Behind the scenes, senior ANC leaders in KZN are trying to prevent what could become an ugly contest for the position of provincial ANC chairperson.
Both the education MEC, Senzo Mchunu, and the transport MEC, Willies Mchunu, have been nominated by branches to replace current provincial chair and Premier Zweli Mkhize. He was elected to the full-time position of ANC treasurer general in Mangaung in December last year.
The province will hold a provincial general council next weekend to elect his successor and three provincial executive committee members to fill the vacancies left by Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele and Lungi Xabashe, who were all elected to the national executive committee in Mangaung.
There are fears that the contest between Willies Mchunu, who is also provincial ANC deputy chairperson, and Senzo Mchunu, will divide the ANC's biggest province, which presented a unified face before the Mangaung elective conference.
Willies Mchunu's supporters want him to take over automatically from Mkhize as chairperson and premier. They propose that Senzo should become the deputy provincial chairperson and take over when Willies's term comes to an end.
But Senzo Mchunu, who agreed not to go up against Mkhize at the province's conference in Newcastle last year to avoid creating divisions before Mangaung, is determined to stand.
Keen to intervene
A senior alliance leader close to Willies said: "There are engagements to avoid contestation. The suggestion on the table is that Willies should become chair and Senzo his deputy … Anyway, Willies is an old man. We can allow him to finish Zweli's term and then, when he steps down at the next conference, Senzo can take over. What is the rush for Senzo to take over now? We know that these things are associated with government. It will mean he [Senzo] won't become premier.
"The province has been united and this thing is likely to cause divisions. Senzo's people want contestation. He appears more determined now to contest. He is going for all or nothing. Comrades are saying, if he has that attitude, he must be contested and not be given anything."
Another provincial ANC member who asked not to be named said the contest was becoming a worry to the ANC's head office, Luthuli House. "Luthuli is keen to intervene. You can't afford to have a big ANC province divided. This might cause distractions. You might see [the ANC secretary general Gwede] Mantashe coming to intervene or even President Jacob Zuma.
"If left unattended, the contest is going to be a serious litmus test for the ANC in terms of how it will reconfigure itself post-Mangaung. If it becomes a bitter battle, it will influence other provinces," he said.
ANC provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala said he was unaware of discussions to persuade the two leaders not to compete against one another.
"I am not aware and I am not involved. The lower structures will elect their preferred leaders. The PEC [provincial executive committee] can't discuss issues of leadership. The organisation values unity as a critical issue of strength but we would not want to venture into issues of leadership," Zikalala said.
Mantashe dismissed suggestions that Luthuli House was worried about the impact of the leadership contest on the unity of the ANC.
"I am not driven by worries. I am driven by hope, not fear. When there is a contest, the line that is taken is that there are divisions. When there is no contest, you say we have arranged leadership," he said.
Approached for comment, Willies Mchunu said: "I don't know if I am nominated. I will prefer to look at that when the matter arises."
Although Senzo Mchunu did not want to comment, his view is that contestation is part of the democratic processes of the ANC.