Does the appointment of certain premiers in ANC-controlled provinces signal the beginning of the end for Jacob Zuma?
One ANC leader who asked not to be named described the outcome on the appointment of premiers this week as testimony to the tectonic shift and the beginning of the end of Zuma’s reign as his influence in exerting his preferences, was “severely curtailed”.
In 2009, Zuma and his supporters were firmly in control, and influenced decisions on who became provincial premier in the eight provinces governed by the ANC. This time around, however, it appears the influence of the dominant group aligned to Zuma within the ANC national executive committee (NEC) was minimal.
Former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki had powers to hire and fire premiers, but this policy was changed during the ANC’s watershed national conference in Polokwane, where Zuma toppled Mbeki as ANC president. ANC provincial leaders stood their ground during the NEC meeting this week and insisted the resolution taken in Polokwane in 2007, which gave the ANC – and not the president – the power to appoint premiers by principle, be implemented. And it won that day, despite resistance by some leaders in the NEC.
Not even the sensitive issue of gender parity could stop provincial leaders from insisting on the implementation of the Polokwane resolution. ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte said during the ANC’s press briefing on Tuesday that the party would review the issue of gender to ensure there were more women who would serve as provincial chairpersons.
The biggest blow for the Zuma aligned this week was when his supporters within the NEC tried hard but failed to push for Nomvula Mokonyane to be retained as Gauteng premier. Instead, Mokonyane’s arch rival and ANC provincial secretary, David Makhura, emerged victorious after the marathon NEC meeting that started on Monday morning and lasted well into the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Low position of arts minister
In 2009, ANC branches nominated provincial ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile as their preferred candidate for the position of premier for the key province, but this was disregarded by Zuma and the ANC top brass at Luthuli House. Mokonyane was appointed premier instead, while Mashatile was deployed to a low position of national arts and culture minister.
It was Zuma’s decision to disregard the wishes of ANC branches in Gauteng, and that hardened attitudes between the ANC president and the province’s leadership. This is why in 2012, when the ANC was going to elect leadership for a new term at the Mangaung congress, the majority of branches in Gauteng nominated then ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe as the preferred candidate for the ANC’s top position.
Zuma’s supporters in Gauteng, led by Mokonyane and others, have been working hard to oust the Mashatile-led group but failed even through the provincial elective congress. Other tricks included blaming Mashatile’s group for the booing of Zuma at FNB Stadium during Mandela’s memorial service in December. This month, Zuma’s supporters tried to use the ANC’s poor election performance in Gauteng as justification for the provincial executive committee to be disbanded and make way for Mokonyane to be appointed Gauteng premier again.
But ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, who is seen as sympathetic to ANC leaders in Gauteng, made it clear that the party had no intention of disbanding the provincial leadership as its term was coming to an end this month. This was repeated by ANC treasurer Zweli Mkhize during a media briefing on Tuesday. Mkhize admitted that “stability” was one of the key issues when the ANC debated appointing Gauteng premier.
The ANC was at pains to explain Gauteng leadership’s victory, with Mkhize saying that, after serving as Gauteng provincial secretary for 12 years, Makhura had to leave at some point and would not make himself available for re-election for that position when the province elected new leadership this year.
Forces of change within ANC
The ANC leader also argues that the fact that Senzo Mchunu was chosen as premier – ahead of his deputy in the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, Willies Mchunu – was an indication that the Zuma group was slowly losing power. Zuma is believed to favour Willies Mchunu better, a trusted ally of the group that strongly backs Zuma’s leadership. It is understood a group linked to ANC provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala was pushing for his deputy, Nomusa Dube, to be appointed premier.
“The simmering tensions and divisions in KwaZulu-Natal are interesting developments for the march towards the 54th ANC national conference in 2017,” the ANC insider said.
“Coupled with the unity and cohesion in both Eastern Cape and Gauteng that will manifest itself towards the 2017 national conference, [it] sharply raises the possibilities for a strategic realignment of forces and power blocs in the ANC, which may augur well for the renewal of the movement from this current quagmire,” he said.