KwaZulu-Natal’s ANC provincial conference took place this weekend, and if you are wondering what the outcome means in terms of the governing party’s national picture, you are not the only one.
Mayors, businesspeople and intelligence operatives have also been asking the same question, including for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign for a second term in December.
“What a politically dramatic week,” said one source about the convincing victory of new provincial ANC chairperson Siboniso Duma’s slate over that of Premier Sihle Zikalala.
However, the outcome was almost predictable, almost a replay of the eThekwini regional elective conference in April, which saw former Durban mayor Zandile Gumede sweep the board, even when she was affected by the step-aside rule.
As things stand – and bar a decision to charge him for any criminal offence related to the R150 million Digital Vibes communications contract of the national health department – former minister Zweli Mkhize had just been introduced as a factor in the upcoming leadership succession race ahead of the ANC national elective conference in December.
Duma was propelled to the top post by the Taliban faction supporting Mkhize, which consisted of Mkhize loyalists; the Radical Economic Transformation group that supported former president Jacob Zuma, and a small but crucial bloc that supported Deputy President David Mabuza.
Zikalala had carried the Ramaphosa torch for his second term election bid but it did not shine bright enough with the 1 607 voting delegates attending the provincial conference at the Olive Convention Centre in Durban.
Much political analysis ahead of the crucial conference over the weekend had been fudged by an unnecessary focus on popular figures contesting for the positions and not necessarily the outcome of branch processes.
So much publicity was reserved for a possible upset by businessman Sandile Zungu, whose links to Gumede, a provincial strong woman, could not be denied. Former provincial treasurer Nomusa Dube-Ncube also ran an effective public relations machinery that had many people dupped that she had the conference in the bag.
But, a reading of how the regions positioned themselves told a different picture. By Friday when the conference started, it was clear that neither Zungu nor Dube-Ncube had the 154 branch nominations to make it to the ballot.
Their best chance was to work on getting the 402 votes from the 1 607 delegates on the floor, and while Dube-Ncube put up a brave face, Zungu quickly read the room and decided to fight another day by declining the nomination.
In a preview of the nominations that, unfortunately, never got published due to technical issues, City Press noted that Zikalala would no doubt be the only challenger out of branch nominations as he enjoyed some degree of support from the Moses Mabhida region (Pietermaritzburg), iNkosi Bhambatha region (Greytown), Far North (uMkhanyakude) and his home region in General Gizenga Mpanza (KwaDukuza).
He was also in a prime position to cause an upset if the six regions that generally agreed on the Duma slate failed to find consensus on his name as the preferred chairperson candidate.
The six regions were Mzala Nxumalo in Vryheid, Harry Gwala in Ixopo, Josiah Gumede in Ladysmith, eMalahleni in Newcastle, Musa Dladla in Empangeni and eThekwini. Lower South Coast in Port Shepstone was also not hostile to the Duma lobby but not entirely on board.
The decision to have Gumede stand for provincial treasurer – even though she was going to decline nomination – was to open the door for a lobby to get other regions to provide a candidate, and thereby come on board the Mkhize train.
On Sunday when the last vote was counted, it was clear that Ramaphosa would have a tough decision to make in terms of availing himself to make the closing address at the conference.
But, Ramaphosa played bravely and left the chaos for Duma to resolve – if anything to show whether he really commanded enough influence and the respect he had just been adorned with. Duma saved the day and Ramaphosa was able to make a full speech.
The next battlefront would be the national policy conference starting on Wednesday in Nasrec in Johannesburg, where the KwaZulu-Natal ANC would drive the lobby to scrap the step-aside policy.
Suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, former Limpopo treasurer Danny Msiza, suspended treasurer in Mpumalanga Mandla Msibi, Gumede and even Mkhize – who has been threatened with arrest – would have an interest in the debate. The dominant ANC faction in Gauteng were also not fans of the rule, as well as the group that marginally lost the Eastern Cape provincial conference in May.
KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape make up the four biggest provinces of the ANC in terms of membership and they will bring the biggest chunk of delegates to the upcoming policy conference.
The political future of these powerful ANC leaders hinged on the step-aside rule being thwarted, especially on the back of claims that the party faction that had the capacity to whisper to the ears of the prosecuting authority enjoyed immunity.