Election 'upset' tips scales against Zuma
They say his election is a positive step towards changing the balance of power in the party, both at a provincial and the national level.
Mchunu, who is also the provincial education minister, narrowly defeated the provincial transport minister, Willies Mchunu, at last week's provincial general council meeting to replace Premier Zweli Mkhize, who was elected party treasurer in December.
KwaZulu-Natal is regarded as the key in determining who will occupy main positions in the party. But there were fears that the contest between the two Mchunus would threaten the unity of the province, as was demonstrated before the ANC conference in Mangaung.
It is understood that Zuma wanted Willies Mchunu to replace Mkhize as chairperson and premier.
"Unlike others, Senzo Mchunu has refused to be a blind loyalist to anyone, including President Zuma. Most importantly, he despises ethnic politics and would not easily agree with a certain perspective because it is raised by someone who comes from his province. He is a progressive politician," a provincial ANC leader said.
Attempts by Zuma's supporters before the meeting to persuade Senzo Mchunu not to contest the election failed. Although Zuma privately told his allies he preferred Willies Mchunu, he told delegates at the provincial general council meeting that he knew both the Mchunus very well and that their supporters should accept the outcome of the election, irrespective of who won.
Zuma's supporters are uncomfortable with perceptions that Senzo Mchunu is close to Human Settlement Minister Tokyo Sexwale and the former police commissioner Bheki Cele.
An ANC leader based in Gauteng who backed the ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe for the position of ANC president said: "This victory has serious implications for 2017 [ANC elective conference] and the unity and cohesion of KZN towards the ANC national conference and the future role of Zweli [Mkhize] and the diminishing influence of Zuma. This victory of Senzo and the potential it represents will be remembered in historical terms as the defining moment or breakthrough in the arrest of the manipulative, toxic influence of the Zuma coterie, which has amassed unfettered power in the looting of the public purse and corrupting organisational processes in the ANC."
The source said the outcome of the election "may very well be the catalyst for the rupturing of the seeming tranquility and peaceful co-existence of the contending factions in the jostle for the control of both the party and state machinery. I'm not sure if the midwives to this particular outcome recognise the significance of this singular development in redefining the balance of forces in the 2017 conference and the broader body politic in our country."
The ANC provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala said last week that he was not aware of discussions to persuade the two Mchunus not to go up against one another.