South Africa

ANC KwaZulu-Natal: One day after court’s shattering ruling, party looks to avoid paralysis

Close to two dozen leaders from the ANC’s leagues and regions in KwaZulu-Natal gathered at the party’s provincial headquarters where they implied that the court ruling which declared its conference unlawful and void was absurd. So now, they said, they would “defend the ANC” by supporting the provincial executive committee’s decision to appeal the ruling – although it’s not yet clear what the national leadership thinks of this. Meanwhile, this fight could soon come to a polling station near you. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

There’s this tale of two ANCs in KwaZulu-Natal. Those “counter-revolutionaries” who took the winners of the party’s November 2015 conference to court, and those who cooked that conference, according to a high court ruling on Tuesday.

While the technical winners of the conference – the current provincial executive committee – decided to take a back seat and let their allies, leaders of the leagues in the province and some regions do the talking on Tuesday, provincial chairperson Sihle Zikalala had already indicated in broadcast interviews on morning shows that they would seek an appeal.

So the provincial youth, women’s and veterans’ leagues called a two-and-a-half-hour press conference to voice their support and opinions.

Outside the ANC headquarters in Durban a whole street party of bodyguards messed around, waiting for their principals inside. They are a symptom of the political violence that’s seen many local councillors assassinated in the past year or so.

ANC Youth League KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Kwazi Mshengu read out a statement on behalf of the Youth, Women’s and Veterans Leagues and some regional leaders (at least three out of the province’s 11 regions are in disarray), hitting back at the court ruling.

The 20 leaders who crowded the front desks of the press conference opened proceedings by singing: “We are ready for Nkosazana”, clearly indicating that this was about more than just a mere court process. This was about December 2017 and their support for President Jacob Zuma’s preferred successor, former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Mshengu explained that the court actually agreed with them on most points. One is that, had there been no irregularities in the run-up to the conference, the outcome was unlikely to have been different.

Second, the court said it could not rule on a tweet from an ANC account which supposedly contained the election result while the elections for provincial leaders were still in process, because its authenticity had not been proven. Current provincial leaders said the tweet was a fake.

The early timing of the conference was why the court declared it unlawful and void.

Mshengu explained that in this regard the letter of the law could not be followed because timing really is political.

The conference was convened in November 2015, about six months before the end of the four-year term of the previous provincial leadership.

Local elections took place in 2016, Mshengu argued. It would have caused “untold political chaos” should the conference have coincided with an elections campaign and a list process.

It’s this process that is being blamed for the upsurge in political assassinations.

The mechanical approach adopted by the court in interpreting the ANC constitution failed to appreciate a number of realities that are obtaining in the ANC as an organisation,” Mshengu read from the statement.

He went on to point out that the ANC’s constitution could not “cover all possible political occurrences and therefore its interpretation should be purposive”.

Also, even though the rules don’t say so, surely the PEC could call an early conference if it wanted to, Mshengu added, and hinted that this had to happen because the structure was “reaching a state of paralysis”.

These points were placed before the court but “ignored”, he said; therefore another court might come to a different conclusion.

Besides, Mshengu said those whose supporters went to court to challenge the conference, such as former premier Senzo Mchunu, were part of the PEC which led the party to an early conference. “Now that the outcome of the provincial conference did not favour them, it becomes a problem for everyone in the organisation,” he said.

The leagues and the regions might feel they have some support from national leaders (such as, perhaps, President Jacob Zuma who at the 2015 conference urged all to accept the outcome), but they could ultimately face pressure from both top and bottom structures about this.

ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe, for one, said the national leadership still had to meet with the provincial leadership on whether they should appeal or comply with Tuesday’s ruling. Since Mantashe cautioned in a letter ahead of the 2015 conference that it shouldn’t go ahead, he might favour compliance – and he often gets his way. An appeal is also likely to throw things into disarray ahead of the December conference anyway.

And then there were apparently no formal consultations between the leaders who called the press conference and their grassroots structures following Tuesday’s ruling, so they possibly didn’t have a clear mandate for coming out so strongly against it – even though they confidently declared that they were still the cool kids in the province.

ANC Youth League provincial secretary Thanduxolo Sabela said several branches called them and said they wanted an appeal, but a WhatsApp group might not be quite the same thing as a legally constituted branch general meeting.

Even so, why would anyone outside the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal care if the party stuck to its own rules or not? For one, Mshengu himself hints at it:

Society at large has a huge interest on (sic) anything that happens in the ANC because the ANC is not only the governing party, but its presence and hegemony in society make it difficult for anyone not to be interested.”

The party is going to an elective conference in December where it will choose the country’s next president, and KwaZulu-Natal is set to send the biggest delegation.

Phephelaphi Dube, director at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, said it’s about accountability and transparency:

We already have an electoral system which makes elected representatives more accountable to their party bosses and not the electorate. As such, it is vital that political parties abide by their own constitutions as these internal constitutions are one of the few ways in which voters are assured of some transparency within political parties. In a sense, the internal democracy of political parties – especially the governing party – serves as a litmus test for the health of the nation’s democracy,” she said.

In other words, in future hotly contested elections, based on the KwaZulu-Natal case, the ANC might not be as interested in playing by the rules should it find itself losing power.

Dube also hinted that a too-frequent resolution of political disputes through the courts could damage the credibility of the judiciary, which serves as one of the checks and balances (together with the legislature and the executive) in a democracy:

Ultimately it is vital for political parties to resolve their conflicts outside of the courts as it does not bode well for the nation’s democracy in the long run for there to be an impression that courts are politicised,” she said.

How the ANC goes about respecting the rules of the game even when it’s losing, especially in a province that might produce a future president, is therefore crucial.

Democracy – and South Africa’s future peace and prosperity – doesn’t take well to political street fights. DM

Photo: ANC KZN provincial chairperson Sihle Zikalala (Photo by Satour)

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