South Africa

ANC’s KZN-sized migraine

This week, it has been confirmed that the KwaZulu-Natal ANC will not be able to hold its elective conference in the immediate future. The people who would have organised it have said that it has been postponed indefinitely. The news comes after video was recorded showing two groups of people appearing to be in a stand-off, pistols clearly drawn. All of this is more confirmation, if any were needed, that the tensions which led to roughly two factions going up against each other at Nasrec have not been resolved.

Despite suggestions that the ANC is going to improve its electoral prospects, unity is still elusive. A video showing a confrontation between two groups of ANC members was shot during what was supposed to a meeting in the ANC’s Moses Mabhida region in Howick in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). Instead of the meeting, it appears that one group tried to force their way into the meeting, while another group tried to stop them. It appears that the group trying to get into the meeting were people who support President Cyril Ramaphosa. In the middle of this melee, men thought to be bodyguards of the local mayor drew their firearms and held them at the ready. In the end, thankfully, no bullets were fired and the situation was defused. While it may not have been the only reason for the delay of the KZN elective conference, it certainly displays just how the political temperature in KZN, where several people were killed ahead of the Nasrec conference, has not cooled down. The chair of the ANC’s provincial task team that is supposed to run KZN until the conference is held is the province’s Economic Development MEC Sihle Zikalala, the person who was elected leader of the province in the conference two years ago, which was annulled by a court late in 2017. The position of Zikalala himself in all of this is disputed, in that he is obviously not a politically neutral person. And the make-up of the entire task team is being questioned as it appears only four of its 16 members come from the camp led by Senzo Mchunu (who, curiously, lost the race to become ANC secretary-general by only 24 votes). Speaking on SAfm’s Sunrise programme on Wednesday (That was fast, Stephen! – Ed), Zikalala denied that this would be a long postponement, and said that all they were doing was to ensure that all of the proper procedures were being followed. He also said that both sides in the Howick confrontation were in the wrong, as the group which tried to get into the meeting should not have been there, and the men who drew their pistols also should not have behaved in such bellicose manner. It is surely obvious that this elective conference cannot happen at this stage; the tensions are just too high. There is a strange situation here that seems almost contradictory to the situation just before Nasrec. In both cases there is a highly likely prospect of court action from the loser, which means that everyone has an interest in ensuring that the rules are followed to the letter. But in the case of Nasrec, both sides knew that if there was a substantial court challenge or the conference dissolved into chaos, it could possibly be the end of the ANC itself, in that it would not ever have been able to hold a leadership conference again. In the case of KZN, that is not the case. This means that what could have been a handbrake on the internal tensions is not available, and thus whoever loses could immediately run off to court, or even, in a more dangerous scenario, it could lead to violence breaking out. However, it is once again time to ask the question: who benefits? In this case, who benefits from the postponement? It seems that one of the people who would benefit would be Zikalala himself, and the faction that he represents. While he may not have all of the legal and political authority that he would if he were elected to the position of KZN provincial chair, he surely still has some power now, even if it is greatly reduced. He could stand to lose even that residual power, if defeated at the conference. That said, it would not be in his interests to let this run on indefinitely either, as he would start to lose political legitimacy. There is also another aspect for Zikalala to consider. His appointment as head of the task team in the first place may well have something to do with the secretary-general of the ANC, Ace Magashule. Which means that should something happen to Magashule he could become more vulnerable. While there is not yet a smoking gun against Magashule, the recent revelations around the Brandfort home of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and the Estina dairy scandal could suggest that the whiff of cordite is growing stronger. But perhaps the biggest problem facing the ANC with these tensions in KZN is that they simply won’t go away. And as long as these tensions continue, so the hangover from Nasrec continues. It is much more than just a lingering reminder of how close the party came to collapse in 2017. This doesn’t linger, it smoulders. And if you add more ingredients to it, the smouldering could turn into a much hotter phenomenon. The real problem then for the ANC is are the main ingredients in this mess. The most potent of them is probably former President Jacob Zuma. He has already shown that he will use whatever political weapon he can to his advantage when his back is to the wall. Now that he faces criminal charges which could put him in somewhat limited accommodation, he will face every temptation to use those weapons. Zikalala is obviously a supporter of Zuma, as are many of the people who make up his faction. This could then mean that whatever happens to Zuma will have big implications for Zikalala, and in turn, for the KZN ANC as a whole. At the same time, there is simply no quick-fix solution to this. The roots of these tensions go back at least to the repeated collapse of the Ethekwini regional conference in 2015. That conference, of the biggest region in KZN (and the country) was the first symptoms of the problems that are still being faced now. They appear to have only intensified since then, without any viable, and fast, remedy available. DM Photo: Sihle Zikalala (SATOUR via Flickr)