KwaZulu-Natal insiders say Zweli Mkhize, once a close ally of President Jacob Zuma, is aware of the campaign to kick him out of the province.
The nomination of KwaZulu-Natal premier and ANC provincial chairperson Mkhize for the position of the party's national treasurer general has sparked speculation that a powerful ANC group in the province is working hard to remove him to ensure it controls provincial government resources.
ANC insiders in the province said this week that Mkhize, once a close ally of President Jacob Zuma, was aware of the campaign to kick him out of the province. Although he was unhappy about the move, ANC provincial leaders said he had no choice but to accept nominations for the position of treasurer and make way for the powerful new ANC group led by his provincial deputy in the ANC, Willies Mchunu, and Sihle Zikalala, the party's provincial secretary.
The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal was the first to nominate Mkhize for the position of treasurer general on the Zuma slate. He has since also been nominated by Mpumalanga, the Free State, North West, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape. Said an ANC provincial executive committee member: "There is a heated campaign to get him [Mkhize] out of the province and he knows it."
People wanted to challenge him during the ANC provincial conference in May this year, said the source, but this did not happen "because we wanted to show unity and deliver JZ [Zuma] in Mangaung".
His opponents claim that Mkhize has been "dictating terms" in the committee. "He treats people like Sihle [Zikalala] as if they were still youth league leaders," said the committee member. "But the provincial executive committee now has the injection of the youth league and most members feel he represents the old guard."
Mkhize was elected to the top provincial ANC post after Zuma's election as ANC president in 2007. He replaced Correctional Services Minister S'bu Ndebele, who was viewed as an ally of former president Thabo Mbeki. Before that, Mkhize was defeated twice by Ndebele for the position. Both have controlled rival ANC groups in KwaZulu-Natal in past years. Mkhize's core group includes health MEC and eThekwini regional chairperson Sbongiseni Dlomo, arts and culture MEC Ntombikayise Sibhidla and former North Coast regional chairperson and current provincial executive committee member, Bheki Ntuli.
Ndebele's core group, which has now formed an alliance with Willies Mchunu's faction, includes Zikalala, provincial treasurer Meshack Radebe, legislature speaker Peggy Nkonyeni, her deputy, Mtholephi Mthimkhulu, and safety and security MEC Senzo Mchunu.
The fall-out between Zuma and Mkhize followed the emergence of a report compiled by former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli that claimed the premier was one of the ANC leaders plotting to oust Zuma at Mangaung. Other leaders included Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and former police commissioner Bheki Cele.
"The Mdluli report galvanised many comrades in the province against him. He is now presenting himself as a Zuma man, but he is not. President Zuma believes he [Mkhize] has back-stabbed him. JZ is paranoid. Once you cross him, he never forgives you," said the committee member. He said relations between Zuma and Mkhize had deteriorated to such an extent that the president no longer informed him when he visited the province.
Mchunu denied there was tension between him and Mkhize. "It's pure lies. I've never been involved in any campaign to push Mkhize for national." Zikalala said: "We know nothing about tensions between Mkhize and those who are said to be in a campaign to oust him from provincial politics. We will discuss the provincial leadership once the national conference is over. Everything else is premature."
Mkhize rejected claims that there was a campaign to remove him from the province. "These allegations have been manufactured in your newsroom with the assistance of information peddlers. We reject them in the strongest terms," said Mkhize's spokesperson, Ndabezinhle Sibiya.
- An ealier version of this article contained a quote from an unnamed person who insinuated that Mkhize’s family, especially his daughters, were benefitting from his position. One of his daughters has pointed out that she is not in business and was not asked to comment on the story. We contacted Dr Mkhize for comment, but he was not asked about this specific allegation. The M&G regrets any inconvenience caused.