KwaZulu-Natal premier Zweli Mkhize announced on Thursday that he was stepping down as premier of the province.
The ANC's chairperson in the province Senzo Mchunu was sworn in as acting premier by KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Chiman Patel in Durban.
Mkhize said his tasks as treasurer general of the ANC had prompted the decision, praising Mchunu and his colleagues in the KwaZulu-Natal executive.
He also thanked President Jacob Zuma for his support.
Mkhize would be based at ANC headquarters Luthuli House in Johannesburg full time as from September 1.
Last year's nomination of Mkhize for the position of the party's national treasurer general sparked speculation that a powerful ANC group in the province was working hard to remove him to ensure it controls provincial government resources.
ANC insiders in the province at the time said Mkhize, once a close ally of 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 and KwaZulu-Natal transport minister 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. An ANC provincial executive committee member at the time said: "There is a heated campaign to get him [Mkhize] out of the province and he knows it."
His opponents claimed that Mkhize had been "dictating terms" in the committee. "He treats people like [secretary for ANC in KwaZulu-Natal] 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 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 former 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. – Additional reporting by Staff Reporter