Former police commissioner Bheki Cele's popularity could prove divisive if he carries an anti-Zuma mandate, writes Niren Tolsi.
The pro-Jacob Zuma camp in the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal appears set on politically neutralising former police commissioner Bheki Cele. His popularity and pulling power is apparently part of the reason there has been controversy surrounding the voter's roll of Cele's ANC branch in ward 74 in Lamontville, Durban.
Cele, who resigned his position as an ANC national executive committee member when he took up the position of police commissioner – as per the Police Act – has previously been left off the branch's voter's roll.
The Mail & Guardian understands that Cele's branch is supportive of the "forces-of-change" group aiming to displace current ANC president Zuma at the party's national elective conference in Mangaung in December.
Cele, a popular figure in the branch and more widely in the province, is considered a favourite to be nominated as ward 74's delegate to Mangaung. If this happens, he will carry his branch's mandate to Mangaung, which is likely to call for Zuma to be replaced by his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe.
This, according to provincial sources, means Cele will be construed to be supportive of the forces of change and Motlanthe, something that, with his popularity, could prove a headache for the pro-Zuma ANC faction and a shot in the arm for its opponents.
Cele's spokesperson, Vuyo Mkhize, said he had "not heard anything to suggest" that Cele was being considered as a delegate. "Should he be elected, he will go to Mangaung carrying the mandate of his branch, whatever that may be, as it is still up to the democratic processes of the branch to decide."
Mkhize said it was up to the branch to make decisions and Cele had not "engage[d] in any activity that would lead itself to the interpretation that he is mobilising his branch in any shape or form … He has stayed away from the branch aside from its formal meetings."
Ward 74's attempt to hold its branch general meeting to nominate candidates for the ANC's top six leadership positions and delegates to Mangaung last Thursday descended into chaos.
At issue was the eThekwini region's call for the branch to hold its branch general meeting and annual general meeting to elect a new branch leadership simultaneously. Members questioned the appearance of 200 unfamiliar names on the voter's roll and the exclusion of 84 "valid" members, including Cele, last week.
It is understood the 200 new members would not have qualified to participate in the branch general meeting because they were not part of the final audited figures at the ANC's June cut-off date for Mangaung.
The situation reached boiling point when branch members demanded to see whether the 84 excluded names now appeared on the voter's roll compiled by the eThekwini region and a scuffle broke out. A heavy police contingent – about 15 vehicles – was called in.
Membership and qualification
The meeting was eventually adjourned after midnight with a decision that the eThekwini regional executive committee meet the branch executive committee to discuss membership and qualification for the two meetings. This, the M&G understands, is scheduled to take place on November 18.
KwaZulu-Natal, a homogenous voting bloc for Zuma at the ANC's last elective conference in Polokwane, appears to be on a perception management drive to maintain that it is as unified as it was five years ago. According to a source in the forces-of-change camp, "the province goes to Mangaung with numbers and wants to retain the image of being unified so that other ANC members will believe that Zuma's re-election is a forgone conclusion and not bother".
This, said several members belonging to the different groupings that constitute the forces of change, could be read in the constant public reassurances from the eThekwini region's leadership that the party's most muscular region, with 103 branches, was unified behind Zuma.
There are also allegations of more sinister methods to ensure Zuma's success in Mangaung.
KwaZulu-Natal is allowing delegate lists from each branch, from which one delegate will be chosen.
According to one well-placed source, "delegates from the pool are being monitored, sometimes by each other, and if there is a suggestion that you will not toe the provincial line [to support Zuma] you will be replaced in the pool".
Another source in the ANC's uKhahlamba region, where there appears to be division over support for Zuma, said the president's lobbyists were "already in the process [of creating delegate pools]. They are calling branch members, asking if they trust this delegate [to vote for Zuma] and, if there are doubts, names can be moved around on the list. This may be done through the forcing of gender-representation issues."
But KwaZulu-Natal ANC spokesperson Senzo Mkhize dismissed allegations that there was anything untoward going on, saying it was "normal practice" with a precedent at previous provincial and national conferences. "It is not a pool, but a reserve list that is used if anything happens to any of the nominated delegates. Instead of going back to the branch general meetings, which can be difficult to convene and quorate, the reserve list is used."
Mkhize said there appeared to be "a campaign to discredit KwaZulu-Natal, but there is nothing sinister about this process".
Mkhize also dismissed allegations made by several forces-of-change lobbyists that the province was preparing a "political camp" for Mangaung delegates on the eve of the conference so that the KwaZulu-Natal leadership could "brainwash" delegates to "ensure that everyone is singing from the same hymn book".
Mkhize said the alleged "camp" in Newcastle was merely a "meeting point" for regional delegates before travelling to Mangaung.