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Heirs to a crumbling throne: Naked ambition in ANC leadership race in KZN spans the deft to the dodgy

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Dr Imraan Buccus is senior research associate at ASRI.

A wet blanket hangs on the shoulders of the contenders for the ANC leadership in KwaZulu-Natal. Whoever triumphs may have to be content with second prize as the opposition in the legislature and, increasingly, swathes of local government.

It has taken 110 years for one of Africa’s most courageous liberation movements to batter the inside of its house to rubble. The edifice still stands propped up by the incredulous rhetoric of unity, renewal and revitalisation. The metaphor of a house divided is even less useful now that the doors of ANC offices are slammed shut as a strike by unpaid workers rolls on, with no pay packet in sight. The more the party preaches unity, the more the daggers get drawn.

There is little evidence of the renewal of the vows so boldly etched into the Freedom Charter. With no singularity of purpose, vitality is an apparition.

Radical Economic Transformation (RET) has shifted from a revolutionary commitment to a vulgar byword for corruption and looting of public coffers. That assessment slinks into the shadows of KwaZulu-Natal as even the RET faction is burdened with too many heirs apparent. There was a time when good manners meant that one didn’t raise one’s hand for leadership but waited to be called. There is now an entire generation who believe that their time has come and that they cannot dither about the historical niceties of ANC succession planning. Naked ambition is on public display. They range from the obviously skilled to the downright dodgy.

A well-endowed soccer boss, Sandile Zungu, is also on the sidelines but is likely to sit warming the bench. No fewer than three women feature prominently on the slates doing their rounds. Treasury political head Nomusa Dube-Ncube is an affable, solid hand with a track record in just about every tier of government and party leadership. Transport MEC Peggy Nkonyeni has a strong base on the lower South Coast but lacks reach into vote banks like eThekwini. Having eThekwini seemingly sewn up is former mayor Zandile Gumede. With so many dark clouds bouncing around her, including a high-profile corruption case, there is little prospect that she can have more than a splintering impact on the already divided faction.

Coming in from the cold after resigning as health minister in the wake of the Digital Vibes scandal is former KZN premier Zweli Mkhize. He could paint himself as a victim of intrigues at a national level and gather enough sympathy to get the nod from provincial branches.

The incumbent provincial leader, Sihle Zikalala, is not a favourite among the Facebook pollsters or political pundits. There is even the whisper that he is out of a race that is yet to get running. The opposite could hold true. Zikalala loyalists are in strategic centres of influence in the deepest rural reaches to the developed urban centres of the province. As the incumbent, he has access to resources that the contenders lack. As the contest gathers pace, he could start to play his cards one by one. With the provincial cabinet being in mid-term he could reshuffle. As many have learnt it can be bitterly cold outside, having to forage for oneself.

In regions where there are still mayoral disputes, he could use interventionist instruments available in local government legislation to ensure that those who share his line of thinking ascend to the helm. While the contenders might promise sinecures if elected, Zikalala does not have to verbalise the leverage available to him.

Another crucial factor is that business sees him as a bankable option in contrast to the others. Financial support from that sector will be key in his campaign.

While appearing to walk a political tightrope, Zikalala has been faithful to RET without the bellicose rhetoric and posturing. Much of his nuts-and-bolts empowerment work has gone largely unnoticed, such as the Operation Vula Fund, which has brought young entrepreneurs into the mainstream of the provincial economy as manufacturers and service providers. Those investments in young people might not pay political dividends now but they indicate that his leadership has created value while elsewhere corruption has left a wasteland.

Will he be a victim of his success? Will he be able to shake off the wet blanket and make a renewed push for first prize? These are interesting times in the kingdom. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

 

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