The stage had been set by long-time DA municipal councillor Ronnie Pillay, who resigned after a public spat with its KZN leader Dean Macpherson. Pillay charged that Macpherson was soft on kickback allegations in a water pipeline contract levelled against certain DA councillors in the township. The resignation triggered a by-election in eThekwini Ward 73 and the familiar script of political streetwalking.
Pillay hot-footed it to the ANC office, pleading a tragic soliloquy, and departed with a fresh membership card. As the lead actors and the ANC National Working Committee descended on the province to rattle its bumbling local cast, Chatsworth claimed its part in a programme loaded with the hackneyed T-shirt optics.
In a supporting act to Ramaphosa was the physically towering provincial chairperson Siboniso Duma, who… was reduced to a political minion.
Ramaphosa chose to do the dirty work at the Nelson Mandela Community Youth Centre, which was built by the late statesman after the deaths of 13 children in 2000. Gangsters involved in a drug and club turf war detonated a tear gas canister in the air-conditioning ducts of the Throb nightclub. The ensuing panic saw 600 mostly underage children trampled in the haste to find an exit. Mandela responded to a plea from the community for recreational spaces for young people and raised the funding for the iconic centre.
Hard to say whether Mandela anticipated that it might also double as a site for his party’s sideshows.
In a supporting act to Ramaphosa was the physically towering provincial chairperson Siboniso Duma, who, in the course of the weekend’s drubbing for poor performance, was reduced to a political minion.
Tasked with the simple job of introducing his boss, Duma droned on for a good three-quarters of an hour in a speech filled with the feeble aggression common to the aggrieved. He led the KwaZulu-Natal regiment into Nasrec last December openly hostile to Ramaphosa and contemptuous of the candidacy of his region’s erstwhile leaders, former premiers Sihle Zikalala and Senzo Mchunu as well as immediate past provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli.
In a now typical playbook, KwaZulu-Natal was left out in the freezing cold, with none of its candidates making it to the top-tier leadership, yet again. The millstone around their necks was hanging on to Jacob Zuma’s coat-tails when the rest of ANC history was moving on. Despite furious denials from both Ramaphosa and secretary-general Fikile Mbalula, the provincial executive committee in KZN cannot escape a radical shake-up, if not instructions to disband altogether.
Provincial secretary Bheki Mtolo, who came into office spearheading the “Taliban” faction, had to acknowledge sheepishly that in the space of little more than a year, the swing away from the ANC saw the IFP grabbing seven and the DA one erstwhile ANC wards in what were once considered strongholds. Adding to those woes is a disastrous school nutrition scandal involving 5,400 schools and the non-delivery of essential food supplies to vulnerable children. Mtolo unconvincingly warned that education MEC Mbali Frazer’s head would be on the block if it is found that she interfered in the school nutrition tender.
Frazer’s counterpart, Amanda Bani-Mapena, the short-lived MEC for sport, arts and culture, fell on her sword last month amid a stink about liquor vouchers on the government tab. Before her stint in the provincial legislature, she departed eThekwini Municipality under a cloud of tender fraud allegations.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Top brass visit to KwaZulu-Natal signals ANC’s concern over its decline
Under mayor Mxolisi Kaunda, eThekwini has been an unmitigated disaster, with sewage flowing in the streets, prime beaches fouled and vast communities denied water supply for months on end. Such is the rot in eThekwini that Ramaphosa ought to have placed the metro under full administration.
Pillay lost his safe DA seat in that council. Ward 73 is a community overwhelmingly of Indian origin, without any informal settlements that might tilt the vote away from the DA. Pillay has been reincarnated as the ANC candidate up against the little-known Daniel Mea of the DA. Distrust of the ANC tips the scales in favour of the DA, unless the resurgent IFP splits the anti-ANC vote.
The day before Ramaphosa swanned around Chatsworth, the IFP brought its battleship to the local hub of Bangladesh Market, cajoling voters with smiling beauty queens and Mother’s Day gifts. Pillay grinned his way through the performance with Ramaphosa. It remains to be seen if he has what it takes for victory on 24 May. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.