The last time the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal presented a united front it was preoccupied with ensuring that Jacob Zuma was re-elected party president at the Mangaung conference in 2012.
On Friday morning (November 6), Zuma is expected to deliver the opening address of the conference that will see the election of the ANC’s provincial leaders.
But the unity of 2012 is now almost a dream, and the race between the incumbent, Senzo Mchunu, and the provincial secretary, Sihle Zikalala, for the position of chairperson has added to the factional battles.
Lobbyists for Mchunu say he enjoys strong support from the branches, but his chances are uncertain because it appears Zuma has subtly endorsed Zikalala’s bid.
Campaigners for both factions are wary to make too much of their support because the outcome is expected to be marginal when the 1 251 delegates cast their ballots at the Royal Showgrounds in Pietermaritzburg this weekend.
Members of the provincial executive committee also seem to be split between the two candidates. A regional leader aligned to Mchunu’s faction said that, although Mchunu enjoyed strong support in the branches, Zikalala was linked to the so-called “premier league” whose lobbying tactics were “ruthless”.
The group is said to be made up of three provincial chairpersons who are also premiers – Ace Magashule (Free State), Supra Mahumapelo (North West) and David Mabuza (Mpumalanga).
“We don’t take lightly Zikalala’s support because he is supported by the premier league, so there is a lot of money to influence delegates,” the regional leader said.
An ANC national executive committee (NEC) member who is sympathetic to Zikalala said the discussion about KwaZulu-Natal’s early provincial congress was “a big deal” at the last NEC meeting before last month’s national general council (NGC). This was because of “ANC leaders who say the premier league won the ANC Youth League and ANC Women’s League, and now they will get KZN”.
The NEC member said this could be KwaZulu-Natal’s most difficult conference because “the leadership is no longer united. The structures have basically collapsed”. But there was hope that a conference would help heal divisions, the source said.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, in his organisational report to the NGC, said there were serious signs of divisions in the KwaZulu-Natal provincial leadership.
Lobbyists for Zikalala argue that the province needs younger blood to lead the organisation. One added that Mchunu had failed to deliver on his mandate since his election as provincial chairperson in 2013.
Zikalala enjoys the backing of the provincial youth league, which has openly criticised Mchunu. The league’s provincial secretary, Thanduxolo Sabelo, previously said they would campaign for Mchunu to be recalled as premier if he is voted out as ANC provincial chairperson.
Mchunu’s slate has the former provincial youth league leader Nhlakanipho Ntombela for the provincial secretary post. Zikalala has Super Zuma (no relation of Jacob Zuma) listed for the position.