South Africa

ANC KwaZulu-Natal: Court ruling puts a spoke in the wheel of Dlamini-Zuma’s provincial campaign

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal has been holding its breath for Tuesday’s Pietermaritzburg high court ruling, which declared the party’s November 2015 conference “unlawful and void”. That conference outcome favoured Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s lobbyists, but this judgment now takes the fight back to the branches. While the provincial leaders who have been invalidated have already declared that they’re preparing to appeal, their detractors hope this will give them the gap they needed to prove their strength in the province. So, it’s way too early to exhale. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

In front of the Pietermaritzburg High Court, a supporter of those who won the court challenge to have the KwaZulu-Natal ANC’s 2015 conference set aside was brandishing a poetic placard saying: “Nxamalala’s Zikalala will nyamalala”. It’s a reference to both President Jacob Zuma – and by extension Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – and Sihle Zikalala, who was elected chairperson at the contested conference together with provincial secretary Super Zuma, and it says Zikalala will nyamalala, or disappear.

It just so happened that there were far fewer of Zikalala's supporters in front of the court for the judgment than there were for the case last month, perhaps because the provincial leadership sensed defeat. Their case on the soundness of procedures for the November 2015 conference wasn’t a strong one.

Zikalala is one of Zuma’s main campaigners, and many in the province say he derives his power more from Zuma’s support of him and from his top-level lobbying than from the bottom-up support from grassroots.

In fact, the November 2015 conference went ahead against ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe’s advice, and despite valid objections from some branches, but Zuma nonetheless addressed delegates, urging them to accept the outcome.

In the wake of that outcome, Senzo Mchunu – who has a strong following in the province and who is supporting Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa now – was removed as premier and replaced by Willies Mchunu, who has been so sickly that the province has, in essence, been run by MECs such as Zikalala.

Zikalala is also known to be doing Zuma’s bidding, such as the time at last month’s policy conference at Nasrec when he told journalists the province would put on the table a proposal that the party constitution be changed to make provision for two deputy presidents, where the president from the losing slate would then be accommodated.

A day or two later, Zuma strongly endorsed this idea in his conference closing speech.

KwaZulu-Natal’s leaders have, therefore, been important to Zuma, and the judgment was a blow to him. It will also embolden those who feel that there is undue interference in processes to raise their hand and point out foul play.

The Eastern Cape, the ANC’s second largest province, as well as the Free State, a “Premier League” province which has been generous in providing campaign platforms for Dlamini-Zuma, have to go to provincial conferences, overdue because of fierce contestation.

The OR Tambo region in the Eastern Cape, the ANC’s second largest in the country, is incidentally set to go to court on Thursday about disputed procedures.

KwaZulu-Natal’s leaders were set to meet on Tuesday afternoon – a few hours after the judgment – to decide on the way forward, but they’ve already indicated that they will be appealing the outcome. They have 15 days to do so formally. The national executive committee meeting set for the last weekend of this month could also play a big role in determining a way forward.

The ANC Youth League and the ANC Women’s League in the province, shortly after the judgment, rushed to send out a media invitation for an urgent press conference on Wednesday, where they and some regions – these are important now that the provincial structures have been thrown into doubt – would be giving their opinion on the matter. They are likely to drop a few hints indicating what sort of tactics they are prepared to use in their pushback.

The leagues have already very vocally declared their support for Dlamini-Zuma, but the provincial leadership has thus far been unable to do so. Some say this is because of the party’s strict rules and discipline, while others say Senzo Mchunu and his supporters have been pushing back against such a declaration.

An appeal could buy the provincial leadership more time, but their legitimacy is now seriously damaged. Their die-hard supporters are likely to buy into their fight-back against the judgment (even though some have pointed out that it could be hypocritical to hurl accusations against ANC members taking to the courts, only to take to the courts yourself to continue the fight), but those who might have doubted the province’s leadership in the first place are likely to be strengthened in their resolve.

Without waiting for a judgment, the branches in the province could, for instance, use rule 17.2.1 in the party’s constitution which states that provincial conferences should be held at least every four years “and more often if requested by at least one third of all branches in the province”.

The anti-Dlamini-Zuma lobby (which includes Ramaphosa and ANC treasurer-general and former KwaZulu-Natal premier Zweli Mkhize) has thus far not been tested, but they reckon they could at least muster a third of the branches. If they do manage to call a conference this way, the current provincial leadership might choose to participate or it might not.

If Zikalala and company have real grassroots strength in the province, they have nothing to fear from a re-run, their detractors argue.

If they disown the re-run, the ANC’s biggest province might end up with parallel provincial structures ahead of December’s conference.

Either way, whether there are parallel structures, current provincial structures, or an interim leadership in the form of a provincial task team, the majority of the delegates attending the December conference are unlikely to be affected.

Branch audits are handled by regions, and local leaders still profess faith in these structures.

All this, however, means that campaigning here could reach noise levels possibly only drowned out by gunshots as political assassinations increase. This would be a function of higher political contestation in lower structures – much of the assassinations so far have been about local and regional squabbles.

Either way, as was the case with the Free State leadership in 2012, some KwaZulu-Natal ANC leaders might just have to resort to television and social media to catch December’s conference proceedings. DM

Photo: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa with KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu during the World AIDS Day Commemoration in Port Shepstone, 9 December 2015. (Photo: GCIS)

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