Mchunu-Zikalala war foreshadows ANC’s 2017 leadership race

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu could retain leadership in the province but the stakes are high as support for provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala might just eclipse his reign. (Supplied)

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu could retain leadership in the province but the stakes are high as support for provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala might just eclipse his reign. (Supplied)

The race for leadership in KwaZulu-Natal is threatening the unity of the ANC in the province, with one faction supporting Premier Senzo Mchunu’s bid to retain his position as party chair, and the other pushing for provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala to replace him.

KwaZulu-Natal is the ANC’s largest provincial structure and is expected to have influence in the 2017 leadership race. The province was united behind Jacob Zuma before the elective conference in 2012 and played a major role in his re-election as ANC president.

While ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa is widely expected to replace Zuma as president, Zikalala is said to be in favour of treasurer Zweli Mkhize stepping in to the deputy role.

Chair today, gone tomorrow?
ANC insiders say Mchunu is unlikely to support Mkhize, who supported Willies Mchunu to replace Mkhize as the ANC provincial chair in 2013.

Senzo Mchunu is said to be warming up to the left-leaning leaders in the ANC, and his supporters believe he could end up supporting ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe or SACP leader Blade Nzimande for the position of deputy president. Mantashe is a former general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers and the SACP’s national chairperson.

Two ANC sources in KwaZulu-Natal said Mkhize – a former provincial premier – has been working very hard to consolidate his power base on the ground in the province.

“You know the TG [Mkhize], he is a quiet man. He is working on the ground and behind the scenes. And it is without doubt that he and Senzo don’t get along. He [Mkhize] clearly supported Willies Mchunu to take over after him as chair,” said an ANC source who is in the provincial executive committee.

Radebe and Mantashe to the fore
It appears the campaign to get either Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma or national assembly speaker Baleka Mbete to take over as deputy president has flagged. Instead, the names that are mentioned in the corridors are that of ANC policy head and Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.

An ANC regional leader told the Mail & Guardian there were talks to bring the provincial conference forward to this year instead of holding it in 2016, in order to deal with a stalemate between the factions in the province.

“Most branches have gone to conference and the numbers between the chair and the secretary are very tight. So now the decider is Ethekwini,” the source said. So far, the Ethekwini regional conference has been postponed twice since December, as Zikalala and Mchunu supporters in some branches engaged in physical fights.

Ethekwini is the largest ANC region in the country and is regarded as strategic both in terms of numbers and its ability to influence policy direction.

Zikalala is said to have the support of the Harry Gwala, Musa Dladla and the northern regions. Mchunu, on the other hand, enjoys firm support from KwaDakuza, Moses Mabhida, Inkosi Bhambatha and lower South Coast regions.

There can be only one
Regions like Ukhahlamba and Emalahleni appear to be divided in their allegiance.

“It is clear that the margins are tight but at the end of the day there will be only one winner and that winner will be the big decider,” the source said.

Ethekwini remains the power broker in the province simply due to its large numbers and big budget. It is the largest region in the ANC with 102 branches. But there have been serious ructions within the region – extending to physical fights in branch meetings and allegations of open manipulation.

Zikalala is backing the incumbent regional treasurer, Zandile Gumede, to take over as chair of the region.

But serious delays in the conference had Zikalala’s faction crying fowl, saying the delays were giving more time to Mchunu’s camp to canvass support within Ethekwini.

Mchunu is said to be supporting Ethekwini executive mayor and SACP provincial chairperson James Nxumalo for the position of regional chair. Nxumalo is also supported by ANC NEC member and deputy minister of agriculture Bheki Cele, who was pressured to decline nomination by Luthuli House.

‘I do not campaign’
ANC provincial spokesperson Bongani Mthembu said there was no date set yet for the Ethekwini conference, but it was expected to take place in December.

According to the ANC regional leader who spoke to the M&G anonymously, KwaZulu-Natal’s regional conference would most likely take place in early February next year.

“The conference will be managed by the ANC national executive committee. [Ethekwini] is treated like a province. Leadership [coming out from the Ethekwini conference] will give you an indication what will be the posture towards 2017,” the source said. 

“There is a realignment of forces in the province. Divisions are around Sihle [Zikalala] and Senzo. Zikalala is consolidating from ANC leaders who were previously in the ANC youth league while Mchunu is getting support from old comrades and the left.”

Approached by the M&G for comment, Zikalala played down the apparent divisions in his province, saying the 2017 discussions were not on the table yet. “We are all working together. Myself, Willies and even the chair [Senzo Mchunu].”

Zikalala ruled out the possibility of the provincial conference being held sometime this year. “We are only going to have the conference after May next year,” he said.

Mkhize said he was unaware of the deputy president “push” in KwaZulu-Natal.

“I have family in KwaZulu-Natal (so) I come back frequently. I do not campaign. My political programme and activities are guided by provincial or national ANC offices programmes.”



Matuma Letsoalo is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003, focussing on politics and labour, and collaborated with the M&G's centre for investigations, amaBhungane, from time to time.In 2011, Matuma won the South African Journalist of the Year Award and was also the winner in the investigative journalism category in the same year.In 2004, he won the CNN African Journalist of the Year prize – the MKO Abiola Print Journalism Award. Matuma was also a joint category winner of the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the year Award in 2008. In 2013, he was a finalist for Wits University's Taco Kuiper Award.
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