stop the campaign or face expulsion. Thwala and his supporters were defiant.

In 2020, Thwala contested the position of EFF regional leader and lost. He was soon charged with bringing the party into disrepute, and lost his seat as EFF councillor in the Newcastle Municipality.

Thwala and his supporters then formed Team Sugar South Africa and continued to fight on behalf of disgruntled local residents.

Six surprise seats

When 2021 local government elections were held, TSSA surprised everyone by gaining six seats in the council – only two less than the EFF, which won eight seats.

In Amajuba (Vryheid) Local Municipality it has three council seats, and in Dannhauser Local Municipality the party has one council seat.

Nkosi said the party has been growing leaps and bounds since its good performance in the 2021 local government poll. He said they have built branches in every region in the KZN province, including major cities such as Pietermaritzburg, Durban and Richards Bay.

“This week we will be launching in Limpopo province and very soon we will be launching in Mpumalanga province, in the Free State and other provinces. This train is moving swiftly. We are looking forward to the 2024 general elections. We hope to have at least two MPs in the National Assembly, and at least four members in the KZN Legislature, and also have a presence in other legislators across the country,” Nkosi said.

“We are growing as a party. This is demonstrated by the faith that people of Ward 31 have shown in us to entrust us to lead this ward in 2021 local government elections, and now again in the by-elections. We are very thankful to the South African people for trusting us to be their representatives in council and very soon we will be in Parliament, where we will continue our vigilance as Team Sugar,” she said.

Lunga Mkhumane, a resident of Madadeni R section, said she is one of many former ANC supporters in Newcastle who got fed up and decided to throw their weight behind Team Sugar.

“We voted for this new party because it is listening to us, it is taking up what we are telling them. We will always be behind Thwala and Team Sugar,” she said.

Election analyst Wayne Sussman said the party has taken the northern KZN by storm. But it remains to be seen how it will fare in the future.

“You got to give credit to Team Sugar. They did well in the 2021 local government elections and when there was this recent by-election in Ward 31 they worked very hard, spent a lot of money and won it. What is important here is that they remain a force to be reckoned with. In Ward 31 the ANC had won the ward by 60% in the 2016 local government poll. But in both 2021 and recent by-elections, Team Sugar South Africa won the ward without big party machinery behind it.

“It is one thing to form a political party and do well (in the first elections) and it is something else to retain the community’s trust and continue to do well,” Sussman said.

He added that the growth of regional parties like TSSA are a threat to big conventional parties such as the ANC, IFP, DA and EFF. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Go! Go! Team Sugar! TSSA, DA and IFP can take KZN. Get rid of the ANC and EFF, useless money grabbers!

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    The terms “crashed a BMW into a crowd” was as far as I got…methinks this is just more of the same! One has to wonder if the BMW had number plates or not – the latest trick to avoid a lifestyle audit from SARS!

  • Dennis Theron says:

    The ANC are justifiably often referred to as the cANCer party. The EFF showcase an even more aggressive and toxic form of cancer.

    If the Team Sugar’s breakaway from the EFF can develop strong momentum I will start to believe that at long last, there is a cure for cancer.

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