Assassinated KZN chief whip a savvy ‘fixer’

Mkhize kept a low profile but was a key player in the ANC’s provincial and national politics.

Although he earned respect among some comrades in the party, including President Jacob Zuma, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, he appears – intentionally or not – to have stepped on the toes of others.  

Some in the lower South Coast region believe Mkhize, as the ANC chief whip in the Hibiscus local municipality, could have worked harder to persuade the council not to take such a hardline stance against Sheryl Cwele, wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, in her position as health services director.

Sheryl Cwele was fired from her position in October last year following her 12-year sentence for procuring two women to smuggle cocaine from South America to South Africa. She is appealing the sentence and the dismissal.

Mkhize, who had just returned from the ANC policy conference in Midrand, was killed in a hail of bullets just outside his house in Manaba, near Margate on the lower South Coast in KwaZulu-Natal, prompting fears it could be yet another political assassination.

Politically motivated murders
In recent months a number of ANC leaders in the province have been killed in what appeared to be politically motivated murders because of infighting over positions and access to state resources. The recent killings include that of eThekwini regional secretary Sbu Sibiya and ANC Ethekwini regional executive committee member Wiseman Mshibe.

ANC sources told the Mail & Guardian this week that Mkhize had broken ranks at the policy conference with his province’s stance on nationalisation, which the province opposes. Mkhize argued in favour of nationalisation with other provinces and this apparently did not sit well with some of his fellow KwaZulu-Natal delegates.

The ANC Youth League, in which Mkhize once held a leadership position, supports nationalisation.

Mkhize’s close relationship with Mbalula caused some consternation in some circles in the province. He was seen with Mbalula at the policy conference and it fuelled suspicion that he was involved in a plan to sway some regions into the camp that is lobbying for the removal of Zuma at the party’s crucial conference in Mangaung in December.

But others argue he was too close to Zuma to abandon him. He campaigned for Zuma’s election as ANC president in Polokwane in 2007, was actively involved in his education trust and was allegedly earmarked by the president to replace Andile Lungisa as chairperson of the National Youth Development Agency.

Fraught with tension
Observers argue that he could not have dumped Zuma, given that his relationship with expelled youth league president Julius Malema, who has openly campaigned for Zuma’s removal, was fraught with tension and he did not support Malema’s re-election last year.

But according to his close comrades, Mkhize did not believe in permanent enemies and his interaction with Mbalula was merely an attempt to reach out to both factions in the ANC. Hours before he was killed, Mkhize sent a heartfelt SMS to his former leader in the youth league, Mbalula, appealing for unity in the organisation.

“The ANC and people beyond the ANC need us united and focused. The more time we spent against each other, the more we put our country in crisis. I’m worried that if we don’t rise above what divide us, Mangaung will be worse than Polokwane and our movement and the country will be at great risk. Mtchana [comrade] I can do whatever I can to either bring JZ [Zuma] on board, or some senior leaders of KZN.

“Our movement lost the likes of [Jabu] Moleketi and many brains after Polokwane, we can’t afford to lose or sideline anyone anymore. We need you all,” said Mkhize in the SMS.

Soon after he was killed, rumours started circulating that Mkhize was due to testify in a R32-million fraud and corruption case related to tender irregularities and implicating senior ANC provincial and national leaders. But Hawks spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Msizi Nyuswa this week told the M&G that the police could not find anything linking Mkhize to any corruption case.

Hibiscus municipal manager Sbu Mkhize also said he was not aware of any fraud and corruption case linked to the slain ANC chief whip.

The bottom of the matter
ANC provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala said it was premature to conclude that Mkhize’s murder had been political and had anything to do with tenders.

“We would not want to conclude that it is a political assassination now. We insisted that the police investigate the matter. We are supporting all efforts,” said Zikalala.  He said the ANC was worried about losing up-and-coming ANC leaders as a result of assassinations in the province.

“We are working with the police to get to the bottom of the matter. There is a provincial task team [established] to look at the killing of ANC cadres,” Zikalala said.

Mkhize was this week described by many of his comrades as intelligent, shrewd and eloquent. Apart from serving as a youth league leader and a councillor, he was also a youth commissioner and worked in the office of Motlanthe while he was ANC secretary general.

Mkhize was once close to ANC funder and shady businessman Sandile Majali. He was known as a “fixer” and helped to pay the salaries of senior youth league leaders when Mbalula was its president.

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